Since the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars there have been two franchises in the Mario RPG series. The first was Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64. Made by Intelligent Systems, it features a graphically unique and enjoyable twist on the RPG format. It was quickly followed by AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi series. Again, this went in a slightly different direction from the Square original. Both formats have become firm fan favorites and have flourished, Mario & Luigi taking advantage of the handheld market and Paper Mario focusing mainly on the home consoles. In a release schedule spanning from 2016-2017, the two franchises combined to create Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (Bros.). The game tries to merge the art assets and mechanics of two big IPs, but is the game be more than the sum of its parts, or is it destined to fold?
There is no specific spiritual content, although the game takes place in a fantasy realm where magic is used.
The violence in the game is comedic and family orientated. The characters jump or use oversized hammers when attacking enemies. When defeated, enemies disappear or enter dialogue that suggests they are tired and don’t want to fight anymore.
The game focuses on the battle between good and evil, with Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario collaborating together. There are puzzle solving aspects which reward players for working through them. The content in game also challenges the typical damsel in distress stereotype by having Princess Peach refuse to wait to be rescued.
Mario and Luigi Paper Jam takes place after the latest 3DS iteration of both franchises’ games. After the events of Mario & Luigi Dream Team, Luigi sets himself to repairing the castle walls, only to stumble upon a parallel world hidden within a storybook. The inhabitants of the storybook begin to inhabit the Mushroom Kingdom and ultimately Bowser meets up with his paper counterpart and hatches a plan to kidnap both Princess Peaches.
The game progresses with the player in control of Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario, as they traverse the traditional Mario-trope of level design. On the way, they encounter both “real” and paper versions of common Mario enemies with which to do battle. Players move around all three characters at once with the circle pad and have a button assigned to make each character jump, similar to the Mario and Luigi games. The game takes advantage of two new / enhanced features to assist the gameplay. The first are trio moves, which are similar to Bros. moves in the Mario and Luigi games. These allow all three characters to perform functions such as drilling into rocks to climb walls. The other mechanic is the dash ability. This allows the trio to move quickly across the maps and is useful when rounding up Toads in the game.
The combat system is a mixture of the two games. Standard combat is similar in that it is both turn based and reliant on timing to maximize damage and defense. But the addition of battle cards adds an element of Paper Mario to the combat. The battle cards rely on star points, collected from defeating enemies, and affect the HP, power and coins dropped in battle.
There are also some new combat mechanics designed to merge the two games in the form of “copy block.” This allows Paper Mario to duplicate himself, reducing the damage he takes in combat. However, this comes at a price in that it uses up a complete turn. This gives the player a challenging predicament: go for the kill or delay the end for another turn to guarantee victory. This is a particular issue when you factor in that Paper Mario is slightly weaker than his Mushroom Kingdom counterparts.
On top of the RPG elements from the previous games, Paper Jam has two other additions. The challenges found in the Lakitu house is a mixed bag. The side mission provides players with additional attacks and special battle cards, however the format the challenge takes makes this an exercise in futility at times. This is especially true if the challenge involves stealth, which is difficult to easily execute, or collecting paper Toads. Collecting paper Toads is a time consuming and dull addition to the game that had me wishing for the end and becoming frustrated at wanting to find that last elusive Toad.
A contrast to this is the papercraft battles. For veterans of previous games these are similar to giant battles seen in Bowser’s Inside Story and Dream Team Bros. A rhythm game charges up Toads which then help to move papercraft Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi, and attack enemies. These were generally fun and easy to control as the game as a whole uses less of the touch screen functionality.
Aesthetically this is a Mario & Luigi title with Paper Mario art assets, it uses the “rules” of AlphaDream’s IP, which plays it safe. Creativity and experimentation is added through the mechanics of Intelligent System’s titles. Some of these ideas also transferred to their later title Paper Mario: Color Splash. That being said, the art is obviously gorgeous and to a high level of polish. The two games work well together and the addition of paper characters does a lot for the humor of the game.
Paper Jam Bros. is full of references and visual jokes, but the interaction between characters and their paper counterparts is hilarious. The game is also less verbose than previous titles, making it more accessible for new players. There are also little aesthetic nods such as the inclusion of cardboard pieces within the Mushroom Kingdom and the coins dropped by paper enemies are made of cardboard. This attention to detail makes you appreciate the effort gone to try and merge the two worlds, it’s just a shame it doesn’t quite pay off.
Overall Paper Jam Bros. is a fun addition to the Mario RPG franchises. It is full of the humor and artistic direction that you expect from both RPG series. It also combines the familiarity of one and the experimentation of another. It’s a fantastic entry level game for anyone who has yet to try a Mario RPG. But, like a lot of cross over games, veteran players will feel that they aren’t getting a full experience of either. That said, its not a title to avoid, and even veteran players will enjoy the adventure.
The Bottom Line
Mario & Luigi Paper Jam Bros. is a fun and enjoyable romp through the Mushroom Kingdom with dialogue that will genuinely make you chuckle. It is not a must but for veterans of the Mario RPG games, but it is not one to avoid either. This is a good introductory title for anyone interested in either franchise.