20 years ago, Super Mario RPG was presented as an outlandish proposition. Adapting Nintendo’s simple side-scrolling game to the world of stats, gear, and battle strategies? Like many people, I picked up the strange Squaresoft experiment, if only to see how the hell they could pull it off.
Funny how things change. Two decades and roughly 10 games later, Mario’s RPG adventures have become almost as big an institution as his nervous brats. And Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam fully understands this fact. Its story begins with the flimsiest premise, if only to immediately drop players into the main attraction: Luigi accidentally knocks down a magical book, sending an almost endless stream of Paper Mario characters – and enemies – into the world. Even for a Mario & Luigi game, it’s an extremely straightforward story: Mario, Paper Mario, and Luigi are tasked with traveling to Bowser’s Castle to defeat him and his paper-thin counterpart. (Oh yeah, and rescuing two princesses.)
Admittedly, this lax approach to storytelling can irritate Mario & Luigi fans who love the series’ more talkative qualities. It’s something he used to sincerely love, but at some point, developer AlphaDream fell in love with the smell of his own farts and started cluttering his games with too much dialogue. Of course, it’s a well-written and smile-worthy dialogue, but it soon became the main course rather than a surprisingly good side dish. That’s why I stayed away from Mario & Luigi: Dream Team from 2013 – based on what I read in Jeremy’s review, it’s a game that just doesn’t know when to shut up.
Ultimately, this change is for the best, because Mario & Luigi’s battle system has never been better. If you’ve never played the series before, its enemy encounters are more like Nintendo’s Punch-Out – combat involves pressing timed buttons to get the most out of your attacks and observing enemies closely so you can dodge or stop their own offense. . skills. And battles basically come down to thinking about the latter: while time never changes on your party’s jump and hammer attacks, each enemy comes equipped with a collection of abilities that require a keen eye to fully understand. Since each of these enemy movements begins with some kind of visual cue, the battles primarily involve figuring out how to respond within a limited period of time. It’s an approach that could result in boredom from too long encounters, but Paper Jam has a way of introducing new enemies as soon as you master the fight against the current crop.
However, the “Paper Mario” angle is more than just a fun trick – both it and the enemies’ paper variants move and act differently than their meatier counterparts, which adds a bit more to think about. every battle. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time did things a bit also complicated by involving four party members, but for this installment, three seems to be the magic number. Paper Mario’s main ability is to make copies of himself, which gives him a buffer against enemy attacks and allows for additional attacks during his turn, a clever way to make the smaller numbers in his series play well with numbers. bigger Mario & Luigi. Paper enemies can also use this ability, adding another angle to battles – sometimes, you’ll have to fight a stack of enemies whose attacks change as they are reduced in number. One of the most interesting bosses in the game uses this ability to blend into a pile of clones, so you can’t deal damage until you make your way to the randomly placed real McCoy.
Along with the standard solving of Zelda-style environmental puzzles using the Bros. ‘Strange Abilities, Paper Jam also includes mini-games that don’t have much to do with the RPG genre. Some battles have the three protagonists mounted on a giant paper in battle, where they fight an equally huge enemy made of folded paper. These battles play out like sumo matches, and they remind me of many of the great segments in Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, which saw a huge Koopa King fighting castles, towers, and trains.
Less effective are the multiple “toad hunting” missions, which involve chasing down and / or finding various residents of the Mushroom Kingdom who are too scared to listen to reason. While toads act as something of a currency to unlock new areas and abilities, sometimes these missions feel like a bad excuse to spice up the environments you’ve already visited. If Paper Jam were to organically work towards these goals on the journey from point A to point B, tracking toads wouldn’t be so bad, but these little time wasters can’t help but feel like quilting in their current state.
Given that Paper Jam will undoubtedly be Mario & Luigi’s last entry for the 3DS, it’s great to see AlphaDream at the top of their game in terms of presentation. His interpretation of the Mario universe has always been a touch off-model, giving the characters a sense of vibrancy that their representations in other games are often lacking. Although I admit that AlphaDream has gotten a bit more conservative with the 3DS deliveries of Mario & Luigi: the once sharp and evocative spritework has been swapped out for a much more fuzzy and indistinct style, sort of like the pre-rendered characters. from Super Mario. RPG (but not so ugly). Mario and Luigi still talk with their hands in a charming approximation to Italian, but I miss the little details, like Luigi’s high water pants revealing striped socks. Regardless, Yoko Shimomura, who released Super Mario RPG in 1996 with an incredible soundtrack, brings another great collection of tunes to this Mario & Luigi sequel, even if a few remixes appear here and there. In an era where most songwriters his age move to a more producer role, it’s great to see Shimomura create a comprehensive soundtrack that lives up to his usual standard of excellence.
I disconnected from the two Mario RPG brands during the 3DS generation, so I didn’t have the highest hopes for Paper Jam. But it ended up surprising me, thanks to how AlphaDream realized the strengths of the series and decided to duplicate them. Paper Jam reduces the chatter and puts its battle system front and center, making some encounters surprisingly difficult and creative; some of those later bosses will be absolutely scholarly if you mess up a few times. 13 years after Mario & Luigi’s debut, it’s doubtful AlphaDream can dust off these mechanics for the sixth time and still make them worthwhile; But regardless of what the future holds, Paper Jam is an excellent return to form that makes the most of what could have been a pointless gimmick.
Mario & Luigi’s interface offers all the visual information needed for those vital battle decisions in a fraction of a second.
As with most RPGs of this type, there is no real reason to replay when you’re done. But a trip should leave you completely satisfied.
The ever-reliable Yoko Shimomura once again brings her game to the table, resulting in a soundtrack that perfectly matches the messy world of Mario & Luigi.
As usual, AlphaDream amplifies the caricature of a game that is as fun to watch as it is to play.
By putting the story aside and doubling down on its great battle system, Paper Jam cleverly emphasizes what the series does best. Some of the padding can be a bit annoying, but the way the paper-thin characters add new angles to enemy encounters makes this crossover more than just a gimmick.