I have said it before, the current existence of Super Mario Maker is a sign that Nintendo is practically out of ideas when it comes to what to do with their Flagship Franchise. However, one branch of this plumber’s family tree is actually doing pretty decently, and that is the now long running Mario & Luigi series. Starting with Superstar Saga in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, this series of games is an RPG made specifically for Nintendo’s handheld consoles. We are now on its 5th overall entry in the series after 13 years running with its recent release for the 3DS, and this time we have a guest star that is joining in on the fun. Paper Jam features the return of Paper Mario as well as several of the characters from his franchise. Though I will say that this isn’t so much a crossover of the two entities, since apparently these two series exist within their own universes, but more of a core Mario & Luigi title with some Paper Mario hi-jinks thrown in for added variety.
So how does all of this happen? Well…blame Luigi. Right off the bat I feel bad for the “lesser” of the Mario Bros. He is treated like crap throughout most of the game and just basically talked to like human garbage sometimes, in a very G rated way that is. This is only made worse when Luigi gets scared by a rat in the castle, which causes him to knock a book off of a shelf, and sure enough, said book opens up and basically explodes the entire population of Paper Mario’s world upon the Mushroom Kingdom. Chaos is of course created by this because not only are all of the Paper Toads just absolutely terrified by what’s happening, but Paper Bowser and his minions just happen to all land in the 3D Bowser’s castle.
Sure enough, this leads to some of the old familiar. Both Princess Peaches are kidnapped by both Bowsers and it is up to Mario and his crew to save them. Pretty straight forward but this leads to one of my first issues in the game. When you see the world map to this game, it’s very small. In fact, if you look at it closely you can easily tell that Bowser’s Castle is literally one map away from where Peach’s castle is. So therefore, it shouldn’t take that long to get there right? Wrong, sir! Nope, it takes much much longer than that because we have to take, as Dr. Cox put it, “Day-trips to Unnecessary Land”. What should be a quick trip over becomes filled with random side quests and mini games like finding more Paper Toads to do what I can only assume is unpaid slave labor in order to build giant Paper Craft models so that you can fight other giant Paper Craft models the bad guys have made. And while the Paper Craft fights are silly, they aren’t actually bad or anything, though the Paper Toad thing really bothers me. Not just the forced labor part, but how the mini games to find them are not only tedious at times, but also mandatory. You will sometimes have to stop mid-adventure to play 2-3 mini games. I understand that you need variety in your games, but all this does is add elements to game that are hiding a certain hollowness within the game itself. Because of this, what should be a quick trip to Bowser’s Castle becomes time spent way too long in one area. Imagine going with your buddies on a road trip with your friends to a set destination. The trip should only take 7-8 hours, but because you have that one friend who constantly has to pee, and get snacks, and see random sights no one cares about, the trip now takes about 14 -15 hours. This was an issue I had with the 2nd entry in this series, Partners in Time. Way too much time was spent in one area and it felt like very little progress was ever made. This issue seemed to be fixed in the next game, Bowser’s Inside Story, which is still my favorite one of the series thus far. Seriously, at one point you finally get to Bowser’s door step and then find out they took the Princess’s to a mountain top, because reasons. So you have to climb this mountain and when you get to the top, they’ve freaking left again. Why?!?! It’s just hollow plot making after that….ugh….Moving on.
One thing I have always liked about this series is its simplicity in its control scheme. One button controls the actions of one Brother, A for Mario and B for Luigi. This controls all of their attacks, dodges, jumps, and items. It works and they have found ways to keep the movements simple and yet diverse when it comes to different enemy types. Though this time we get a twist since we have a similar button assignment for Paper Mario, pressing Y for his actions. This makes the battles pretty fun actually, especially when you use the Trio Attacks. Though dodging when you have to push all three buttons can be tricky if not a bit frustrating. Though this does lead to one minor but irritating gripe, the jumping. In any game, when your character needs to climb a ledge, you jump. Gaming 101, folks. This game is no different, however when you have to jump, you have to push Mario’s button, and then Luigi’s button….and then Paper Mario’s button, in that order, every time. And if you mess up this jump combo, well then it becomes pretty easy to miss a jump and fall through a gap, which is especially annoying when you are chasing a Paper Toad. I see how that can be nit-picky, but having to do a 3 button combo every time there is a ledge is just tedious and it can be hard to get the timing down. Other than that though, it honestly controls just fine.
So ultimately, is Paper Jam any good? Well, actually yea it is. It’s not game of the year, or even some classic that will be remembered down the road. Heck, it doesn’t actually do much to further the stalling Paper Mario series. However, in spite of its flaws, there is still a lot of good to be found here. The combat is fun and not repetitive feeling, which can be hard to do in any RPG. The music is upbeat and enjoyable; I particularly liked the fight music. And the characters are colorful, and it was a bit of a treat to watch the 3D characters interact with their Paper selves. Not to mention that this game has the standard Nintendo polish to it, something that in the age of Day 1 Patches should be greatly appreciated.
When it comes to a final score, I would say it deserves a solid: 80%. Again not the greatest game in the world, especially when it comes to plot, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a fun romp and an enjoyable hand-held title.