A very cute game, but pacing problems prevent the game from achieving excellence.
The Mario & Luigi RPG games are some of my absolute favorites. While each of them had nagging problems, the writing and constant variety of worlds made me a happy chap. The fact that we have another game on the Nintendo 3DS to enjoy is amazing to me. Sadly, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. is marred with the most problems of any given entry. Does that mean I disliked it? No, far from it even. Between those happy times though, I became irritated with how certain aspects were handled.
The story of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. is more straightforward than you would expect. The opening sees Luigi chasing a mouse and discovering a magical book. Before Luigi can raise any questions, the book unleashes the Paper Mario universe into the Mario & Luigi one. Enemies, familiar characters and a massive array of Toads storm in and cause havoc across the land. These opening moments go by in a very quick succession and not much weight is given to it. In the previous games, there would be a longer build up, but Paper Jam Bros. gives you the ropes quick. I felt slightly uneasy, but I got the hang of the way things were moving. The best surprise in this structure change is how the game progresses in those initial hours. You are no longer required to do any of the tutorials, which all relegated to options and texts that can be skipped. Players who are more than aware of Dream Team Bros' problems will be quite relieved by this.
It doesn't take long for you actually take control over the duo and travel to Sunbeam Plains, which is the first area in the game. The environments are what you would expect from a game with Mario in the title. You look around in Peach's Castle, go to the grassy area and begin that brand new journey. That sort of a key problem I have with Paper Jam Bros. It doesn't go deeper than the basic elements that make up the Mushroom Kingdom with underground, desert, beach and snow areas embracing this fact. They look great and paper parts are thrown in to make the invasion more exciting, but they aren't exactly inspiring.
When Paper Mario comes into the picture though, there is a sense of excitement that changes the whole game. There is something unique about traveling with this third companion, which feels so out of place in the world he is in. He doesn't say much, is incredibly thin and has moves that give new life to a battle system that I know and love. The interaction between the three of them is fantastic and there are more fun plot points that make the team up worthwhile. It is all really heartfelt, adorable and makes for some of the most clever writing in a Mario & Luigi game to date. The humor really pokes fun at the situation to the fullest. The Bowser Jrs clearly enjoy hanging out with the other one, and seeing them work together so well made me smile.
That adorableness makes traversing the world so joyful. There is always something waiting for you in the new area and exploring it is interesting. This is helped by the new trio mechanics, in which all three characters work together to get through the world. 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. Another neat one is the Trio Grab, with which you can reach poles and obstacles that are far away. Paper Mario takes a cylinder form and this stretches Mario and Luigi to places more easily. The trio mechanics are used in a variety of puzzles, so learning how to use them well is a big bonus. If you reach any parts that you find hard, there is now an option to save almost anywhere you like. This makes quick rounds possible and should allow the game to be more enjoyable to play through.
That should be indeed the case, but there is a nasty pacing problem that undermines the great efforts that the title makes. These come in the form of the missions, which have many varieties to them. The most common are the Toad Rescue missions and it is here that you save a bunch of Paper Toads that are scattered across the world. 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. In the first few hours, they were very fun to toy around with, but as I progressed it became all a little too much. Sometimes you had to do three or four missions in a row, and this proved annoying to partake in. While the first couple of times were acceptable, it became somewhat heartless as we inched closer to the goal. Most of the missions are harmless, but once they throw them in while exploring the environments every few steps, I just had the desire to move on.
What turned that frown upside down was the battle system, which is as fun as it ever has been. 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 some new Bros. Attacks for the needed variety, but Paper Mario is what makes it all the more stand out. 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. His Trio Attacks, which are even bigger than the Bros. Attacks, are the best thing in combat and they are fun to perfect.
Between the regular battles, there are also the Papercraft ones. 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 tricky, 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. I always looked forward to these Papercraft showdowns, because it caused some bigger villains to take the center stage. They start with taunting you, but in the end, it is fun to see them squirm.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. was enjoyable, but it suffers from some severe pacing problems. The missions became a little too much to endure and became sort of mean as I inched closer to the end. The story didn't blow me away either, but the writing itself was cute and interaction between characters was fantastic. The environments mostly touch on known ground, but it is well put together and accompanied by some great tunes to boot. What made me finish the game were the puzzles and combat, which are as grand as ever. While I don't want to spoil any bosses, you are ensured that they will give you a smile. Sometimes that smile is enough to keep going.