It makes sense for Nintendo to combine the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series’. They’re practically the same series anyway! It’s a bit odd that Nintendo felt the need to add the word “Bros” on to the end of the title in Europe and Australia; in America it’s just called Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, or at least it will be when it comes out there. Japan got the best name by far though: Mario & Luigi RPG Paper Mario Mix.
This time you not only control Mario and Luigi but also Paper Mario as well. You’d think that would make the game harder but not really, in fact it feels more lenient than previous entries. Bosses seem less complicated to figure out how to defeat than in past Paper Mario escapades. You can also save when you like now as opposed to using save stations in past games.
The story is the usual silliness; Luigi accidentally opens a book that causes the inhabitants of the Paper Mario universe to spread across the mushroom kingdom. Mario and Luigi must team up with Paper Mario to rescue the princesses and defeat Bowser and his paper counterpart. There’s lots of gags and fourth wall breaking throughout. It’s good fun.
The bulk of the gameplay comes from the same turn based combat players of previous entries in the series will be familiar with, but if you haven’t, I’ll explain the basics. You navigate the over-world and jump on enemies to initiate turn-based battles. There are several ways to attack the enemy. You can jump on them, hit them with hammers or do special attacks which require good timing to do higher damage, and use attack points which can be regenerated by drinking syrup, although you’ll have to forfeit a turn. Similarly, you can use mushrooms to regenerate health. It’s possible to dodge enemy attacks by using a well timed jump or hammer swing.
Initiating a special attack will launch a mini-game where the damage of your attack will be determined depending on how well you do. You’ll earn experience points for fighting battles which in turn causes you to level up, increasing the characters health and power etc. There is some scope for customisation in choosing what skills to upgrade in each character and buying and equipping pieces of gear that have different benefits. You can also buy items, such as mushrooms and syrup, at shops using coins you have collected. The gameplay wasn’t broken and Nintendo haven’t fixed it. Paper Jam Bros’ gameplay doesn’t break the mould, but it’s still a lot of fun. There are however, some new additions.
There is a new “battle-card” mechanic which adds some nice new depth to the combat. Cards can be purchased in shops or occasionally picked up from defeated enemies. These cards effectively act as perks, for example: one may regenerate your teams health while another may deal a certain amount of damage to the enemy. You earn “star points” by attacking enemies which are spent on activating cards. You won’t lose a turn by playing a card and it adds a welcome new layer of strategy.
There are some new “papercraft” segments, sort of a stab at vehicular combat. You take control of a giant origami Mario character, which changes each battle, and face off against similarly giant bad guys. It’s pretty basic; you ram in to enemies to stun them and then finish them off with essentially a jump attack. Although the mechanics are slightly mixed up in each battle, it’s hardly noticeable. It does what it’s supposed to and breaks up the gameplay but it feels like Nintendo somewhat missed a trick with this mode. There’s no customisation and it feels a bit bare-bones. The last papercraft battle is by far the most fun.
Now, let’s talk about the bane of Paper Jam Bros: the paper toad rescue missions. In said missions a small section of the open world map is sectioned off and you are tasked with finding a group of paper toads hidden around. The formula is mixed up for some challenges; sometimes you will have a time limit or a puzzle-type level and there are also stealth missions where you have to avoid being seen by enemies. These paper toad challenges would have been fine in moderation but you are forced to constantly keep doing them and they get old pretty quickly; for a lot of them essentially all you do is walk around the map. The stealth missions are highly frustrating. Get seen once and you’ll be put all the way back to the start. Seems a bit harsh, especially for a seemingly casual-friendly game such as this.
Overall though, fans of previous Mario RPG games should for the most part enjoy Paper Jam Bros as the combat is arguably the best it has ever been and, despite it’s short-comings, there is still a lot of fun to be had here.
By Tom Martin