At this point, the beloved and iconic plumber Mario is far from a stranger to the RPG genre. In fact, there are two distinct aesthetics nowadays for Nintendo’s mascot depending on which RPG off-shoot he happens to be appearing in. Whether exploring the Mushroom Kingdom as the traditional 3D Mario or his paper-thin counterpart, each look for the character and the adventure he participates in are generally well-regarded by gamers. So, imagine the delight that came when Nintendo announced that Paper Mario would be crossing over into the world of Mario & Luigi with a brand new RPG called Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.
Ironically, while the premise of this game sounds great on paper, the execution isn’t anything drastically different from past installments of the series. That’s far from a bad thing given the quality of both the gameplay and comedic dialogue that often accompanies a Mario & Luigi title, but those waiting for the franchise to take a step forward are going to be left anticipating such a move for a little while longer. With that said, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is still a good game that 3DS owners will be sure to enjoy.
For those that have never ventured into the Mario & Luigi titles, each brother is controlled utilizing either the ‘A’ or ‘B’ buttons and the Circle Pad on the Nintendo handheld. This time around, however, Paper Mario has been assigned to the ‘Y’ button, which makes for a handful of new challenges and scenarios that only the flat hero can help the brothers overcome. Admittedly, it’s initially quite neat to interact with the environment in ways that only the paper plumber can, but flying over gaps by folding into a paper plane or sliding into cracks in the wall are far from game-changing elements – especially given that the bulk of the action takes place in turn-based encounters with various enemies.
The combat itself will be immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the genre, but the one big change up is that the turn-based attacks require precision button presses upon impact. For example, hitting the ‘A’ button just as Mario jumps and lands on a foe will cause the airborne Italian to flip through the air and come back down for another strike. Defensive gestures play out in a similar fashion as well, and different enemies will require different methods to take down. This system works well and makes for a nice spin on traditional offerings, but it can become a little tedious when tasked with fighting the same type of baddie over and over again.
The thing that makes this game standout from other entries in the series is undoubtedly the fact that Paper Mario has joined as a companion for the infamous brothers, but some sort of gimmick is to be expected. In the past the development team at AlphaDream has had the brothers team up with Bowser (by going inside him, no less), baby versions of themselves, and even a dream-based, Freddy Krueger-inspired rendition of Luigi. Basically, the formula of inserting a new hook into each Mario & Luigi game has remained in Paper Jam, but it just doesn’t do anything drastically new – sticking with the same core mechanics and gameplay that have appeared throughout.
Fortunately, the script is enough to keep fans entertained and even laughing out loud at the scenarios that play out during a number of cutscenes. I won’t give away any of the core plot, even though it unfolds in a rather expectedly manner, but it’s obvious that the personalities of each Nintendo mascot largely fails to shine in any other romp outside of this series. As a result, it’s always refreshing to see how these heroes address threats and challenges, as they’ve never been as fleshed out and likeable as they are in the hours of content found within Paper Jam. It’s not a groundbreaking or revolutionary tale by any stretch, but it’s a 20 plus hour campaign that maintains a distinct and pleasing tone throughout.
In closing, Nintendo and AlphaDream have created another enjoyable turn-based RPG starring one of the most iconic mascots in gaming and the universe in which he originates, but the biggest setback is just how many times fans have been here before. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam marks the fifth installment of a series that’s starting to feel a little too familiar, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game – far from it, in fact. Still, with a new hook – courtesy of Paper Mario’s inclusion – and solid battle mechanics, it’s a solid return to familiar form for the koopa-crushing siblings.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam arrives exclusively for the Nintendo 3DS on January 22, 2016. Game Rant was provided a 3DS code for this review.