Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Review – Well-Crafted

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The power of three

Mario & Luigi Paper Jam’s battle system is not your typical turn-based tussle. Sure, you’re greeted with familiar the familiar attack-item-special-flee buttons (in the form of Jump/Hammer, Item, Bros. Attacks/Trio attacks, Flee), but the key to winning is more than pressing the right button in the right situation. It’s pressing lots of buttons, all at the right times and in the right combinations, sometimes really, really fast. Every attack you perform requires you to time your button presses for that character (A for Mario, B for Luigi, Y for Paper Mario) perfectly to maximize your damage output. Bros and Trio Attacks, more powerful combo abilities, ask for even more finesse. You’ll hurl bombs, drop from a skycopter, play racquetball, and more with these attacks. Some are more difficult to master than others, but unless you’re overleveled, bosses will prove difficult without them.

Then there’s the Battle Card system: collectible cards you can find off enemies or purchase in shops that have different effects to include stat boosts, damage dealing, healing, and more. Battle Cards cost Star Power, which is accumulated from landing successful regular attacks and counters. What’s odd about the Battle Cards is that they’re completely unnecessary. They provide a much-needed option for players struggling with proper attacks and counters. There’s no button-mashing here–just pick the card, and use it. Mario series amiibo can be scanned onto collectible amiibo cards, too, and used once per fight for a huge effect.

The trick to beating an enemy wasn’t always immediately obvious, or even eventually apparent.

On the enemy’s turn, you’ll have a chance to dodge or counter whatever they’re doing by timing jumps or hammer swings to avoid their assault, or reflect their attacks back on them or other enemies. Every enemy has a “tell”, an indication of who it’s about to attack and when. Use these visual cues to figure out exactly when to time your jump or strike. In this way, you can feasibly avoid most or all of the damage in the game. That being said, each area presents with new enemies with new abilities and tells, and the bosses have some crazy combos. Each new foe is a challenge of your timing, patience, and observation as you learn that creature’s attacks and weaknesses. Because of this variety, I was rarely bored with combat. There are a few areas over-saturated with the same enemy again and again, but for the most part, combat works well with the field gameplay to keep the game fun and fresh.

Boss battles, in particular, are thrilling, as most bosses have 5-6 different attacks, all of which require even more precise timing than regular enemies. A staple in most boss battles was a sequence where the boss chases the three down. At the end of the chase, you take heavy damage, unless you can throw a boomerang Paper Mario back and forth with enough precision and speed to dismantle whatever sinister weapon the enemy is lugging your way. Variations on this included using Paper Mario as a trampoline to bounce back cannonballs, or as a paper airplane to fly above rolling attacks.

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Unfortunately, all the different abilities and counters made some of the boss fights crazy hard. If you didn’t dodge just right and nail attacks perfectly, enemies would respawn, or heal, or otherwise ruin your fight, and the fights can run really, really long. The trick to beating an enemy wasn’t always immediately obvious, or even eventually apparent. Of course, there is a Hint button (though it didn’t always give me the info I needed), and if you lose once, you can Try Again from the start of the fight, reload your last save, or Try Again on Easy Mode. Though Easy Mode was…well, much easier, it still felt like a cop-out. It’s worth pushing through the difficult fights, even if the strategies are at times unintuitive.

Interspersed with regular boss battles were Papercraft fights–battles atop giant Papercraft that could dash, shoot, and fly into their enemies to dismantle them. These battles took place in a large field with items and Toad-platforms interspersed with enemies and obstacles. You charge up your power with a short rhythm game on the Toad platform, then drive the Papercraft off to clear out all the enemies so the boss will appear. Each Papercraft has a different unique mechanic–Yoshi’s involved using his tongue to grasp far off enemies. Peach could fly up and do a ground pound. The Papercraft fights added even more variety to the already well-rounded roster of foes. My only complaint here was that the camera angles for Papercraft fights were simply awful. I couldn’t see the enemy half the time.

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Mario & Luigi Paper Jam is a solid entry in a long line of successful Mario RPGs. Though the plot is possibly the most boring version of a “save the princess” story I’ve seen in a long time, and some of the boss fights felt overwhelming, the gameplay in Paper Jam makes the title shine. And with plenty of Paper Toads to collect, interspersed mini-games, and a warp pipe leading to challenge mode boss battles and more, you can easily accumulate over 40 hours of gameplay from this title (the main story takes about 25-30, depending on how thorough you are). Plus, Paper Jam is set to catchy tunes composed by the brilliant Yoko Shimamura, adding unexpected tension and beauty to the colorful, papercraft world.

If you like RPGs, or Mario, or both, pick up Paper Jam. It’s not the best of its class, but it’s a fun challenge that will appeal to most.

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A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.