When you think about Nintendo poster boy Mario, and RPG doesn’t immediately spring to mind. The charismatic, almost silent red and blue clad plumber has made his name in the world of platformers, but for a few years now Nintendo has allowed their premiere IP to evolve into something different. The 3DS has played host to some rather successful RPG interpretations of the moustachioed hero, and Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is no exception.
Retaining all the colourful antics of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad, Paper Jam sets out from the start do do exactly what the name implies. A little mischievous tomfoolery from Luigi and Toad accidentally spills the world of Paper Mario into regular Mario’s one, creating a mash-up between two highly successful universes with some comical results. The self-awareness of every paper character is hilarious to see unfold, as they gasp and gawk at all the extra dimensional characters and scenery around them.
Of course this also means two Bowsers are able to team-up and really give the dual Marios a run for their money, capturing both regular and paper Peach in the sort of series staple scenario that even Peach herself seems to find a little drab at this point (Paper Peach literally cannot believe she’s in another world where being kidnapped is still seemingly normal). So Paper Jam doesn’t deviate from the formula too much at this point, but its witty writing keeps things entertaining from start to finish.
The writing can, however, get more than overbearing in the way the game communicates tutorials. There’s a lot going on in this RPG, and the basics explained at a snail’s pace. Toad often speaks for the almost mute Mario and Luigi, so having him reiterate their thoughts while stepping through guided tutorials on new abilities brings the pace down to a crawl. The game is also intent on making sure you properly understand every single mechanic to a nauseating degree – sometimes requiring up to three attempts before letting you loose again.
It’s cluttered and unnecessary, but thankfully free combat is the absolute opposite. Being assigned static buttons to both Mario and Luigi (and later Paper Mario too) is actually quite genius, as it streamlines a battle system that is otherwise quite complicated. Firing off turn-based attacks with either plumber is easy enough, requiring some deft timing to deliver the maximum amount of damage possible. The same goes for avoiding attacks, where a keen eye on enemy behaviour helps you decide which brother to act on and which to ignore.
It gives combat a rhythmic feel almost, which is amplified by the use of combined attacks between Mario and Luigi. These burn through Battle Points that will need replenishing after time, but offer up the most dynamic and fun moments in combat. Whether it’s kicking a shell between one another while doing damage to multiple enemies or simply swatting them with finely timed tennis shots (its as weird and wonderful as it sounds), there’s never a moment when you want to avoid Paper Jam’s combat. You’ll seek it out feverishly on most occasions.
Doing so opens up Paper Jam’s best elements, which lie nestled in the fantastic enemy and, more importantly, boss design that switch combat up in exciting ways. Enemy variations keep you on your toes when it comes to reading defensive moves, but it’s the many boss battles that truly shine. These instances mash together small mini-games and expended combat sequences – throwing different and new attacks at you while challenging you to keep Mario and Luigi alive long enough to win. Paper Jam is a challenging game, despite its charming exterior. And it’s better because of it.
Outside of combat you’ll be treated to some light platforming, which again makes use of the buttons assigned to each protagonist to get them jumping, dashing and otherwise just walking all over the place. There’re some secrets to find and small, light puzzles to solve along the way, most of which require some backtracking once you’ve acquired a specific ability or item to progress. Still, these small little hubs do a good job of pacing Paper Jam, offering some explorative downtime after the rush of a close battle.
It also features all the RPG staples you’d expect from the genre, including some stores to purchase new gear for each character, useable items and small little side quests. These often end up being short mini-games that have you hunting for toads or engaging in short races, and they’re again another good addition to the overall pace of the game. There’s never nothing to do in Paper Jam, and the game does a good job of making sure you’re always moving forward but having fun at the same time.
It’s a middle of the road RPG in a sense, because it skimps out on some of the deeper mechanics that the genre is known for while double dipping on others. In a sense it’s the best type of RPG for a mobile device such as the 3DS then – offering bite sized worlds to have fun in for a short time and a combat system that links up with this design perfectly. But it’s deep and long enough to be considered a wholesome adventure, and one that never loses its way in terms of writing, challenge or intrigue along the way.
Last Updated: January 15, 2016