If you aren’t familiar with the Mario and Luigi RPG game series, you’re been missing out for the past few years. Super Star Saga started it all back on the GBA and ever since, the games have been a mainstay on the handheld devices. Most follow a pretty standard storyline of Mario and his younger brother Luigi in trouble with their antics taking them across the Mushroom Kingdom, often rescuing Princess Peach. It’s standard JRPG fare in a world you are familiar with, battles that take place via menus (with some timed interactions) and pretty much what you’d expect from other JRPGs, just in the Mario Bros. universe. Mario & Luigi Paper Jam mixes that up by combining the successful Mario and Luigi games with another very successful series in the Nintendo stable – Paper Mario. Paper Mario has been hit or miss over the years with some of the more recent ones being miss more often than not, but Nintendo hopes that doesn’t deter the overall appeal of this paper crafted hero and his unique blend of gameplay that he can lend to an already well defined series. Does Nintendo successfully pull off the collaboration or should they have kept these two franchises separate? Let’s find out.
Mario & Luigi Paper Jam begins with the lovingly boneheaded Luigi dropping a book containing another word which explodes and sends 2D papercraft characters throughout the Mushroom Kingdom. The opening scenes show paper Koopa Troopas and Goombas meeting up with their 3D counterparts and the hilarity that ensues from these meetings. Eventually we find that Bowser has met his 2D clone and they enact a plan that has them, you guessed it, kidnapping Princess Peach and her 2D double as Mario and Luigi watch in horror (really guys, this should be like any other day at this point). Eventually, Mario and Luigi meet up Paper Mario and the trio then spend their time tracking down the Bowsers as they try to rescue the Princesses from the the evil duo. The blending of the worlds, while at first may seem a little odd, ends up being one of the stars of this game. Bowser, and his trouble coming to grips with another Bowser that has the same goals and aspirations as himself, is continually funny throughout the game. Most other characters, when they meet up with their 2D counterpart, come to some sort of agreement or friendship, but not the Bowsers. They are always hilarious in their contempt of each other, even as they plot their normal schemes and deal with their misbehaving sons. It’s a funny story that works well to progress the narrative of two worlds combined and the madness that ensues because of it.
When I started playing Mario & Luigi Paper Jam, I had to think to myself how the two different series differed in their combat. As it turns out, they are pretty similar and it shows with the blending of these two games. Battles are turn based like in most JRPGs and they involve a timing mechanic that rewards bonus damage for carefully timed button presses. It’s super simple to get into and before long, you’ll be getting bonus damage on almost every turn. Each character you control will be able to use a jump attack that will have you landing on your opponents head, a hammer attack, or some special attacks that use all of your characters to perform timed attacks that do a lot of damage. Knowing what attack to use and when can be determined by the enemy you’re facing (you don’t want to stop on an enemy with a spiked shell) and larger enemies will often require teamwork attacks to take them down. Some major enemies will even present a new gameplay mechanic that smartly involves all three characters in handling this new, powerful foe. It’s a very simple system that will be mastered in no time, but it’s also one that doesn’t get old. The timing mechanic will keep you focused and not just randomly pressing buttons and the animations are well done, making sure it’s never too repetitive to watch the attacks. 3D Mario and Luigi share the same movesets while 2D Mario requires paper copies of himself to perform additional damage. As you progress through the game, you’ll even be able to outfit the characters with new equipment to make their attacks stronger and their health pools larger. If you’ve played any RPG before, you’ll know what the stats do and how each level your character hits will influence further gameplay. I didn’t see any need to grind and I was able to play the game without much thought involved in choosing items, but it’s nice that it’s in here nonetheless.
Paper Jam also introduces another new feature to the game that involves card collecting. You basically get cards that provide bonuses during battles, and these cards are displayed on the bottom screen during combat. The bonuses are minor, but they don’t exhaust a turn in combat, so there is really no reason not to use them. If you’re an amiibo fan, you can also create cards based off of your amiibos, but I didn’t get too into it because a lot of my amiibos were already linked to other games (which Paper Jam didn’t like). It’s a nice addition and you’ll enjoy finding these throughout the world to add to your ever growing roster of cards in your deck.
The excellent battle system and it’s accessibility is a huge plus for this game. The Dadcade is all about gaming from the standpoint of being a parent and this accessibility works on two fronts. On one hand, it’s perfect for younger gamers to be introduced to the world of RPGs. Deciding what attacks to perform and at what time can be instrumental for your success, but it never feels too hard for a younger gamer to play. On the other hand, mobile games are a godsend for parent gamers as they allow us to pick up and play during naptime, and with suspended play, all it takes is opening the 3DS lid to resume where you left off, even mid battle. The simple story and the fun combat are perfect for pick up and play moments.
While Paper Jam is a JRPG at it’s core, there are also other small gameplay portions that fall outside of the normal JRPG spectrum. For instance, you will have battles where you need to drive a giant papercraft Mario as you attack other papercraft figures in a Godzilla style battle over the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s a novel addition and is really fun the first couple times you jump on top of it. While this does work well, one portion of the game I didn’t like was finding paper Toads. 2D Toads arrived into the 3D world and for whatever reason, they are deathly afraid of everything and hide – even from 2D Mario. You have to find them throughout the world, sometimes even having to tackle them, in order to bring them back to their senses and send them back to the palace. It’s fun the first couple times, but as the game went on I was tired of having to chase these little guys down, only to try and tackle them and miss. It’s a small gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.
Mario and Luigi Paper Jam is a refreshing game that takes RPGs back to basics. The humor is spread throughout the game and the interactions with other characters are lighthearted and often funny. There is an overall feeling of joy spread throughout the game, something that is not found in many games that come out today. You may be a bit hesitant to pick up a a collaborative game, especially when it combines the Paper Mario brand that has hit a few snags recently, but don’t be. This is a quality Nintendo RPG that is suitable for all ages and does a great job in offering a fun experience that doesn’t take itself too serious. I haven’t played too many of the Mario and Luigi games over the last few generations of Nintendo handhelds, but I know I will be going forward.
Review code provided by Nintendo