The brothers are ready for their second ride on the 3DS. They even brought a special guest along!
Despite those initial slow moments, I really loved Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. The game was filled with great music and some really fun and clever ideas throughout. While I understand why people wouldn't like it, my smirk stayed while wrapping up the game. This is why I was excited for more Mario & Luigi on the Nintendo 3DS. Like every game in the series, there is a twist involved and Paper Jam Bros. features one of the bigger ones. You team up with Paper Mario for a grand adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom!
The story of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. is not the best. Luigi is in a storage room high in Peach's Castle, where leaks are a normal occurrence. He and a Toad find a mouse that made a hole in the wall and chase after it. After some crazy hijinks, Luigi falls from a bookcase and it is here where a magical book is discovered. Before Luigi can raise any questions, the book unleashes the Paper Mario universe into the Mario & Luigi one. This all sounds great on paper (no pun intended), but it gets no time to really sink in.
The opening starts to bring in the paper characters fairly quickly and it doesn't take long before you take control of Mario & Luigi. Does that mean that the story is deprived of any fun? Not at all! There is some cute banter between both versions of Bowser Jr, who really seem to like one another. Another bit is how the Princess Peach versions discuss the irritation of being kidnapped all the gosh darn time. After wandering around for a bit and your initial Toad Rescue mission (more on those in a bit), you bump into Paper Mario and your true travel can begin.
Mario & Luigi have their usual antics, but I found them a tad less expressive than in the previous games. Paper Mario gives pretty much blank stares to his new friends, so it must all come from the round looking lads. Paper Jam Bros. finds ways to make it all work though and there is one particular scene that comes to mind. Luigi loses the book that contains the world of Paper Mario and it lands in the hands on Bowser's minions. Our green hero is very saddened and Paper Mario decides to cheer him up by allowing himself to be used as a napkin. It gave me the silliest grin on my face and proved the highlight of the journey so far.
So you might be asking yourself: ''What is the ultimate goal in this game? Is there a big evil to fight?'' To answer the latter question, I am not sure myself just yet. It seems that your big goal is to reach Bowser's Castle, save a variety of Paper Toads and Princesses and bring the Paper characters back to their own world. Paper Toads in particular are terrified of the new world that they have entered. So much so that they hide themselves somewhere in the world, simply to ensure that they won't be potted.
This brings the Toad Rescue missions to light, which play a surprisingly big part during the adventure. Basically, while walking through the game or accepting missions at Lakitu Center, you get tasked with finding your mushroom guy pals in an isolated area. When I played this at E3, I didn't think much of these and found them neither here nor there. Now I see them as fun diversions and most of these try different things to keep you engaged. There are puzzles where you have to break certain blocks to get the Toads to you, which keep you on your feet. There are moments where you have to move the Toads to a certain part of the map and make sure that they don't escape. Other moments sees you battling enemies to free the mushrooms from their clutches. They really go places, though my only complaint is that there can be too much of them in a short amount of time.
Something that you will do often as well is partake in battles. The battles are familiar to anyone who’s played a prior Mario and Luigi game. The brothers have their usual array of Jump and Hammer attacks, which haven’t changed much since Dream Team. There are a few new Bros. Attacks so far though! With Rocket Blast, Mario and Luigi will fly high and drop down on their opponents. If you do both button presses correctly, the last brother flies off with the rocket and gets one extra chance to hurt the opponent even more. The other new attack is called Drill Shell. The brothers lift each other up into the air and you have to press at right time to drill directly into the enemy. This will rack up the hits and causes a ton of damage at impact. Naturally, the 3D Red Shell and Fire Flower make a glorious return to give the player some familiarity.
The way that you get these Bros. Attacks is sort of unique. In special chase segments, you follow the dastardly Nabbit around. When you are able to catch him, it earns you new attacks that can be used in combat. Next to Bros Attacks, you will also earn Trio Attacks this way and this is where Paper Mario comes into the picture. His first basic ability is that he can make up to five extra copies of himself. This not only protects his low Hit Points from harm, but it will help our thin friend to do more damage in battle. When he jumps, every copy follows up him up in quick succession and it is up to you to time your presses of the Y button just right. With the hammer, his copies will spread across all of the opponents on the field and this allows Paper Mario to be quite effective.
Also from a defensive perfective, Paper Mario is quite different from Mario and Luigi. His flutter jump allows him to stay in the air longer, while his hammer will charge and automatically moves if you don't let go. Players who aren't familiar with how Paper Mario operates will see a learning curve here and it will take a while before you can fully adjust. Naturally, his big personal feature is the Trio Attacks and they are the most rad thing in all of the combat. The Trio Racquet will see the entire party on the court and shooting the ball back to the wall where the enemies are strapped onto it. With the Trio Kite, you choose one enemy that will be strapped to the flying object. Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario have to press their buttons in quick succession and get the enemy high up into the air. The higher it comes, the bigger the impact will be when Paper Mario slams that opponent to the ground. Pulling off these attacks for maximum damage left a big grin on my face.
Next to Paper Mario, the other major difference in combat is that the badges are completely gone in Paper Jam Bros. You can still equip certain suits and gear to adjust stats, but the badge feature is no longer present. The leveling system of the previous Mario & Luigi games is back however and with every new rank, you are rewarded with some nifty rewards that will change up your character in some unique ways. They have added Battle Cards, which can be used after obtaining Star Points. These stars are earned by pulling off perfect moves and having enough can be your savior in battle. The effects of these cards include raising your defense by 25% for a limited time, nullifying your damage for a single turn or giving every enemy on the field 20 points of damage. You can purchase your own cards, which can be put into special sets of ten. They can be easily managed from the menu screen and with enough money you can build quite an army.
Alternatively, you can make usage of amiibo character cards. There is a catch right from the start: You have to register an amiibo. If you have other data saved to the figurine, you can't use the abilities that this feature offers. By finding or buying special ?-cards and scanning in the amiibo, you get one new card from that set. These cards feature colorful artwork from other games that features this character and it is quite a feast of recognition. It is a lot of fun collecting them, though the usefulness in battle is questionable. I mean, they don't take up any Star Power and can be used any time it is your turn. But the Battle Cards can only be used once per battle and you have to scan the amiibo to access the card set. If you are on the go, this isn't really an option and this makes it only helpful when you are sitting at home.
Regarding the enemies you actually fight in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros., there is naturally a ton of variety. While it is standard Super Mario selection of enemies, it is fun to see paper and regular versions mixed with one another. Regular Hammer Bros. throw their hammers high up into the air, while the paper version shoots them straight at the enemy for example. The unique elements of both franchises are really on display here and it keeps you on toes as far as how you deal with things. The bosses are great all the same. At one point, you fight two big Pokeys (regular and paper) and they help one another in many effective ways. Paper Pokey will shoot regular Pokey's body parts to the trio, with a lot of havoc coming from it as a result.
Between the regular battles, there are also the Papercraft ones, which were shown in full glory at this year's E3. Back then, I found them decent enough and that opinion quite frankly has not changed. In the Papercraft Battles, you stand on a gigantic Mario or Luigi and use dash and charge attacks to outsmart your opponents. Moving around can be a bit sluggish, though it carries that feel of controlling that heavy weapon. Attacks use energy and you will have go to specific spots to refill it. Here you will play a small rhythm minigame to replenish your health and get back to business. Paper variations of Goombas, Pokeys and Kamek all come along for the ride and each of them moves differently across the field. Toadette is in charge of it all, and she constantly makes inventions with an army of Paper Toads. She’s ready for adventure, which makes me wonder of parallels with a different game.
As you walk around through the world of Paper Jam Bros., you will see ground that will be familiar to you. It starts with the lush green area in the form of Sunbeam Plains, which is where the events start to unfold. This is followed up by the Doop Doop Dunes and the grotto of that same area. While the environments are not inspiring, they feature details that look absolutely lovely. There are even parts of the Paper Mario world thrown in to give the idea that this other world has invaded the areas. There are plenty of surprises along the way and everything just looks sharp on the Nintendo 3DS.
The environments really make good use of the trio mechanics in Paper Jam Bros. One of the earliest examples is how you can jump and dash together with the X-button. This will allow you to walk through the terrain rather quickly and even escape some enemy attacks if you want to. This is also important at special ramps that will launch you to other places on the map, which will make you travel in style. The Toad missions will also use this a lot, as the little buggers sprint like no other across the map. Trio Hammer allows you to break huge blocks together so that the way to new areas can be cleared. The final mechanic of note is the Trio Grab, with which you can reach poles and obstacles that are far away. Paper Mario takes a cylinder type and this stretches Mario and Luigi to places more easily.
With these mechanics, you will find new towns in which you can progress on your journey. You can play or replay (harder versions available) missions at the Lakitu Centers, buy your gear and items and talk to various NPCs. Some of them have fun minigames for you to play, puzzles to solve or extra items to give you. There is usually also a block to bring your characters back to full health. Mind you, this is not to save the game. Why is that you might ask? Well, you can save almost anywhere you want and come back to it later. This helped the game moving forward at a good pace and it helps to keep things light and enjoyable. The game is not a hard one so far either way, but the save system makes short rounds on the go desirable. The good news is, at least for me, that the tutorials are relegated to text books that you can easily skip!
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. isn't blowing me away like Dream Team Bros., but I am still having fun with it. The enjoyable atmosphere makes me want to keep playing and the pace seems more balanced than in the previous Nintendo 3DS entry. The Toad missions are fun, but they are a little much at times and can become annoying to go through as a result. The story isn't all that fantastic either, but there are cute moments at the very least. It is still hard to say where this game will end up for me, but I am intrigued to go and find out!