Does anyone have idea why they changed the name of this game in Europe and Australia? It was simply called Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam in the United States, which is a great little pun considering it features the characters from the Paper Mario universe causing chaos in the Mario & Luigi world. But Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.? Does that even make sense?
They did the same thing with the previous game in the Mario & Luigi series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which became Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. when it crossed the pond (and flew down under). Again, a seemingly pointless and nonsensical name change. I can only imagine it was done to avoid some sort of copyright infringement, but I can’t think what that infringement could have been.
Anyway, name gripes aside, I’ve been looking forward to playing through Paper Jam, which is only the second Mario & Luigi title I’ve played after the Game Boy Advance original, and – shock horror – the first game featuring Paper Mario that I’ve ever played. The SNES game Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has shamefully been on my ‘to do’ list for about a decade now – but enough about gaming backlogs, I feel like I’ve done them to death recently.
My first impressions of Paper Jam were overwhelmingly positive – the humour I remember from GBA Mario & Luigi is very much intact, and the addition of Paper Mario really elevates the gameplay, introducing more mechanics that involve the three characters together, such as trio attacks and various origami-inspired trio moves. It’s utterly charming, and I had a big grin plastered across my face for the first hour or two.
But after that initial charm spike, the graph of the gameplay embarks on a long, steady, downward slope as repetition and ultimately boredom set in. Ploughing through the various enemies in the game involves using the same attacks again and again and again, and by the end I was desperate for some more variety or for more interesting twists in the story. And speaking of the story, despite the addition of paper antagonists, everything pretty much unfurls exactly as you’d expect it to, as it has done in countless previous Mario titles. Bowser > Princess kidnap > Castle assault > You know the rest.
The trio attacks and bros. attacks can be a lot of fun, involving various intricate button presses, but they also take ages – and by the end I found myself shying away from using them for normal enemies because I knew they would take so long to execute. You spend most of the game with the same handful of attacks, too, with the last few seemingly becoming available in a flurry towards the end. Unfortunately, some are way easier and more powerful than others, so I found myself sticking with the same old attacks again and again while others barely got used.
By the end, I was actively avoiding enemies because I was just so sick of going through the same old battle animations. Even worse is the fact that each area tends to be filled with the same type of enemy, so you can find yourself fighting something like ten Hammer Bros. in a row and doing the same thing each time. But the bosses are a different matter – they actually tended to be a lot more fun to fight because they could take you down so easily, which meant a degree of tactics was required rather than simply repeating the same old thing. Having fewer regular baddies and more bosses would have been a big improvement, as would increasing the depth and variety of the regular fights.
It’s all a bit too linear as well. You end up going through each area twice as part of the story, but there’s little of that excitement you get from Metroidvania-type games, where exploring previous areas unlocks all sorts of goodies. A few experience-point-adding beans can be dug up in previous levels once you’ve found the drill move, but they’re hardly worth the bother. If only the designers had hidden more substantial things throughout the levels that would make exploration more worthwhile – perhaps they could have added hidden costumes for the main characters, like the fun ones in Zelda: Triforce Heroes, or maybe there could have been many more trio and bros. attacks that were hidden rather than simply handed out as the story progressed.
And then there’s the amiibo support, which actually kind of breaks the game. Tapping a Mario-series amiibo lets you use a unique and often very powerful move in battle, such as completely restoring your HP. What’s more, this doesn’t actually count as a move in the turn-based gameplay, and you can tap as many amiibos as you like during a battle, as long as you don’t tap the same one twice. All this means that an already easy game is made even easier.
Paper Jam is far from being a bad game, but after it’s initial promise it ends up running out of ideas and becoming distinctly average. I loved the start, but by the very end I actually felt relieved it was all over. Never a good sign.
I forgot to mention the papercraft battles. Well, they’re, ahem, pretty lightweight (pun intended).