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?
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.
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.
Paper Jam offers more variety than just the correct buttons being pushed at the right time. Special attacks, in the form of Bros. Attacks (Mario and Luigi) and Trio Attacks (all three heroes) create new opportunities for the player to deal massive damage to enemies in different ways. These usually equate to short mini-games that deal more damage depending on how well the player performs, utilizing the selected heroes to work in tandem. An example is a Trio Attack in which Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario take turns running with a kite (made of the enemies being fought) and getting it higher in the air, only to have Paper Mario run up the line and use his hammer to smash the kite back down to the earth. My personal favorites were all found in the Trio Attacks, showcasing some entertaining visual flair along with fun gameplay mechanics. In addition to these special attacks, paper-craft battles also break up the battle gameplay, though they were a little lacking. The player would control multiple Toads transporting a giant paper-craft Mario (or Luigi) to take out enemy paper-craft. The many Toads have to be “encouraged” by standing on platforms throughout each paper-craft battle level and pressing the correct button at the proper time – related to a rhythmic pattern. Honestly, I found these battles to be largely boring; a minor hindrance on the otherwise excellent gameplay in the rest of the game.
As if that wasn’t enough variety in Paper Jam, another battle mechanic is added later on, in the form of card decks. Though the game could be played without the usage of any of these battle cards, they’re a nice addition that can easily change the momentum of a battle. Each battle deck must consist of 10 cards exactly in order to be used in battle, each card costing a different amount of “star points.” Star points are gained by filling up a meter on the lower screen, which is filled by performing “excellent” and “good” attacks on enemies in battle. Each card grants its own ability – dealing massive damage to multiple enemies, granting enhanced speed or defense, giving health in different percentages, and so on. It’s a nice addition that isn’t necessary, but a very welcome one to create even more variety in the gameplay.
One other aspect of Paper Jam I appreciated is the way the player is taught how to play throughout. With the previous Mario and Luigi titles (Bowser’s Inside Story, Dream Team), I found it quite annoying how a new mechanic would be added incredibly frequently, and the time taken to learn the new additions would slow the pacing of the game down and felt like it held the player’s hand too much. In Paper Jam, that is not the case at all. In fact, there were many times that I skipped any tutorials and just learned by trying the moves out. What I mean is this: in Paper Jam, the tutorials are given to the player as almost optional most of the time. Learn a new Trio Attack? Well, instead of taking time to go through a slow tutorial, you can view the demo or try the attack out when you get into your next battle. Only the major mechanics (ie – paper-craft battles, battle cards, etc.) require the player to go through a usually brief tutorial. I never felt like I was being held by the hand through the game, nor did I feel that the difficulty was too hard; there’s a nice balance and difficulty curve in Paper Jam.
There were a few mis-steps in Paper Jam: the music was decent, but nothing of note, the paper-craft battles weren’t anything special, and the level designs were quite lacking. Aside from those, however, I really enjoyed this title. The story and dialogue were fun and entertaining, the colorful cast were endearing, the visuals were nicely done, and I had a lot of fun with the gameplay mechanics. Combine these aspects with value in gameplay length (this title will take you some time to finish, even completing story objectives alone) and Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is a title I recommend. If you’re into RPGs, Paper Jam truly delivers with additional minor platforming elements and fun tweaks to the conventional turn-based mechanics. Or, perhaps you’re just into Mario titles; in which case, this game also delivers. The 3DS has a great start to 2016 in Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, offering a substantial amount of entertainment for your hard earned paper…I mean, money.
A review copy of this title was provided.