Developer: Alpha Dream
Release Date: January 20, 2015
ESRB: E for Everyone
Despite the Mario & Luigi series being well over 13 years old at this point, it's surprising how its core formula hasn't changed much, and it's not at all tired just yet. This is likely because each entry generally makes use of a new gameplay gimmick or situation that helps each game feel a bit more unique.
Case in point - Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam sees the titular brothers teaming up with Paper Mario this time around after Luigi accidentally knocks over a special book that unleashes the latter character's world into their own.
Initially, the story addresses the issue of the main characters suddenly having doubles of themselves, often to comedic effect. And where there's two of everything, that means there are also two Bowsers and two Peaches for them to kidnap. Overall, the writing is fairly well-written and consistently funny; it's evident that among the two current ongoing Mario RPG series, Mario & Luigi is the one that hasn't quite lost its edge in that department yet.
The big shakeup to the gameplay this time around comes with the addition of Paper Mario as the third wheel of the group. While Mario and Luigi's collaborative Bro Attacks make their usual return, Paper Mario adds a bit more of a different flavor to the battle as you can make multiple copies of himself (up to 6) to increase the amount of attacks and damage he can make. If he gets hit, he'll lose copies, though you can restore them throughout the course of the battle. And due to having three characters in the party, you'll also be able to choose between Mario and Luigi's traditional Bro Attacks and new Trio Attacks that utilize all three characters at once, offering a slew of options to choose from and making battles that much more interesting.
Paper Jam has the best battle system out of all the Mario and Luigi games yet, and possibly even the Mario RPG series at large. Boss battles in particular feel deep, satisfying, and challenging, thanks in part to a system that focuses on learning and avoiding enemies' attack patterns and using their own attacks against them. In fact, some of them are so challenging that this is probably the first Mario & Luigi game where I've lost different boss battles multiple times before finally beating them. Also new is a card system that activates different support bonuses during battles, potentially giving you an extra hand when circumstances are looking particularly dire.
One of the more divisive parts of the game are the areas in which you must find a number of Paper Toads before progressing - effectively, Paper Toad hunts. I didn't mind these segments as they do diversify the ways you go about acquiring the toads -- sometimes you have to search them out and other times you might play a minigame, do a stealth segment, or have to fight enemies. More often than not, I found these sections fairly entertaining. However, finding those Paper Toads leads to an important plot point - Papercraft battles.
These battles are fairly interesting and play very differently from the rest of the game. You're pitted in an arena where you'll have to defeat all other Papercraft enemies, which you do by ramming into them from behind and then tossing your Mario Papercraft at them to inflict damage. There really isn't too much strategy to them beyond that and learning to time when you throw your Papercraft, they do add subtle changes to make them a bit more complicated in each subsequent round throughout the game.
Paper Jam also looks visually impressive, with great-looking environments and locations that meld elements of Paper Mario's world with that of Mario and Luigi's. It's easily the best-looking of the entire M&L series. And once again, Yoko Shimomura returns to compose the pleasant and whimsical tunes the series is known for.
At five entries strong, the Mario & Luigi series shows almost no signs of slowing down. Paper Jam is the best entry since Bowser's Inside Story, and possibly the best overall (time will tell). Bringing the Mario & Luigi world together with Paper Mario was a clever concept that served to introduce some interesting mechanics and make the battle system even deeper. However, despite the inclusion of Paper Mario, this is still very much a Mario & Luigi game; don't expect tons of neat paper mechanics worked into the gameplay outside of battles. Otherwise, Paper Jam holds up magnificently as one of the best in the series.
+ Best, deepest battle system yet
+ Paper Mario is a great and an important reason why the battle system is so + good
+ Visually pretty
+ Good, humorous writing
- Story doesn't venture outside usual Bowser kidnapping (even w/ the paper twist)
- Collecting Toads might get old for some people
Overall Score: 9 out of 10
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is a fantastic new addition to the series, and easily one of the best Mario RPGs overall.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher