The Mario & Luigi series is officially a long-running take on the RPG genre in handheld form. It started way back in 2003 with Superstar Saga. It was up from there with the likes of Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story.
Then we had Dream Team. Man, I loved and hated Dream Team in nearly equal measure. It still packed the same silly dialogue that's a hallmark of the series. It also boasted the wonderfully fun combat. The game, however, didn't know how to let go of the player's hand. Seriously. I was still met with lengthy tutorials 20 and 30 hours into the adventure.
It was annoying, and, unfortunately, that whole experience had me wary of the future of the series.
Well, the good news is that Nintendo must have heard the criticism on that point. The newest adventure, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, doesn't interrupt players with tutorials as much. It's still talky and long-winded, but the game knows when to get out of the way a little better.
But, is it fun? Is this an RPG worthy of your time? Well, that totally depends on whether or not you've grown tired of the same aging system.
Hey, you got your Paper Mario in my Mario & Luigi!
This franchise has always been about weird twists when it comes to the set up, and, I'll hand it to Nintendo, this one might be my second favorite. Luigi finds a book filled with paper versions of the members of the Mushroom kingdom. He drops the book, and the enemies, Toads, major villains, Princess Peach and even Paper Mario fly out and into the 3D version of Mario and Luigi's world.
The Paper and regular Bowser unite, kidnap both princess and set forth an army of both Paper and regular baddies.
The fun comes from the fact that this typically two character party RPG is now a three member team. Mario and Luigi are joined by Paper Mario. That means a new set of attacks, a new set of special abilities and larger battle system to manage.
While not as awesome as going inside Bowser's body with a weird take on platformers like we saw in Bowser's Inside Story, Paper Jam is inventive enough in this regard to be fun. It fumbles a bit when it comes to blending the Paper and 3D worlds, as neither really feels or looks all that inventive. Compared to Sticker Star, for instance, this game never looks nearly as pretty.
The premise and execution are more fun than what we had in Dream Team, though, that much is certain.
You're in familiar territory.
When you get right down to what makes Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam a solid game, you're dealing with both compliments and insults. By and large, this plays just like every other game in the series. Yes, there's a new take on the battle system with Paper Mario now in the mix, but it's still the same battle system.
The problem is that the hallmark system works so well. Defending and attack with well-timed button presses is still just as fun as it's always been. The new attacks add some minor thrills. I don't expect Nintendo would ever see the need to change it. We're almost in Pokémon territory with this one. That line battler remains the same with subtle tweaks every few years. Why change what works?
The fact that Nintendo can't change the system too dramatically is both Paper Jam's biggest strength and its biggest weakness. If you dig these games and still find the battles fun and engaging, get ready to gobble this sucker up. If you're tired of this formula, then, well, this one isn't for you at all.
There's an added mech battle system, though it's pretty tame. There's a deck building card angle in the main battle system that's fun at first. There's even some amiibo play here. It's just that none of this stuff really reinvigorates things.
That familiar territory repeats ad naseum for the entire game. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam feels like a safe play. That's what it is. It's safe. It's not spectacular, its differences aren't all that brilliant, and doesn't really challenge the player or try to break the mold. It's safe.
Which, hey, might not even be an issue for you. Safe can be good, especially if you love this franchise for what it is.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is better than the last effort. It's not the best in the series, but it shines at times.
The best news here, for me at least, is that I'm no longer afraid of this series. Dream Team really tried my patience with its insufferable tutorials and painstakingly slow pacing. Paper Jam is better on both of those fronts, and it's a better game for it.
I love that Nintendo decided to trust their players, though. They got out of the way here, and I can't applaud them enough for that.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is, no matter how you slice it, more of the same with a new twist. The battle system is the same, the dialogue is the same (though, perhaps, not as funny as it should be). This is a fine and dandy effort. It's just middle of the road.
I suspect Mario RPG fans will want this game. To those folks, I say, "enjoy!" If you're looking for this experience to revolutionize the series, though. Just move on. Wait for a sale, if you must.
This isn't a bad game by any stretch, it's just not a special one either. Buy it if you love these, wait if you can get it for much cheaper. Hey, if you wait long enough, the battle system might be fresh again.
Disclaimer: We received a physical version of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam from Nintendo. We completed the game before writing this review.
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