Mario, meet Paper Mario
Nintendo unveiled a lot of enticing new games during their E3 2015 Direct presentation, but it was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam that caught my eye the most. I’ve long been a fan of Nintendo’s two role-playing game series featuring the world’s most famous Italian plumbers—Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario—so combining both into a single game was a dream come true.
When you think about it, these two legendary Nintendo RPGs have a lot in common with each other, so a crossover seems like a natural fit. They’re each known for having distinctive, offbeat humour, gorgeous cartoon graphics, and of course star the most recognizable characters from the Mushroom Kingdom. Combining these two franchises certainly looks good on paper (no pun intended, naturally), and as I discovered playing the game, the end result is even better than I had hoped for.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: January 22, 2016
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
A paper predicament
The story of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam begins innocently enough one day in the Mushroom Kingdom with Luigi venturing into a dark storage area of Peach’s Castle to repair a hole in the wall. After a teeny mouse scares the daylights out of our green shirt and overall-clad handyman, he accidentally wobbles the bookshelf he’s standing on, and out pops a magic book. Suddenly hundreds of Paper Mario characters and objects burst from the book’s pages, fly up and out of Peach’s Castle, and are blown across the Mushroom Kingdom in a whirlwind of confetti.
As you soon find out, this event not only floods the land with wafer-thin versions of bad guys, like Goombas, Koopas, and Shy Guys, but also paper doppelgangers of the biggest baddies, including Bowser, Bowser Jr, and Kamek show up to ruin the day. Unfortunately for our mustached brothers, the situation gets much worse when the full-sized Bowser stumbles upon his paper-thin counterpart, and the two hatch a plan to rid the world of Mario and Luigi, once and for all.
An uproarious adventure
Mario & Luigi games are well known for their hilarious dialogue and goofy hijinks, but this entry might just be the funniest of them all. The main driving force of the comedy in this game are the hilarious interactions that take place between the mirrored versions of individual characters. Take the two Bowsers for example, while they both agree taking down Mario and Luigi is in their mutual interest, their individual feeling of superiority cause them to squabble and scrap with one another just as often as they agree on a course of action. The exchanges between the pair of Bowser Jr.’s are just as amusing since they quickly become two peas in a pod and can’t get over how well they gel together.
It turns out that Bowser and his Koopa army aren’t the only ones to meet their doppelgangers—Paper Mario, Princess Peach, and Paper Toads also emerge from the magical book and wind up in the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s not long before they find themselves coming face to face with their full-sized counterparts for the very first time, setting the stage for some of the funniest interactions this series has seen yet. Moments like seeing Mario blush and swoon over the pair of Princess Peaches, or listening to the two princesses compare the heroics of their respective Marios were thoroughly entertaining, and had me chuckling the whole way through.
Paper Mario joins the party
The familiar and fun turn-based combat system the Mario & Luigi series is known for returns in Paper Jam, this time with one major twist: the introduction of a three-person party featuring Paper Mario. Our paper hero is a significant asset to the team given his ability to create five copies of himself to boost his attack and defense. On the offense side, Paper Mario and his clones can sequentially jump on one opponent for large damage, or using the hammer attack the Paper Marios can spread out and target multiple enemies. Defensively, each copy can withstand one attack, effectively allowing Paper Mario to be struck several times before sustaining HP damage.
Paper Mario can also initiate all-new powerful Trio Attacks that combine his might with that of Mario and Luigi. These attacks begin mini-games were you need to properly time button presses or D-pad movements to amplify the damage inflicted to your targets. For example, Trio Racquet has your team smack a racquet ball towards your opponents, damaging them with each consecutive hit. With Trio Shuriken, a group of Paper Marios fold themselves into sharp ninja shurikens, with Mario and Luigi taking turns whipping them at enemies. I had a lot of fun learning the various Trio Attacks, and they all quite visually stunning, so I thought they were an excellent addition to the game.
There is one more major way that Paper Mario changes up the gameplay during battle. In addition to pressing the A and B buttons to perform various attacks, dodges, and counters with Mario and Luigi, you’ll need to press the Y button for those same actions with Paper Mario. This can make combat noticeably more challenging, as you need to control three characters at once, and timing correct button taps can be difficult to master. The compromise to this is Easy Mode, which you can flick on at any time to increase your characters’ attacks, and make enemies weaker. While in this mode you can also flip through hints on how to defeat your current opponents, and activate an Easy Attack Mode that slows down time for easier timing. Including an Easy Mode was a good decision, as it means Paper Jam can be enjoyed by seasoned veterans, and new players alike.
Battle Cards & amiibo provide additional elements of strategy
Just when I thought I had completely mastered Paper Jam‘s battle system, about ten hours into the game I got introduced to Battle Cards. This new gameplay mechanic effects battles in a big way by giving you access to playable cards that offer a range of perks and bonuses. Some Battle Cards will strike enemies for bonus damage, while others can remove status ailments, add buffs, or even give you extra XP after the fight. In order to play Battle Cards, you need to expend Star Points, which you accumulate naturally through regular combat. On top of the starter pack you’re given, additional Battle Cards can be purchased at Toad shops, and you can customize your playable deck at any time in the game menu. I loved the extra layer of strategy Battle Cards provided during battle, so it made the latter half of the game even more enjoyable.
A second set of cards, called Character Cards, are also attainable in the game so long as you have one or more of the compatible amiibo, which are: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Yoshi and Bowser (all series are compatible). To craft Character Cards, first you need to find ? cards in battles, or purchase them in shops, then tap any of the compatible amiibo figures to your New Nintendo 3DS, or regular Nintendo 3DS with the NFC Reader/Writer peripheral. You can also tap two amiibo to craft even more powerful double cards for an even bigger advantage in battle. These cards can be activated once per fight, making my amiibos strong allies during the adventure.
Gigantic papercraft battles
Another all-new element found in Paper Jam are mini battle arena brawls between oversized papercraft versions of our heroes and Bowser’s army. Before the battles begin, you’ll need to spend some time undertaking quests to locate missing Paper Toads, which come in the form of puzzles, hide and seek, and chase missions. There is a nice variety of missions to partake in, and I especially enjoyed some of the minigames (like hide and seek), but every now and again I encountered challenging quests that required multiple tries to complete, and that was a little frustrating. These Toad Missions are mandatory to progress the story too, so if you get stuck there’s no choice but to retry until you succeed.
Once you do manage to collect the require number of Paper Toads, they’ll then go to work building you a huge papercraft battle machine, and that’s when the real fun begins. Your characters will mount the papercraft and head off into battle against Bowser’s goons, like Goombas, Kamek, and other baddies, who are also in the form of giant papercrafts. Combat is pretty simplistic overall, relying on various moves like sumo charges, dive attacks, and quick dodges, so it’s easy to pick up and master. In a neat twist, your papercraft expends power with each move, and to recharge your machine you’ll need to participate in a quirky music rhythm game where you have to tap to a beat. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but hey, who cares when you’re having fun?
Overall, I had a great time with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and highly recommend it to fans of the Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario series, as well as to those looking for a fun new role-playing game adventure. The story is cute, charming, and frequently hilarious, with over 30 hours of gameplay to keep you hooked for a long time to come. Battles are much more exciting with the introduction of Paper Mario, as he expands your offensive arsenal and adds more strategic depth. If the game ever gets too tough, a simple switch to Easy Mode will get you back into the game. No matter if you’re a long-time veteran of the series, or playing for the very first time, Paper Jam offers the right mix of challenge and fun.
+ Charming and funny writing
+ Battle system is better than ever
+ Great amiibo integration
+ Papercraft battles are fun
+ Wonderful presentation
– Controlling three characters at once can be challenging
– Toad rescue missions can get repetitive
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5/5
Overall Rating 4/5 (80%)
By Paul Hunter, Editor Gaming
I work out of Toronto, Ontario as the Editor of Gaming here on the Plug-in Blog and as Editor-in-Chief of NextGen Player. I am thankful for having a loving and patient wife who doesn’t mind my 40 hour a week obsession with gaming. You can follow me on Twitter @NextGenPlayer and on my exclusive Vine gaming channel. Come join the conversation!