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Does the newest Mario & Luigi adventure write for players a fantastic adventure, or is it the fanfic that never should have been?
The Mario & Luigi series has been running strong for quite some time now. Beginning on the Game Boy Advance and spanning to the Nintendo 3DS, the now five-game-long series has been taking the Super Mario Brothers franchise and adding one part RPG and one part comedy in order to create an entirely different series for the brothers to star in, all while keeping the Super Mario feel intact. Though relatively young, the series has definitely made its mark through the over-the-top adventures it has sent Mario and Luigi on. From fighting off invading aliens with their baby counterparts to collecting magical stone pillows in order to visit the Dream World, the Bros. have never had much in the form of relaxation when it comes to their adventures. With the crazy levels of each adventure off the charts, it’s always interesting seeing what new characters, places, and stories will pop up within each new installment of the Mario & Luigi series, and Nintendo has delivered quite spectacularly thus far. Despite their successful recipe, however, it seems as though the company decided to take a bit of a different turn with the 5th M&L installment, and thus Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam was born.
Rather than beginning with a trip to somewhere exotic or a royal meeting, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam starts out in an old, dusty room within the confines of Princess Peach’s castle, with a Toad and, of all people, Luigi, attempting to fix a draft. The whole scene is rather comical and I really do not want to spoil it, so I’ll sum it up by saying that it ends with Luigi bumping into a bookshelf responsible for unshelving a book containing the entire Paper Mario universe (which is actually kind of neat), knocking said book off of the shelf, and releasing what seems to be every being living within the Paper Mario universe out into Mario and Luigi’s three-dimensional world. This immediately causes quite a bit of trouble. There are now two Bowsers that have kidnapped two Princess Peaches, and double the minions to boot. Fortunately, the Mario Bros have some new help on their side as well, in the form of good old Paper Mario! Paper Luigi decided to sit this one out.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is, at its core, a turn-based RPG. Like with most games within the genre, players and enemies take turns attacking one another (with turns being decided based off the Speed stats of the characters) in an attempt to reduce their opponent to 0 HP. When enemies are defeated, the bros +1 get some EXP (needed to level up and increase their stats) and coins (the game’s currency). While much of the combat formula is very classic, the M&L series has always had one additional mechanic that made the combat its own thing. Unlike with most turned-based RPGs such as the classic Final Fantasy games or Pokemon, Mario and Luigi (and Paper Mario) have the ability to literally nullify every attack through the use of dodging. While this may seem simple as a concept, every enemy has its own unique attack set, as well as its own set of tells (which allow players to figure out who, when, and from where the enemy is attacking) that can cause a lot of trouble for players underestimating the difficulty of the game.
On top of things, players are now responsible for controlling three characters at a time. Although other games within the M&L franchise featured more than two characters (such as the Baby Bros or Bowser), players have never before been tasked with using more than two characters at once. While the idea is cool, it gets overwhelming pretty easily. Not only do players have to time dodges for three characters at once, but Paper Jam has also introduced Trio Attacks. Trio Attacks are a +1 version of the game series’ staple Bros Attacks, involving both Mario and Luigi to hit enemies hard. Bros Attacks generally require players to be pretty accurate with both timing and button inputs, and can be pretty difficult to pull off consistently, and Trio Attacks honestly only make things worse. Nothing’s more frustrating than losing a boss battle because you hit “Y” instead of “B” or the like. With that being said, the combat within the game is largely charming. Dodging enemy attacks and learning their patterns is always very satisfying and, although they may be frustrating at times, seeing that huge “EXCELLENT” after a perfectly-executed Bros or Trio Attack is always enough to make one smile.
The music within Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is pleasant and, for the most part, quite well-composed. I would, in fact, almost go so far as to say that the game had an appealing soundtrack overall if it weren’t for one thing; Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Now, I may be the only one with this opinion here, but I’ll say it anyway; the soundtrack for Mario & Luigi: Dream Team was absolutely phenomenal. Composed by Yoko Shimomura (the genius behind most of the Kingdom Hearts music among other things), the Dream Team soundtrack felt largely like the soundtrack to an, for lack of a better term, actual RPG. Shimomura also composed the Paper Jam soundtrack (and every other Mario & Luigi soundtrack, actually), so the music not having the same oomph within this game is a bit of a let-down. Sure, the music is definitely on the “good” side of things, but I really do not know that I can give it any other compliment past that after knowing that she was capable of oh-so-much more.
I don’t really know what I can say about the graphical aspects within Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, mainly due to the fact that they’re almost exactly the same as they were in the previous M&L installment. They remain vivid and retain their weird blurry-yet-crisp aesthetic. The real magic is not in any sort of graphical enhancement, but rather how Paper Jam mixes together two vastly different and opposing art styles into one game so well. These contrasting art styles seem to be the inspiration behind many of the mini-games found within the game (almost all of which center around rescuing the Paper Toads from comically tragic situations). The game also constantly pokes fun at the fact that paper-thin beings generally do not fare well within fully three-dimensional environments and, in terms of the visual gags, make for quite a few entertaining scenes.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is an enjoyable journey for those interested. While not the most noteworthy in the series (despite the fact that it centers around a crossover), players should still find the quirky combat combined with the top-notch writing a recipe for a winning adventure. The fact that there was a crossover in the first place does bring up one question though; what of the Paper Mario series itself? With Sticker Star being its last title, the Paper Mario series certainly is not looking the best that it has been for quite some time. The series certainly has seen success in the past, and maybe Nintendo thought that bringing in Mario’s paperweight doppelganger to the currently more successful Mario & Luigi line of games would give to the series new life. Will Paper Mario continue on his own adventures once more, or was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam the final chapter? Only time will tell.
Final verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: 3DS (reviewed) ; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo; Release Date: December 3rd, 2015; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a full retail copy of the game.
Starting out with nothing more than a Game Boy and a copy of Donkey Kong Land, Kenny has happily been gaming for almost his entire life. Easily-excitable and a bit on the chatty side, Kenny has always been eager to share gaming-related thoughts, opinions, and news with others and has been doing so on Hey Poor Player since 2014 and has previously worked with both PKMNcast and SCATcast. Although his taste in gaming spreads across a wide number of companies and consoles, Kenny holds a particular fondness for Nintendo handheld consoles. He is also very proud of his amiibo collection. You can also find him on Twitter @SuperBayleef talking about video games and general nonsense.
Some of his favorite games include Tetris Attack, Pokémon Black Version 2, The World Ends With You, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Yo-kai Watch, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS, Kirby's Dreamland 3, Mega Man X, and Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (among many others).