Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Review (Nintendo 3DS)
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is one of the best Super Nintendo games ever made, introducing Nintendo’s plucky plumber to the grand world of the Japanese role-playing game. Nintendo was so pleased with its performance that it has since created two separate branches of spin-offs in Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi that try to emulate that classic feel. Apparently the creative juices aren’t flowing quite as freely at Nintendo as they usually do, as the latest Mario RPG game Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam takes those two spin-offs and simply mashes them back together.
I do really enjoy playing Paper Jam. It’s silly, it’s challenging, and it’s everything I remember SMRPG being all those years ago. There are a few things that fall flat -- particularly the game’s insistence on shoehorning in the equivalent of a Power Rangers Megazord battle at random points throughout the game -- but overall Paper Jam makes me smile more than frown.
The JRPG is strong with Paper Jam, hearkening back to a classic style of gameplay that really has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Mario and company travel through multiple lands filled with danger, and engaging with enemies in the world transitions the game into a standard JRPG battle like I’ve seen in previous Mario and Luigi games. All three heroes can choose from hammer, jump, or team attacks, and the power of the attack depends on the type of enemy defending and the equipment that particular plumber has on.
The battle system is pretty much standard RPG fare, but Paper Jam throws some interesting wrinkles in that make both sides of battle more interesting. I can damage a charging enemy by timing my dodge jump just right and landing on its head as it passes. I can spawn a giant paper mallet, crush my foes into paper, and play a quick game of wall tennis with my trio in a massive Group Attack. Boss battles feature cinematic moments where keen button presses can make all the difference in the world. These aren’t mechanics we haven’t seen before -- well, all except the wall tennis attack -- but they still liven up the otherwise formulaic turn-based system.
The one thing I love most about this game is how it tells its story, specifically that it never takes itself seriously. The story goes that Luigi, incredible klutz that he is, knocks over a book in one of Peach’s castle’s attics, unleashing a wave of paper-thin creatures into the Mushroom Kingdom. The book also brings Paper Peach, Paper Bowser, Paper Mario, and the rest of the paper crew into the real world as well, and the two Bowsers team up to try and capture the two princesses for the millionth time. A story like that doesn’t lend itself to being too serious anyway, but this particular game is all about silliness.
Paper Jam is like that guy who loved to tell jokes and make people laugh, so he tries to get a chuckle every time he speaks. It could be physical schtick between the three plumbers or a group of enemies, or it might be something funny one the characters says, but no matter what there’s some comedy to be had in every scene. Sometimes it works and I laugh, other times I just sit and scratch my head, but the game is never fazed and keeps the jokes coming. I can really get behind a game that isn’t too serious all of the time.
Paper Jam also introduces a new type of battle system to the mix. Called Papercraft Battles, these are moments in the game where instead of controlling the trio of plumbers in a turn-based battle, I’m now in a real-time struggle against giant cardboard creatures while also being a cardboard behemoth myself. The RPG goodness of normal fights becomes two massive structures lumbering toward one another, like an old episode of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when the Megazord is formed, and there’s not a whole lot to like about it. Thankfully this only happens a handful of times throughout, but these moments feel more like a drag than a fun part of the game.
Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is a silly little romp through the Mushroom Kingdom with classic JRPG fun and a few less-than-stellar tricks up its sleeve. The lighthearted approach to the RPG is definitely welcome here, as I find myself laughing more than I do being angry about a challenge I can’t surpass or a tragic part of the story just unfolded. Unfortunately Papercraft does more to disrupt the overall flow of the game than maintain it, but that’s just one setback is what otherwise is a sea of positive thoughts. Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam makes me long for the days of a proper Super Mario RPG 2 more than ever, but it’s an acceptable alternative in the interim.
This review was completed using a retail copy of Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam provided by the publisher for the Nintendo 3DS.