The latest installment in the Mario and Luigi series, aptly named “Paper Jam,” is the first big title of 2016 for Nintendo’s 3DS. After a mysterious book unleashes the Paper Mushroom Kingdom, everyone’s favorite plumbers team up with their paper-thin counterpart to begin a grand adventure to take on double the Bowser, double the Bowser Jr., and even more of the Koopa family. Will the plumbers be able to not only protect their princesses and friends, but manage to dish out a solid title worthy of your time?
What’s wrong with two Marios, huh?!
The first thing that really stood out to me in Paper Jam were the excellent character designs and graphical quality in the title. Both the paper and 3D versions of the various characters in the kingdom are incredibly well done; animations are very fluid and quite splendid, portraying the emotions of each character. In short, the game looks very good. Luigi cowering before a group of paper goombas, Paper Mario folding into a paper airplane to help Mario and Luigi float to safety, Toads folding, bending, and running away from Bowsers minions; I thoroughly enjoyed the art direction and character animations throughout the entirety of my play-through of Paper Jam. My one complaint about the visuals, however, is that the level/world designs were a little underwhelming. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t incredibly memorable either. Plus, there were many of the typical worlds we’ve grown accustomed to in Mario games: the green, somewhat bland levels at the beginning, followed by some general desert lands, some underground areas, etc. Again, the level designs weren’t bad, but they definitely weren’t on par with the amount of detail in the character designs and animations.
I wasn’t too sure how the paper designs would blend with the 3D world and character designs; thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only do they look good, they actually play a part in the gameplay as well, mixing the visuals and mechanics in a very nice way. I found the mixing of the two worlds to be endearing – as far as story and character interactions go – and played a very nice role in various gameplay elements. For instance, fighting a paper Goomba, who usually have many copies stuck together that need to be defeated, will fight and respond to attacks differently than a 3D version of the same Goomba. Getting an “excellent” rating on a jump attack with a large hit point count might crumple a paper Goomba (rendering them immobile), while the 3D counterpart will still be able to respond under the same attack. The character designs not only look great, but they add depth to the combat system – a very welcome attribute.
Combat mechanics are great, and special moves for general platforming are fun, like this stack/stretch move
Speaking of the gameplay, I found it to be very entertaining and engaging. As with the previous Mario and Luigi titles, combat is turn-based with a twist: dodging and possibly countering enemy attacks, as well as performing higher power attacks depends on the player’s skills. For example, when an enemy is about to attack Luigi, the player can either block the attack with a safe defense (the “X” button) and take a guaranteed smaller amount of damage, or specifically press the “B” button at the right time to either dodge or counter it. But, further gameplay depth occurs not only in the timing, but in the proper character interaction – pressing “A” controls Mario, pressing “B” controls Luigi, and pressing “Y” controls Paper Mario. When an enemy attacks Mario, be sure to press “A,” or when Paper Mario has the opportunity to perform a higher level attack, pressing “Y” at the correct time will initiate it. It’s a welcome combat mechanic that adds more variety. This unique button-specific system works very well in combat, but a little less so in general platforming. If you haven’t played previous titles in this franchise, you have to press a separate button for each hero in order to, say, climb stairs or dodge an enemy. It isn’t too big of a problem, but there were some moments throughout my play-through where I would’ve rather not had to independently press each button to get past segments; a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.