Paper Jam is a fun, enjoyable romp but the game's flaws hamper what could have been something great.
Following Mario’s arrival to the RPG genre with Super Mario RPG in 1996, there have been two main RPG game series featuring Mario and company: Paper Mario, which has mainly stayed on home consoles, and Mario and Luigi, which has stayed on handhelds. I would have never thought that the two would somehow meld together into one game...and well, it kind of didn’t. But that is the idea behind Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam. The game can be pretty fun at times, and it’s hard to deny the charm that comes with the Mario series as a whole. I’d like to say I had fun throughout the entire game, but that wouldn’t be truthful. While most of my experiences with Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam were positive ones, pacing issues and a feeling of overall blandness keep it from being a top notch experience.
The first thing you should know that this is very much a Mario and Luigi game. That’s to be expected given the title, but aside from characters and paper settings, there really isn’t anything here from the Paper Mario series in terms of battle mechanics or familiar faces. The story can be easily summed up: Luigi discovers a book that contains the Paper Mario world, he opens it which sends all the paper Toads and other Mario characters scattered across the world. Eventually, both versions of Princess Peach are kidnapped by Bowser and it’s up to Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario to save the day. While the story is adequate, it’s pretty bare bones and doesn’t go much beyond these couple of sentences. In fact, it’s rather bland with a straightforward narrative with no twists or turns. It’s perfectly acceptable, but not anything that’ll be memorable. It’s weird that with a concept like the two biggest Mario RPG franchises melding into one world, developer AlphaDream virtually did nothing to make the concept feel important.
The wit of the series is still there, as I enjoyed the game’s dialogue. The NOA localization team always does a top notch job when it comes to humor in the Mario and Luigi RPG series, and this game is no different. But without many memorable characters or settings there really isn’t anything to really get into in terms of presentation. The worlds feel lively, but also come across as bland in terms of design. If you’ve seen a desert, woods or Bowser’s Castle level in any Mario game ever, then you probably get the idea of what’s in Paper Jam. The music is fine, but there have been better soundtracks. The graphics do look really nice and are vibrant, but then again many Mario games are. There’s just a no-frills feeling here in terms of presentation. That’s not necessarily a knock, as I’ve never seen an ugly Mario game before. It just comes off as kind of mundane instead of exceptional.
So while there isn’t anything memorable in terms of story or presentation, Paper Jam excels in the gameplay department. If you have played Mario and Luigi before, this will feel familiar. You’ll either be able to use the hammer or the brother’s jumping abilities to thwart enemies, or they can use their Bros. Attacks, which were one of my favorite parts of the game. Paper Mario’s abilities add a uniqueness to the game as he doesn’t operate like the regular Bros. as he uses the “Copy” feature which makes copies of himself, upping his damage. It took me a while to get the special attacks and Paper Mario down completely, but once I did they were fun, creative ways of dealing massive damage to the enemies. It was also very fun just learning how to thwart the various enemies (all familiar Mario enemies from previous games such as Goombas, Spinys, etc.) as well as the bosses, who each have a unique way to test you as you climb further towards the end of the game.
A new addition to this series are Papercraft Battles, which usually pop up when you’re about to enter or leave an area. Toadette will assist you in creating Papercraft mechas that help you battle the mechs that Bowser and company sics on Mario and his pals. It’s basic to understand - you dash and stomp on enemies in a battlefield until you get to the boss, with each boss having patterns that are easy to figure out. It wasn’t a major component of the game, but once everything was figured out they all turned out to be pretty memorable and fun experiences.
In order to get to these Papercraft Battles, Toadette (who is sort of an inventor type in this game) needs you to help her find various paper Toads throughout each area you explore that will help steer the mecha, and this is where the tedious part of Mario and Luigi lies - the Paper Toad missions. It has you exploring an area using whatever mechanics you have on you at the time, and your goal is to obtain all the Toads that are scattered around the area. It’s not too tough to do, but they’re pretty boring and often feels like a waste of my time. Every time I played one of these missions I just wished I could get it over with so I could get to the actual fun parts of the game and advance further.
There is fun to be had with Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam, but it’s middling story and tedious missions hamper what could have been a really great experience. Instead, it settles for just fine. When it’s a role playing game, it’s really strong and the battle mechanics really shine. But the bland settings, story, and boring missions drag it down. If you are a fan of Mario role playing games, I would still recommend this as the overall experience is positive. It’s a game that has issues, ones that drag the game down a bit, but doesn’t totally take away it’s charm and mechanical depth.