Where Nintendo fans young and old have enjoyed countless platformers from everyone’s favorite Italian plumber for decades, from 2D to 3D and everything in-between, the Mario & Luigi series has always offered something just a little bit different from the usual Mario adventure.
With a focus on RPG mechanics and turn-based combat, the series has offered a bit of a different (but no less charming) flavor to the usual platforming titles we’ve come to expect from Mario over the years.
The series’ latest entry Paper Jam not only combines the charm and with that Mario & Luigi fans have come to expect, but also adds in another tear (literally) with a crossover from the beloved Paper Mario series.
Despite the double entendre of its title, the latest title is far from the type of paper jam that might ruin your day on a tight deadline in an office environment; instead it offers a fun, charming roleplaying experience that, while light on depth, is big on making you grin while playing.
The set-up for Paper Jam finds Mario and Luigi trapped between two worlds, and in a pretty literal way. A Toad uncovers a magical book that magically unleashes the Paper Mario universe into the 3D realm of Mario & Luigi; from there all shell breaks loose (sorry for the pun) as Paper Bowser finds himself in cahoots with regular Bowser, and soon both Peaches of each universe are kidnapped in the process.
It’s a setup we’ve heard before, right? The princess being in another castle, or something like that? Sure, why not.
Yet, for all the times that players may have rescued Princess Peach and successfully defeated Bowser by throwing him into a fiery lava pit, Paper Jam‘s familiar premise is boosted by its combination of humor and charm, with the introduction of the universe adding a fun dimension (even if it’s only two-dimensional) to the strong comedic tone that Mario & Luigi games have offered in the past.
Following in the vein of the last RPG excursion with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Paper Jam offers an experience focused on a lighter-scaled RPG, with Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario all using attacks, magic, and abilities in the traditional turn-based combat style.
It uses timed-button presses not unlike something like Punch-Out!!, requiring more of a focus on rhythm and precision rather than complex statistics and in-depth character customization.
Compared to more complex JRPGs like your average Persona or Final Fantasy player might enjoy keeping track of, Paper Jam keeps the focus on a fairly easy-going RPG experience that’s definitely well-suited to first-time RPG players, or those looking for a fun alternative to the more traditional Mario games of yore.
In those ways, the title delivers by keeping its combat system fun and engaging, thought it’s also not without some of its own quirks.
Mario & Luigi mostly operates on the premise of keeping its RPG-inspired gameplay down to a relatively simple and fun level, though Paper Jam often provides some fairly radical (and unexpected) spikes in difficulty that players may not quite be ready for.
Where a majority of the time players will find the experience relatively fun and free of any particularly difficult encounters, some unexpected jumps in difficulty (especially some of the later-game boss battles) can really make player progression hit a brick wall at the least expected moment, putting it at odds with its more (relatively) leisured pace.
The Paper Mario aspects of the game come through in more than just having the beloved universe collide with Mario & Luigi, as Paper Mario himself has some added abilities and features that can help Mario & Luigi both inside and outside of the battlefield.
Fans of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds will find Paper Mario‘s ability to slip through small cracks familiar in helping to reach (otherwise) inaccessible areas, while even the paper-ified enemies move and react differently compared to regular enemies, offering some unique challenges and strategies being needed to take them down.
Aside from the main RPG action, the title also includes plenty of mini-games and side bonuses to keep players invested either in completing smaller side tasks, or geared a bit more towards quick, fun diversions if you’re looking for smaller bursts of Mario & Luigi fun. The mini-games don’t have much in particular related to the main game, and their quality often varies.
A sumo-inspired mini-game involving the protagonists riding on giant paper crafts offered a lot of fun on the side, while various fetch quests where players had to hunt down Toads in past environments kind of grew on the monotonous side after a few takes, especially with revisiting a lot of past areas I had already been through.
The mini-games are far from complex and might only offer short bursts of fun best saved for a commute or a quick way to kill time, but they still serve as fun diversions on the side, even if you may not want to revisit them too often.
Those small issues aside, the game makes up for some of its more irritating gameplay and mechanical elements with its charm and visuals.
Even if it doesn’t have quite the same level of distinctive, visual flavor to it as seen in more recent Nintendo games like Yoshi’s Woolly World or Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Paper Jam still bursts off the screen with plenty of color and life, especially with the fun comparisons and contradictions between the Mario & Luigi visuals and the more unique flair of the Paper Mario characters interacting with them.
For all its slight flaws and imperfections, Paper Jam takes the elements of its two different series and manages to craft an experience that captures the fun, charm, and spirit of its respective franchises, even if at times it feels more like a Xerox than a wholly new creation.
As a crossover between two of the more beloved alternative Mario adventures coming together as one, it truly feels like the paper mâché of the spin-off Mario RPG titles. Not all of its elements stick together entirely or fit nicely, but Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam still gets by with a lot of heart and humor to boot.