Both Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario are franchises that I’ve got some experience in but I’ve always enjoyed the Paper Mario games a little bit more. I’ve played them all and I really fell in love with the release of Super Paper Mario – the now infamous “message boards” joke summing up perfectly why I like the non-serious approach these games have taken towards their storytelling. Mario and Luigi, on the other hand, I’m a little bit less well versed in but I enjoy both for what they are. With Paper Jam Bros., Nintendo have mixed what is presumably the best of both worlds. But does it work? It does, but it’s definitely not the best.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. opens with an admittedly boring scene – Luigi and Toad are looking for the source of a draught in the attic of Peach’s Castle. Through some mishaps and clumsy luck, Luigi knocks over a book in the attic which unleashes the world of Paper Mario into the world of, well, normal Mario. Never one to miss an opportunity to wreak havoc, Paper Bowser teams up with Bowser to wreak havoc on the Mushroom Kingdom. Being the natural heroes they are – Mario, Luigi and Peach all team up with their paper counterparts to take on Bowser together. It’s a simple story and one that, despite its simplicity, is well written with the now trademark sardonic and witty humor we’ve come to expect from Nintendo’s recent localisations. I might be the only one too – but those waiting to see Fawful’s triumphant return are bound to be disappointed by Paper Jam Bros much like Dream Team Bros.
While it mixes the aesthetics of Paper Mario and the recent Mario & Luigi games, Paper Jam Bros. really highlights just how similar these two games are. But despite both of these games being such strong offerings in their own right, there is something terse about these two games coming together and being overall lesser than the sum of its parts. Yes, it’s still a turn based RPG. Yes, it still has the humour and wit you’ve come to expect from these games. Heck, it even resolved the biggest issues with Dream Team Bros – namely it’s long and arduous tutorials. But it’s still packed to the brim with mini-games which bring the whole thing down. There’s no nice way to put this – they’re fun (and probably outsourced) offerings that quickly become monotonous filler as time passes by. When your game would probably flow better when scenarios are completely removed, but they’re left in instead, something is wrong.
Which is a crying shame because the battle system in Paper Jam Bros. is easily one of the franchise’s best. Some elements of the game have been toned down – equipment is still here but badges are completely removed – for example. But the same system that encourages you to time button presses against your moves to further bolster them returns from previous games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s a simple system that makes the battles feel so much more active and involved than just inputting commands and waiting for the animations to play out.
The newest inclusion is Paper Mario himself – who joins the team of Mario and Luigi to offer his own brand of fight to the battle. Paper Mario can be controlled independently of Mario and Luigi, can multiply himself into copies to nullify or lessen damage against him or even to inflict more damage on his enemies. When combining his abilities with Mario and Luigi, players can pull off devastating “Trio Attacks” from hammer slams to meteor showers. Controlling three characters during the battles isn’t necessarily unprecedented in this series but it does help to make the battles a little bit more complex and engaging as the enemies usually up their ante to compensate too.
While badges are gone, they are replaced with a battle card system which my cynical self has a hard time following. To divert topics for a second – every time you hear a developer has replaced a system that’s proven to work with a “cards” system of some sort, be afraid. Cards are random. Cards are single use. Cards encourage purchases of blind packs. Thankfully, Paper Jam Bros. doesn’t do the latter, but it does let you enter battle with these cards to bolster your attacks. Perhaps even more brazen, some of these cards are tied to specific amiibo usage, which is nice for existing amiibo users but not so nice for those who aren’t interesting in accumulating more plastic.
Without a doubt the most obnoxious component of Dream Team Bros. was the game’s giant battles, and unfortunately they rear their ugly head in Paper Jam Bros. as well. They’re now called Papercraft Battles – and sees Mario create a large papercraft version of himself and engage in a nightmarish rendition of bumper cars. They were fun for the first time that we got to play through them, but later on in the game they just brought the pacing down. To this day, I’ll never understand why AlphaDream keeps trying to make these incessant mini-games happen in the Mario and Luigi games – lord knows the battle system itself is already fun and robust enough – but these Papercraft Battles are easily the dreariest segment of the game.
And to address the elephant in the room, Paper Jam Bros. hopefully will mark the end of a dreadful quarter for Nintendo releasing a slew of low quality titles cobbled together from already existing assets. Paper Jam Bros. is nowhere near the reprehensible quality of games like amiibo Festival but there are a few signs of it being a lower budget title that might irk some fans. For one, a large majority of this game you’ve already seen before. The enemy variety is similarly embarrassingly low for a game of this caliber too. Such a lack of variety is easily overlooked since it’s very cosmetic and the game itself is still fun, but it definitely sticks out with Paper Jam Bros that the team might’ve been working with a lower budget.
That being said, Paper Jam Bros. is still a substantial affair. We’d wager that most players will be able to easily get at least twenty hours of gameplay out of it – probably more if they didn’t rush through it and explored everything the game had to offer. We’d bet that a large amount of players will similarly spend most of their time in the second half of the game, as the difficulty curve skews ridiculously to the point where some younger players might not be capable enough to input the buttons required to dodge and reduce damage. As an older player, I enjoyed the challenge, but those who have enjoyed the “light” approach to the genre that Paper Jam Bros. provided will be taken off guard by such a spike in difficulty.
Review concludes below.