Review: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Mario and Luigi episodes have been ongoing now for years, and are a weird cross-over of the famous Nintendo mascot platformer with RPG elements, which Nintendo did not seem like a bad idea on paper. This year, we get our hands on Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, a hybrid of graphic style, mixing dishes and folding elements from the Mario and Luigi saga and another RPG licence: Paper Mario. Sadly, even if it combines two great licences, it is not enough to make it a good game and I’ll explain why.
In the Mario universe, characters that populate illustrated books have a life of its own in a fantasy world. And thus in Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, because of Luigi’s clumsiness, the Paper Mario world entered the parallel universe of Mario & Luigi, which quickly was snatched by the Bowser clan. So without ruining any surprises, you’ll end up having two princesses (Peach and Paper Peach) getting kidnapped by both Koopa Kings helped by a duo of Kamek wizards and new paper recruits. Although the previous Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time left had us use four characters, this time three characters are our heroes: Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario. And If you think this makes things simpler, guess again.
As usual, like previous Mario & Luigi titles, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam has a mixture of turn-based orders and real-time actions, serving both to increase the damage of your attacks, to dodge enemy attacks, or even counter-attack in some case. Jumps, hammers, Bros. duo attacks are added to three characters, in the addition of Paper Mario’s new copy option, which duplicate him to a stack of 6, for more defense. Very powerful but also more complicated to achieve, the trio attacks require concentration (and the use of the three characters of course) to be truly effective. From the trio racquet to the trio kite attack, each technique uses a different method to hit the enemies where it hurts. If the anticipation and reflexes are not your forte, there are always ways to activate an easy mode to enjoy the game, making it handy and less arduous, even if it will close the door to the expert challenges rewarded with special points which you can trade for equipment in the Toad shops.
That said, since we finished the game quite easily in its normal mode with the equipment purchased or found over the numerous areas, the real challenge here is to finish everything at 100%, while others will lose nothing succumbing to the temptation of the easy mode. There’s also the ability to use fight cards, which open roughly around mid-adventure, and will be extremely useful at the end, and against a boss or two more tanks. You will just have to make sure to have enough star points (obtained by successfully attacks, blocks and counters) to activate them via the touch screen, knowing that only three cards from the deck will be shuffled out simultaneously. You can also create up to three decks (randomly or manually) if you are smart about it, and want to bring a secret strategy to a boss fight.
But what causes the most concern remains the management of three characters at once when fighting enemies, especially against swift ones or backstabbing routines. When enemies are able to kill one or two characters at once because of bad timing, things can become very frustrating. Same goes for the platforming phases, although the X button makes things easier for doing synchronized glides and jumps. Everything related to pure exploration is however a walk in the park, without a little mystery or hidden passage that will make you scratch your head. I played through the entire game without any real obstruction, which just battles interrupting my constant progress.
Even if it combines two great licences, it is not enough to make it a good game
Similarly, do not hesitate to search everywhere to recover stashed goodies like beans (which add bonus stats to your Mario Bros.) and various weapons and gear. But as nothing is really hidden far from the main road and we did not stop to pick up stuff, there is no real satisfaction to get hold of the treasures that are often outdated an hour later. Between the redundant dialogues, good but too frequent fights and not necessarily optional mini-games which lose their attractiveness past the third part of the game, I must admit that I ended up forced to reach the required 25 to 30 hours of play to finish the game. Even the giant papercraft battles, as funny and thoughtful as they are, become such chores as they drag on without offering more challenging parts throughout the story. I think all in all, there was ample means to “cut the fat” to provide a more digestible adventure on a small twenty hour at best, especially since we do not get attached to the game for its is screenplay or goofy jokes.
I mean, I even believe the developers were aware of the lack of proper screenplay, since they incorporated a “fast forward” function (by pressing the R button), saving valuable time on dialogues rarely inspired but nicely located as usual. Most tutorials are also set aside for you to consult on request and at will in case of trouble. Nevertheless we can focus on the good aspects of the gameplay, further refined from the previous episode, with a marriage of techniques and transformations for a consistent ride over techniques of fighting and RPG. Note that the music and visual realization is very pleasant: the mixture between enemy sprites, 3D models, or even that blend of paper and cardboard elements are wonderful. Too bad occasional slowdowns taint the experience in the case of fast action chases or when the screen becomes overloaded with effects for a tiny Nintendo 3DS engine.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam was reviewed using a Nintendo 3DS copy of the game purchased by the reviewer. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• Fighting system is still successful
• A fun concept that is always successful paper
• Fun tunes and music
• A quick and easy adventure
• Three characters to manage can get annoying
• A bland story and shallow dialogue.
• Boring minigame fillers
• The Papercraft battles are quickly tiresome