When worlds collide the result is usually jarring, but seeing Paper Mario team up with the regular Bros. in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam not only feels right but makes for one of the more relaxing and charmingly pleasant entries in the comedic RPG series to date. While it doesn’t necessarily reach the memorable heights of hilarity found in some of its predecessors, the rock-solid mechanics, variety of challenges, and breezy pacing are still perfect for RPG newcomers and franchise fans alike.
Paper Jam‘s tale begins with the kind of simple and innocent plot device that sets most Mario adventures in motion, and naturally, it is Luigi who is responsible for everything that follows. When he accidentally discovers a book that contains the entire Paper Mario universe, his endearing bungling causes an apparent dimensional rift that unleashes one-ply havoc across the land. There’s not really much to the story, but it’s a decent enough way to get things rolling and get the cast of regulars to interact with their other-selves. While developer Alpha Dream and the NOA localization staff don’t delve too deeply into the philosophic and self-analytical possibilities posed by having characters compare their parallel existences, it is great fun seeing the two Bowsers jockey for dominance, showing insecurity over being perceived as second-fiddle, as well as Peach commiserating with Paper Peach over constantly being kidnapped and being sick of having to cry out “save me, Mario!” yet again. From Kamek to Bowser Jr. and all the little Toads in between, these exchanges never lose their fun, leading to several laugh-out-loud moments, and make up for the lack of any meaty narrative.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam succeeds in nearly every facet at being the charming, pleasant RPG that it aims to be.
The real star of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is the combat, however, and those with experience playing the franchise will have no trouble feeling right at home with the timing-based attacks and dodges. Encountering new baddies and figuring out their patterns is a blast, and thanks to the opportunity for counterattacks, often entire battles can be fought without a single hit point lost. Though getting cocky can lead to some indignation upon actually being hit by a familiar foe, new enemies are introduced in each area that nicely prevents players from getting too complacent.
The Bros. can perform their Bros. Attacks as usual, which might involve kicking a koopa shell-like like a soccer ball or using a drill to grind an opponent’s skull, but the addition of a new member to their team adds another dynamic, and with Paper Mario all three can execute various Trio attacks that deal even more damage. These moves, which could require smacking enemies with a racquetball or a button-mashing kite-flying assault, start out easy, but get more complex and difficult to perform as more powerful ones are acquired. The game allows you to practice these any time, however, even during battle, so mastering that fireball fling is as straightforward as getting to Carnegie Hall.
Because of Paper Jam‘s relatively easy difficulty level, however, even at normal I found myself sticking to the earlier, basic attacks and forgoing learning many of the new ones, as the risk/reward of potentially messing the timing up and dealing little pain wasn’t worth it or even necessary. Ditto for the new Battle Card system, which allows players to play special cards found along the way that can boost stats or inflict damage without losing a turn. It’s a nice feature that may come in handy for those having problems with certain bosses, but during my playthrough, I found them to be more of a curiosity than anything else, and quickly forgot about them, no matter how many Toads tried to remind me. There is also an easy mode available, but simply tackling every goomba or Hammer Bro that comes Mario’s way is more than enough to level up quickly and have the power to take on the baddest of the bad.
This perfect pacing makes the repetition of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam feel less like the grind that so many RPGs can become, and supporting that notion even further are the variety of gameplay challenges along the way that break up the stomping action. Of these, the Papercraft Battles, which have your party riding atop a giant cardboard likeness supported by Toads while fighting papercraft versions of your enemies, are a highlight. Also, a great deal of fun are the Paper Toad challenges, which require everything from flushing out the little guys from their hiding spots, to corralling them like the Mushroom Kingdom sheep they are. I always looked forward to these moments, and with a couple of exceptions, the side quests add to the overall flavor. Only the occasional stealth mission got on my nerves, but thankfully they are brief and few in number.
It’s bright and colorful, and though the paper aesthetic is more pleasing to the eye than the rest of the standard Mushroom Kingdom settings, the attention to detail in the animations and the Italian-like gibberish that Mario and Luigi emit will never be tiring. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam succeeds in nearly every facet at being the charming, pleasant RPG that it aims to be. While not necessarily an amazing adventure, it’s a very Nintendo one, and for anyone who loves the idea of Mario worlds colliding, that means it’s almost guaranteed to elicit a smile.