Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Review
Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam is everything I expect in a Mario & Luigi game: it's a funny, inventive, beautifully crafted action RPG starring the brothers Mario and the entire Mushroom Kingdom. Like all games in the series, dating back to Super Mario RPG, the experience consists of 90% action-based battling, 5% gentle chuckling and 5% spewing expletives in frustration.
Somehow, Nintendo keeps finding ways to craft cute stories set in the Mushroom Kingdom. This time around, the book that houses the Paper Mario universe gets opened in the, er, regular Mario universe, mixing paper and 3D worlds to disastrous effect. There are now two Bowsers (they hate each other), two Princess Peaches (they commiserate with one another) and even two Marios (each in your party, along with Luigi). You, naturally, have to save the world.
As with previous games in the series, the writing is really fun, and the game itself is very pretty. There are plenty of gentle pokes at Luigi's ineffectiveness, at the Princess' continual kidnapping, at the shy nature of Toads. It's good-natured, breezy, and keeps things moving.
It's all an excuse to set you loose on the various lands, where you'll do turn-based battle with RPG-ified versions of just about every enemy in the Mario universe - fire breathing piranha plants, simple goombas, big bomb bullies (remember these guys from Super Mario 64?) sombrero-throwing shy guys and everything in between.
Battles are turn-based, sure, but Paper Jam keeps things active by requiring well-timed button presses during your attacks to deal more damage, and on defense to punish the offending baddies. Mastery of this timing is necessary to get anywhere in the game, as constantly whiffing it on defense spells certain death, and none of your attacks - not even the powerful "brothers" and trio moves, which use multiple characters - pack much punch without good timing.
For the most part, the system works beautifully and allows the game to stay interesting, despite a fairly simple move set. Every enemy has a unique pattern, a particular rhythm that needs to be exploited. Spear-hurling shy guys might stack up, barrel of Monkeys style, requiring quick work from your hammer on defense. Or they might surround one character and throw their weapons, meaning the targeted brother needs to jump at just the right moment to avoid a skewering. Battles are fast paced, varied and fun, unless, of course, you run into the third iteration of a given enemy in a row.
Boss battles continue that basic formula, with much higher stakes. They're inventively designed with several phases - in one, I fought a paper version of Petey Piranha, which had me stomping him, dodging energy waves from his "copies" and running away from him in a sort of chase scene.
Unfortunately, that chase was more aggravating than fun. Hence the 5% expletive spewing frustration alluded to above - Paper Jam takes risks and throws different gameplay styles at the player. Some of them stick - segments that had me finding and chasing down "paper Toads" and bizarre, arena-based papercraft battles offer fun distractions from the usual battling - but some just made me angry. There's a stealth mini game (a variation on saving the paper toads) that had me close to hurling my 3DS out the window.
Some of those boss chase scenes require switching between Mario, Luigi and Paper Mario much faster than my clearly-getting-old thumbs could take. I ended up eating a lot of damage - and swearing at my family-friendly game far more than I probably should have.
There is an easy mode that can be switched on or off at any time, so if motherf**king Paper Petey Piranha is giving you hell, you can make that adjustment. But, if you're the kind of person whose pride will hurt if you concede to a cartoon plant... well, it's a tough sell.
I love that Paper Jam wants to mix things up so much. I love that it refuses to stagnate, and offered me so many things to do in its generous playtime. I still hated that sometimes, those attempts to freshen the gameplay fell flatter than a squashed paper goomba.
Outside of these occasional missteps, Paper Jam is a pure joy to play. Combat is fast, fun, and varied. The writing is witty and adorable, and the environments are fun to explore - each new ability gave me an excuse to go through earlier areas again, scouring for goodies. This is a fantastic entry in a series known for quality, an action RPG that makes good on its action, and yet another excuse to spend more time in Mario's bright, bonkers world.