Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Review – Well-Crafted

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Developer: AlphaDream

Publisher: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo 3DS

Release Dates: December 3, 2015 (JP); December 4, 2015 (EU); December 10, 2015 (AUS); January 22, 2016 (NA)

Acts like Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, and the various Mario & Luigi titles are tough to follow. Somehow, Nintendo manages to make the princess-saving, Bowser-bashing antics of Mario and his pals entertaining and fresh time and time again. Their latest spin involves the sudden confluence of two universes: the regular Mario & Luigi RPG world, and the world of Paper Mario. When a bit of spring cleaning goes awry, Mario and Luigi’s world is suddenly flooded with paper counterparts..good and evil. The story of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam will be familiar to anyone who’s ever heard of a Mario game, ever. But that familiarity is a solid frame for an adventure filled with challenge and excitement.

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Stories come to life

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam’s plotline is standard fare, but with double the trouble. Now there’s not only a regular Bowser to contend with, but a Paper Bowser. And paper Bowser Jr., and Kamek, and piles of Goombas and Koopas and all the other familiar foes of the Mario Bros. To save Princess Peach and retrieve the book from whence all the paper counterparts came, Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario embark on an adventure across five major areas, taking down foes in both paper and solid form.

If you’ve played a Mario & Luigi title before, there’s a lot of comfortable familiarities here. No new characters make a debut in Paper Jam. Starlow (from Bowser’s Inside Story) reappears as a guide figure–useful since all three of your protagonists are silent except for some voice jibberish and occasional “Oh, nooooo!”s. Princess Peach and her paper counterpart are present, a small handful of Yoshi’s pop up around the world, and there are many, many Toads. Without any new characters to explore, most of the dialogue is devoted to pushing the plot along its predictable rails, teaching new moves, and mocking Luigi’s apparent incompetence.  If you’re looking for a game with any character development at all, go elsewhere. There are exactly zero surprises in Paper Jam.

Constant goofy quips from the supporting cast will keep you from skipping through the dialogue, even when the plot has long since tired itself out finding reasons to lengthen the game.

That being said, the banter in-between isn’t dull. Quirky one-liners, puns, and references pepper the script, making it worthwhile to talk to every last Toad in every last Toad village, purely for flavor. A few notable players stand out. In particular, Toadette plays a prominent role as an emboldened inventor, confident after her adventures in Treasure Tracker. Wiggler is positively adorable, and Kamek is as obnoxious as ever. There’s even a Goomba with a memorable part to play! Constant goofy quips from the supporting cast will keep you from skipping through the dialogue, even when the plot has long since tired itself out finding reasons to lengthen the game.

Fortunately, Paper Jam didn’t need a compelling story to keep my attention.

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Stormin’ the castle

It’s the gameplay that makes Paper Jam, and there’s never a dull moment. Primarily, you’ll be exploring environments in the Mushroom Kingdom by running and jumping along, broken up with random encounters. Though you start with those two basic abilities, you gradually unlock more skills for field use that capitalize on Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario’s teamwork. Stretching, digging, and flight can help you reach new secrets in areas you’ve long since explored, so it’s worth taking a second tour of the map, later in the game. Your array of talents are also used to solve puzzles. Some require foresight and planning. Others, quick reaction times and correct button input. The puzzle variety and frequency kept things fun and challenging all the way through Paper Jam.

Not only will you use your skills in the field, but various minigames and sidequests will appear as you travel to test your skills. Often, you’ll be asked to collect Paper Toads to form some new contraption to access the next area. The Paper Toad collection games range from the fast-paced “catch the falling Toads before they hit the ground” to the slow-moving and silly search of a nearby town, where Paper Toads are hidden behind signs, inside bubbles, and as attractive hats worn by the townspeople. Other minigames you’ll encounter include a Yoshi race, timed encounters, and Toad-herding. Perhaps the game capitalizes on the Toads being clueless, but the result is enjoyable gameplay.

The Mushroom Kingdom is big and full of areas to explore. There’s hidden items, NPCs, and secrets lurking around every toadstool. If you play straight through the game without fully digging into each area you enter, you’ll miss out on a good chunk of what makes Paper Jam worthwhile.

Next: Paper Jam's battle system, and our final verdict