It may be tough to believe, but the Mario & Luigi series has been around for well over a decade. The series’ first game, Superstar Saga, debuted in 2003 to the delight of many gamers and critics. It was a departure from the traditional Mario gameplay while keeping what we know and love about the franchise intact.
Nintendo hasn’t strayed too far from its usual Mario & Luigi formula since then, offering some deviation with a new mechanic or two, but largely playing the same tune. Unfortunately, the big-N seems to have doubled down on so much of the same this time around, that nothing really feels new. Paper Mario: Sticker Star was a standout 3DS title in 2012, and more than three years later, not nearly enough has changed to so that Paper Jam stands out on its own.
The most interesting design choice in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is actually its most compelling. The storyline sends the characters of a two-dimensional, paperback world flying through a three-dimensional landscape, mixing the papercraft characters of one with the fully-realized characters of another. The mix between different visual styles here isn’t striking, per sé, but it’s quite the treat to see how well these two visual styles manage to coexist.
The graphics in Paper Jam beyond this are what we’d expect from what feels like a mid-range 3DS title. There isn’t anything abhorrently bad by any stretch, but nothing stands out in the way Kid Icarus: Uprising or Pokémon X and Y manage to.
And really, there isn’t anything wrong with that. Paper Jam isn’t necessarily trying to appeal to the hardcore Mario gamer. The title isn’t designed to go after the same market as something like Super Mario Galaxy 3 would (a title we’re still waiting on, by the way), but rather after the casual, younger gamer who wants a Mario fix on their Nintendo handheld.
Nintendo tends to deliver a solid audio experience in their titles, regardless of their handheld or home console nature, and Paper Jam is no exception. Again, there isn’t anything to suggest that the 3DS has been awakened with a new audio paradigm by any means, but the game carries familiar and new themes throughout the experience.
Some of the audio effects are lacking in any real depth. Because of the repetitive nature of the gameplay, there could have been more thought put into the sounds that replay over and over. The game sometimes sounds like a speed round of Candy Crush, and while that game is still addictive as ever, its audio direction is not something to aspire to.
At the heart of Mario & Luigi is a Paper Mario-esque battle system that rivals that of any turn-based game before it. Mechanics here are surprisingly robust. The game delivers a bevy of options during attacks–single attacks, dual and trio attacks, combos and amiibo functionality, and the ability to escape via none other than paper airplane–but ceases to expand with unique gameplay outside of these moments.
Wandering through the world, Mario and Luigi are often met with roadblocks that seem daunting if only because they’re so mundane. The title quickly devolves into a fetch-quest for missing Toads or a series of dialog panels that seem endless due to simply being uninteresting.
There are small moments of brilliance, though. Seeing a giant papercraft Mario is more fun than it has any business being, and in combat, being able to copy your paper self to do more damage to enemies is quite rewarding. At the heart of the gameplay, the battle system is everything. It’s just a shame that the moments between the battles is so unremarkable.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam takes the tried-and-true formula of one series and mixes it with another in a way that doesn’t really push the boundaries of either. It doesn’t hurt the franchises, but rarely does it push them forward. Some mechanics work alarmingly well for a potable game that, at times, feels unfinished. Others simply feel like they’re tacked on to add hours of gameplay to the experience. Overall, the appeal of Paper Jam isn’t going to be for Mario & Luigi fans, but rather for those looking for their next Paper Mario fix when they’re on the go.
- Deep battle system
- Good mix between 2D and 3D
- Giant Papercraft Mario!
- Fetch quests are boring
- Space between combat is unexciting
- Nothing revolutionary here