Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Mar 242016

Paper-JamMario and Luigi: Paper Jam sounds like a dream come true: my two beloved Mario RPGs brought together.

And after some initial nervousness due to the Sticker Star disaster, I heard enough good things about Paper Jam to make it one of my top anticipated games of the year.

I expected a game that would fix the flaws of its predecessor. But while it certainly addressed some issues that made Mario and Luigi: Dream Team a less-than-perfect game, it replaced them with bigger flaws of its own.

Although I wanted to love it, Paper Jam takes the Mario and Luigi series one step forward… but two steps back.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first:

  1. This isn’t exactly a crossover. Think of it as Mario & Luigi, guest-starring Paper Mario.
  2. And by that, I mean a Mario made out of paper. They no longer seem to remember anything about the Paper Mario series except “paper.”
  3. It fixed Dream Team’s tutorial issues. Pretty much every Paper Jam tutorial is skippable or entirely optional.
  4. It doesn’t suffer from the same pacing problems. As a result, it’s a much shorter game, but that’s better than painful pacing.
  5. It doesn’t force use of the gyro controls, either.

So far so good… then what’s the problem?

The basic gameplay is pretty standard fare for the series, although you control three characters this time. That allows for unique field skills, which work really well. For example, the three protagonists can stack on top of one another to reach objects far away. In addition to the traditional “Bros. Attack” special moves using Mario and Luigi, Paper Mario can also use powerful Trio Attacks.

On the other hand, several enemies, especially bosses, are downright annoying. Dual bosses that regenerate if you don’t keep their HP similar, bosses that heal each other, bosses that revive each other, timed bosses… It can get a bit frustrating, although at least the combat system itself is still fun. Battle cards are also quite fun. As you find them, you can create a deck of 10 battle cards, which let you use special abilities in battle without using a turn (similar to the way badges worked in the past two games).

Meanwhile, I wish the series would stop trying to replicate the popularity of the Giant Bowser battles in Bowser’s Inside Story. It was cumbersome in Dream Team, and Paper Jam’s papercraft battles just aren’t fun. (I may be in the minority on this one.) Slow-paced action battles in which you have to recharge energy through a rhythm game… why?

Tedious, un-fun mini-games pad out Paper Jam, and the papercraft battles are far from the worst.

The worst words you'll ever hear.

Among the worst words you’ll ever hear.

No, the worst part of Paper Jam is the Lakitu Info Center and its Paper Toad Quests.

At certain points in the game, you’ll be forced to rescue Paper Toads. In some, you’ll have to chase down Paper Toads too stupid to realize it’s Mario chasing them. In others, you’ll have to defeat enemies, solve puzzles, or even do a stealth section.

The missions aren’t all bad. I enjoyed the ones where you have to find hidden Paper Toads. I also really liked the quiz games (not Toad rescue missions, but they’re grouped with them) that challenge you with Paper Jam trivia.

But overall, Toad Quests are not fun, obvious filler content, and often kill whatever momentum the story has managed to scrape together.

And Paper Jam’s story can’t afford to lose what little excitement it has. Previous games in the series included new environments and characters from other lands, but this time the paper characters fill that role. While the interactions between characters and their counterparts are entertaining and well-written, it puts the brunt of character development on the two princesses and Bowser’s minions.

The plot, meanwhile, is as straightforward as possible. Dream Team has a deeper story than this. Tales of Zestiria has more plot twists than Paper Jam, and Zestiria’s defenders claim the twist is that there’s no twist!

With that said, there are some exciting story moments and genuinely funny writing, just not up to the level I’ve come to expect from this series (even Dream Team). It could have been so much more. Why not bring in Kammy Koopa, and see reactions to a character who doesn’t exist outside of Paper Mario’s universe? Why not create a villain who brings the 3D and Paper worlds together for some nefarious purpose?

I’m not saying Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is a bad game. Its humor and charm could carry it despite its weak plot. Some of the character interactions were really funny! However, when you factor in the papercraft battles, Paper Toad Quests, and other annoyances, I find it hard to call it a good game, either.

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  2 Responses to “Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”

  1. Still a way better game than SS and Color Splash sadly. Did you see the interview from the creators of Paper Jam. They explain why there’s no Paper characters outside of Mario, Peach and Bowser. https://miiverse.nintendo.net/posts/AYMHAAACAAADVHk3QkSgUA

    Atleast AlphaDream listens to their fans…. Unlike IS and Miyamoto? lol

    • Yeah, Sticker Star was just a disaster.

      Interesting… (Although there are a few more other than those three.) I feel like part of Paper Jam’s problem is that Paper Mario is a silent character, and since he’s the only Paper character who travels with you, the characters you focus on for most of the game don’t get the same chances for character development and funny interactions.

      “We were thinking, since the paper characters were coming all the way from the paper world, let’s make the main story something really bizarre, crammed with red herrings and misapprehensions. We had things like going back and forth to the paper world, and the Mushroom Kingdom turning gradually into paper… But we overdid it a bit, and the first draft of the plot ended up being a complete muddle that wouldn’t resonate with anyone…”

      I don’t know how muddled it ended up, but that premise sounds a lot more interesting than the story we got.

      Yeah… Color Splash fills me with no confidence at all… where I’ll still be hopeful the next time a new Mario & Luigi game is announced.

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