Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam unites the two RPG series for the first time. The premise starts with Luigi knocking over the storybook of the Paper Mario universe, spilling its contents into reality. The two Bowsers meet, kidnap the two Peaches, and now it’s up to Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario to rescue them. Both RPG franchises aren’t known for their dramatic narratives, but they are regarded for their clever dialogue and quirky characters. Unfortunately that’s not the case here. It’s a generic story seen time and time again with standard tropes and flat characters. It feels dialed back, which more than likely is a reaction to the previous entry, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team.
Dream Team was panned for both holding the player’s hand and containing excessive amounts of dialogue. Instead of focusing on penning a better story, they simply went back to standard plotlines and removed any substance of color. What’s there is brief and there’s even a fast-forward button now. The developers sort of missed the point with Dream Team’s criticism. DON’T DESTROY THE NARRATIVE. Mario’s RPG adventures are a bastion for wackiness not seen in the mainline games. Seeing it gutted in Paper Jam is disheartening to say the least.
Thankfully the combat sees it’s best iteration yet. For a quick refresher, the battle system is based on timed attacks and dodges. Mario is controlled with A, Luigi with B, and Paper Mario with X. For example, if Mario used his Jump attack and pressed A at the right moment, he will inflict more damage. The same can be said for evading enemy advancements. It keeps players on their toes and introduced strategy to the turn-based RPG genre.
Mario and Luigi control virtually the same, but Paper Mario is a tad different. For starters, he has the ability to clone himself. These paper clones both absorb damage as well as add to his attacks. He can also use a triple attack with Mario and Luigi and his dodge jumps are higher than that of the duo.
Paper Mario isn’t the only new addition to gameplay either. Cards can also be implemented in battle using Star Points, which are earned from hitting monsters. Cards can heal, damage enemies, increase experience after battle, and the list goes on. They can be purchased at shops, earned in battle, or by using Amiibo. It may not be groundbreaking for the series, but a simple card can turn the tide of battle when things look rough.
Speaking of, there’s a new easy mode for combat that can be flipped on and off on the fly. Battle assistance shows what hero is about to be attacked, when the right time to react is, and grants extra offense and defense to the trio. As cute as they are, both respective series are challenging and creating a solution to widen the range of players is a thankful addition.
Aside from turn-based combat, Paper Jam features various mini games. These offshoots aren’t new to the franchise and for the most part, they were often nice refreshments from the RPG combat. However, there’s an excessive amount of them in Paper Jam ranging from races to stealth segments. Most of these occasions appear because of Toad quests. After boss fights, enemies sometimes bring in papercraft like mechs to fight the heroes. Toadette then appears with a solution to fight fire with fire. In order for her to complete her schematics, the trio is tasked with rescuing Toads to join her labor force. This monotonous gallery of missions slows down the pace to the point of frustration, undermining an otherwise decent set of mech battles
The game’s design in general is bizarre. The juxtaposition between the adorable paper citizens spliced into a world of polygons looks goofy. The environments are nicely varied, but bland. The pacing, see Toad quests, couldn’t be worse. And as mentioned above, there’s not a lot of new characters be it hero, or enemy. It’s devoid of imagination. Hah, well at the least the soundtrack is stellar and the 3D implementation on the top screen is decent.
Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is a crumpled up discarded note, recycled into a paper-thin product. At its core, it’s good. The dynamic combat system has never felt better, but the rest of the package is padded with poor mini games and excessive backtracking. As a die-hard fan of both series, this was a let down. Nintendo and AlphaDream played it too safely making Paper Jam feel like a reaction to Dream Team rather than an evolution. Based on this, one wonders if it’s time to retire both franchises in the hopes of reinvigorating new RPG life into another classic Nintendo character. Again, it’s good, bordering on great, but the issues, both big and small, keep Paper Jam from jumping any higher.
Score: 3/5 Stars
Special Notes: The publisher provided a review copy. This article was originally published on January 20, 2016 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. It was also Examiner’s official review for the game.