Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Bros reviewed: stuck between two worlds

Let’s face it: Mario and Luigi are idiots. If there is a problem to solve, they solve it in the most complicated way imaginable. Honestly, it’s a miracle they accomplish anything at all.

That’s how it is with Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Bros, a quirky role-playing game filled with the same familiar mechanics and coffee break moments as virtually every other RPG outing for the portly plumbers. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. The charm of Paper Jam Bros lies in the gaps between the otherwise superficial story, the plot sidelined in favor of quirky conversations and self-referential chit chat between its acid trip cast. At least you hear Mario talking about something other than saving the princess. Again.

Then it’s a pity Paper Jam Bros contains so few of these sorts of detours – unlike its predecessors, they are wedged into the core of the story rather than coexisting with it. This is a play it safe game, the by-the-book plot just about manages to push you through to the predictable end. Like paper, it’s all a bit one-dimensional.

The plot revolves around the Mushroom Kingdom being invaded by the inhabitants of Paper Mario world thanks to a characteristic gaffe by Luigi, his mother’s second favorite son. If you are looking for a good example of the Deus ex Machina narrative concept, you don’t have to look beyond the first five minutes. Indeed, the opening cutscene serves as a succinct example of how the “silly” bits are forced into the plot – the need to advance events blocks the chance to better explore the fusion of the game’s two disparate worlds.

As the 2D and 3D worlds collide, confusion ensues as two versions of the same character come into contact. The two Bowsers battle for power over their combined band of henchmen; paper toads are so afraid of the new world that they hide even from their round brethren; and the two editions of Peach bond with the kindergarten crushes the plumbers have on them.

The platform-inspired turn-based combat is fun for a while, but quickly becomes repetitive.
Enlarge / The platform-inspired turn-based combat is fun for a while, but quickly becomes repetitive.

While I’ve criticized the nature of the plot, there are at least some opportunities to squeeze humor out of it. For example, the two Bowser Juniors steal the show with their camaraderie despite their fathers bickering. Paper Mario is also pleasantly endearing, mainly due to his lack of communication skills beyond the most basic sign language. This hints at the kind of physical comedy you’d expect from a silent movie, with Mario and Luigi’s status as “real” humans serving to further enhance Paper Mario’s fish-out-of-water presence.

However, such moments are fleeting, drowned out by Paper Jam Bros‘s insistence that new mechanics and tightly controlled tasks should be introduced at any time. This works initially, the fast pace welcome after the stiff opening hours of others Mario RPGs. After a while, however, this desire to ensure constant action results in repetition and – without enough opportunities to catch your breath and give in to the absurdity of the world and its inhabitants – it becomes tiresome.

For example, you are far too often challenged with groups of suspicious and timid paper toads. This may include driving them to an area so that, for their own safety, they don’t wander the countryside and encounter a vicious Goomba. Or it could be a game of hide and seek, where the toads use their lack of size to take advantage of unique hiding places. The latter can be quite entertaining, as it involves a lot of “Ah ha!” moments in a way that doesn’t sound too much like solving a Where’s Wally puzzle or work out how to set the clock on an oven, but it wears out quickly.

Quirky mini-games help break up the action.
Enlarge / Quirky mini-games help break up the action.

Combat is better, with the turn-based system making many nods to Mario’s platformer roots. Like a platformer, combat is all about timing, with button prompts popping up on the screen so you can dodge enemy attacks, counterattack yourself, and deal extra damage. Time it just right during a punch attack and Mario will fly through the air for a second jump. Do it again and you’ll deal more damage, all of which is animated in a gloriously colorful style, with Mario jumping on an enemy’s head and then smacking it with a giant hammer.

Unfortunately, skirmishes against normal enemies quickly become a grind, with the same sequence of moves being both the safest and fastest path to success.

Boss fights are better, being more extravagant and varied, changing their attacks as their health bar gets smaller. While standard RPG tropes state that large amounts of combat against grunts are required to level up in preparation for these bosses, I can’t help but think that the quirky Paper Mario crossover would have been a great excuse to break the rules. Instead, battles are one long series of fights against Goombas and other fodder interrupted by more fun moments when bosses arrive.

Paper Jam Bros plays like a game that is exactly as the designers intended: the quality of the individual elements testifies to this. It’s just not a particularly exciting vision. There are no game breaking issues – nothing you can point to and say “this is why the game sucks”. If anything, there’s too much of a good thing here, the humor drowned out by the urge to forever keep the player engaged in otherwise entertaining action.

Often, Paper Jam Bros feels like one of those horrible parents you see at those horrible kids beauty pageants, always busy with their offspring and making sure they do things the “right” way. In a world as silly and over the top as the one in Paper Jam Brossometimes you just want to find your own way of doing things.

The good

  • Boss fights are varied and engaging.
  • The relationship between the Bowser Jr and Paper Bowser Jr is the culmination of an otherwise questionable story.

The bad

  • Fails to live up to the comedic potential of the Mario and Luigi and Paper Mario crosswalk.
  • Some valuable mechanics are undermined by repetition.
  • Fighting standard minions quickly becomes a drag.

The ugly one

  • While the scene is set quickly and accurately, the opening cutscene is somber in its writing and characterization.

Verdict

On a technical level there is little to complain about, but Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam Bros quickly becomes a repetitive slog.

By akfire1

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