Sep 09 2017

Late Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros Review

Rejoice, for Paper Mario has been saved. Flying out of the ashes that was Sticker Stars, the series has been merged with the Mario & Luigi team, producing a game with the best of both worlds. Even Mario & Luigi benefit, as the issues players had in Dream Team, have been ‘papered’ over.

I’ve always had a fondness for Paper Mario, having played the first one for the Nintendo 64 as a kid, blown away by the RPG elements at the time in what was a stark contrast to the many adventures I’d had in Mario 64. Before I’d even played Legend Of The Seven Stars, Paper Mario introduced me to how Mario worked when played from a strategy standpoint, having to choose between the Jump attack or Hammer, being able to equip gear, utilising companions in combat, whilst most importantly, it humanised enemies, giving them their own voice that gave them individual personalities, giving us a more in-depth view into the world of Mario, allowing us to create a stronger bond with the series. Plus, as Mario was made of paper as was the rest of Mushroom Kingdom, it opened up a new way to explore the world, being able to switch between two dimensional and three dimensional on the fly whilst also being able to morph into many shapes to fit through cracks and fly as a paper plane over spikes.

It’s just a shame that since the original Paper Mario, the series took a bit of a nose dive in my opinion. Sure, magazine reviewers over the years have given them rave reviews, but I never felt that they held a candle to the original Paper Mario. I found that the games weren’t much but a bit of a chore, with less humour and originality. Super Paper Mario for the Wii I couldn’t complete even after about an 80% completion rate due to how confusing exploration became, having to revisit every location in each of Mario’s forms to find an entrance to the next segment, again, just another chore I wasn’t willing to complete, but atleast it was a mutual parting. Sticker Stars on the other hand, I wanted to throw against the wall, set on fire and bury 10ft under the garden, all memory of it removed with two years of therapy, problem there was that the game was a digital download on my old 3DS and I wasn’t going to sacrifice a perfectly good console for the sake of a stupid game.

Sticker Stars was diabolical, with the most tedious of plots, fucked up combat mechanics and a sticker book nobody wanted to fill up unless you’re 5 years old and even then, it was a headache having to balance between using up the limited amount of stickers you were allowed to have, having to use some up against regular enemies whilst still trying to retain the strong stickers for boss battles, in which a boss would have a weakness to a certain sticker, though ofcourse we aren’t going to know which sticker, seeing as nobody tells us, so it’s not going to be discovered until you’ve already acquired a collection of stickers and well into the fight, and even then the weaknesses made absolutely no sense whatsoever, with apparently a cheepy cheepy boss weak to baseball bats… who knew?! There aren’t many games I ever gave up on, but Sticker Star sure was one, a double whammy seeing as I bought it for £50 from the Nintendo eshop which thanks to my luck, I ended up losing the account this game was linked to aswell as a few other games when my old 3DS did break of its own accord, so money just thrown down the drain. Just one reason why I’m sceptical of ever buying directly from Nintendo ever again.

Getting back to Paper Jam, this is a really fun concept, combining these two series really does give us the best of both worlds. Neither series has to carry the other, as they both step up to the plate with plenty to shine about. In comparison to Dream Team that was a 40 hour campaign, a lot of that game became quite repetitive, with plenty of irrelevant filler content thrown in that slowed the pace of the story telling. In Paper Jam, you will struggle to find repetitive story plots, or having to remember an arsenal of characters with little impact on the plot or even watch the same animation twice, as each scene is uniquely tailored, jumping between Paper Mario’s and Mario & Luigi’s core concepts to keep the action fresh.

So the ounce of the story is that Real World Luigi whilst attempting to fix a drafty crack in the attic of Peach’s castle, happens to knock over and open up a mystical book that causes the Paper Mario world to explode out, alongside with the paper versions of toads, enemies, Mario, Peach and Bowser, scattered all over Mushroom Kingdom. Well trouble is on the horizon for Mario, as he teams up with Luigi and Paper Mario to take on twice as many enemies and now two Bowsers, who are plotting world dominance after kidnapping both Peaches.

With this, we get to explore the various regions of Mushroom Kingdom, using all three characters to work together in overcoming terrain. Paper Mario is also utilized in discovering secret areas by going through cracks in walls. As you explore each region, you’ll come across many familiar enemies, as well as completing plots that are similar to many Mario RPGs, but there are some new mechanics such as the minigames of having to roundup paper toads who advance the story by building paper contraptions for the team. There are plenty of puzzles infused into the campaign and side missions, with some that actually do require brain power, being quite entertaining and thrilling when you complete them within a fraction of the countdown. Exploration is pretty linear, coming across towns and shops to refill at along the way, rather than having to backtrack.

I have to say that I wasn’t impressed that we don’t learn the ability to dive underground until well past the half way point of the game. Even though we know from previous games that we can go underground at some point to acquire the beans that boosts the bros stats, having to just walk past all the markers in the ground for a lot of the game was infuriating, knowing that I was going to have to come back to explore the entire area all over again to find them. There’s no real reward of having to re-explore an area, so not happy having to go back for beans when I would rather advance the story.

The localization is not as full on as in previous games, sticking more to the script with rural accents replaced with only the occasional linguistic or 4th wall joke.

Combat is pretty much the same as any other Mario RPG, more similar to the Mario & Luigi series in which whilst controlling two characters with their attacks and evasions, there’s now a third character to control at the same time, which isn’t too difficult utilising the 3DS controls. Whilst the original brothers can still use their double team bros attacks, Paper Mario offers an additional set of attacks that use all three characters in delivering high amounts of damage. These attacks will start a mini-game that requires practise and patience on the player’s behalf to make the most of. Paper Mario does provide a different take on the usual attacks of jump and hammer, being able to make 6 copies of himself (upto 10 with upgrades) in which he’ll use all 6 to attack an enemy when using jump or spread himself amongst all enemies when using the hammer attack. The additional copies also act as a form of armour, being able to take damage, only losing replaceable copies of himself rather than HP, which means that he can take quite a bit of damage and act as a lifeline for if Mario and Luigi are knocked out simultaneously. I do wonder though if some of the trio attack moves are intended to break the small buttons on the 3DS, having to spam button presses for about 10 seconds, and this is each and everytime you use those attacks. I wouldn’t put this past Nintendo. Atleast they’ve taken out the need to use gyroscopic controls for bros attacks which were a bit of a ball ache in Dream Team, specially as they never play nice with the eye tracking for the 3D screen, so no feel of loss there.

I have to say that my favourite enemy had to be the Bullies. I’ve not seen them for the longest time, so a great return to form and they behaved exactly as they used to in Mario 64. Shy Guys are still wearing every outfit under the sun.

Whereas in Dream Team we had badges, that could be used in battle to temporarily boost stats and on the fly health, Paper Jam makes use of cards. Cards are arranged in decks of 10, in which you have free choice of any type of card you want in your deck. Cards can be bought from shops, acquired by completing challenges and dropped by shiny paper minions. At some point, you will unlock the ability to have three sets of decks, which you can swap between outside of battle in preparation for the task ahead. There are the usual cards to boost stats and gain health, but the best ones to make the most of were the ones that boosted experienced gained and coins dropped at the end of the match by upto 50%! The only limiting factor of cards is that they require star points to activate. Star points are gained from attacking enemies, the more damaging the attack, the more points acquired. Again, there’s a card that will boost the amount of star points you can earn, so keep an eye out for that and make the most of it alongside the exp boost cards to train at a much faster rate. I preferred the cards over badges as I felt that they were used much more often than badges were, which would take absolute ages to charge up between each use.

Jesus Christ did I get lucky/unlucky for the King Bomb-omb fight. With only four minutes to complete the fight, I think I pretty much blew the time limit activating card powers and bros attcks, whilst using a deck of cards that didn’t have any time extending cards within it. So King Bomb-omb self destructs, taking everything with him. You get a chance at this point to perform an emergency block though I didn’t know what good that would be against a nuclear blast. Well it just so happened that I had been putting all of Luigi’s stats into defence, as well as equipping him with items to boost both his defence and as it just so happened, his emergency block aswell, which meant that whilst everyone else was blown to pieces, Luigi managed to survive with 11 health remaining. What pissed me off though was that he didn’t receive any exp, even though that was what I had wasted half of the match on, boosting the amount of experience points earned at the end of battle with the use of 3 cards. The fact that I had survived the battle also meant that there was no retry option if I had just simply lost instead, which meant I had to reload a save and play through an entire cutscene again, even though I had done the strategic play of ensuring Luigi had a high defence for such occurrences, instead the game wanted me to play the game in a different manner, essentially just using time cards to just extend the battle, even though this again would require loading up a save just so I could change my card deck to the alternative set.

Zord battles make a return, this time in the form of Papertech. Toadette will craft you large cardboard figurines based on Mario characters, each with their own abilities that will be used to tackle certain platforms. Thankfully there is no need for the stylus, having to swipe the screen in time with the onscreen actions as was in Dream Team, probably the most infuriating thing about that game, but this time, you control your papertech with the control stick, quick dashing at enemies with ‘B’ and jumping onto their heads with ‘A’. The graphics were solid during these segments, and the boss battles had a decent difficulty to them, not requiring a retry.

Once again, I’m in absolute awe of the beautiful graphics. I love the roundness of the terrain as it clashes with the blockiness of the paper craft. The developers have once again learnt to make the most of the Nintendo hardware, using it to its full potential whilst cleverly using lighting in the game to add more visual effects and realism. I love how the water has been created to hug around the terrain, it just looks so pure. Even the paper version of water looks a treat, a reflective holographic material that actually look realistic, capturing shimmers of light as you walk past it. The textures are fantastic, the game could be superimposed to HD and still look just as good. The stereoscopic screen is used to great effect, with the correct depth of field imposed in every scene, and once again, so much detail in the far off backgrounds of the battles which are just fantastic to stare at for a few minutes to just take it all in.

Every little detail has been captured, and I feel that the developers have carefully handcrafted each of the objects, so that the 3D detail would shine through the low resolution of the 3DS screens, as features on character models such as eyes and mouths are always in frame, never obscured by the lack of resolution, essentially pixel perfect. The animations are on point for all enemies and main characters, with a full range of emotions smoothly drawn out, some of these only seen once throughout the entire game, so don’t blink or you’ll miss Wriggler being carried to heaven by Goomba angels with wings (I can’t say I was sad to see him go, I’ve always found him to be one of the toughest bosses in the rpg series). At times, the 3D environments were so large, and with the camera swivels, it reminded me at times of Mario 64, something that I wish they would create a spiritual sequel to for the 3DS system, just like how they managed to recreate the original for the DS.

Sound design is on point, plenty of sound effects to immerse you into the scene currently being played out. Music is very nice to listen to whilst exploring and in combat just incase you didn’t have a podcast on hand to listen to. The only annoying thing to listen to was the fake italian noise coming from Luigi whenever he tried to speak more than a sentence.

The 70 minigames are great fun to play, which break down into two difficulties of easy and hard. The funniest was finding the paper toads, finding them in either compromising circumstances or hidden as oragami-esque shapes with that perfect mix of fading between 2D and 3D, a trick on the eyes in which you have to be on the lookout for the smallest of movements given by the hiding toads. The other puzzles were just as engaging, actually requiring brain power and quick reflexes to solve, which I appreciated considering I haven’t been challenged by many of the games I’ve played recently. They very much resemble the minigames found in Mario 64 DS and Super Mario land, which Nintendo no longer seem to provide as additional content in their games anymore.

I found that I didn’t have to grind as much in this game as I did in Dream Team, running around the enemies to avoid encounters, whilst in boss battles being able to rely on the high damaging bros attacks rather than on individual character strengths. Most boss battles are a breeze, with a small hit on the item depository to keep everyone in tip top shape. I imagine that the battle cards have something to do with this also, providing on the spot defense and attack boosts unlike the badges in Dream Team that took ages to charge up between uses. The good thing is that I’ve not spent as much time in combat as in the previous game, in which I clocked over 40 hours whilst this game I managed to complete it in 33 hours, and that includes collecting 95% of collectables and completing all 70 minigames, so as mentioned before, my time was really well split up amongst the multitude of activities, ensuring that the gameplay didn’t become stale, thus conquering any boredom, which I had absolutely none of, including with the story and visuals.

The timing of jokes is on point. Normally I’m not a fan of cutscenes which don’t include the main playable characters present, but seeing as Mario is a silent character and doesn’t really interact even when he is involved in the scene, instead having Starlow voice his thoughts for him; much like Navi from Ocarina of Time for Link, it’s excusable when there are scenes of Bowser Jr. talking amongst his counterpart and of the Peaches daring their escape, even though they’ve done this plenty of times in previous Mario RPGs. It always feels like an Active Time Event from Final Fantasy 9, usually with a funny outcome.

All throughout the game, it did beg the question, where the hell was Paper Luigi throughout all this? I was expecting him to turn up at any point, maybe even in a secret ending when I’d completed the game when still no trace of him, but for 33 hours of wondering, the only time you see him is when you unlock the music player after beating the game, at which it turns out he’s just sat out on a deck chair on a beach. Pretty underwhelming really, considering how it was quite the mystery and how well the developers handled the rest of the game. Don’t get me wrong, there wasn’t enough buttons using the current controller scheme for a fourth character in the party, but still, I would have thought he’d have appeared in the story in some form or other.

I feel that a lot of what was wrong with Dream Team is fixed in Paper Jam, giving us a perfectly enjoyable experience. By all means, you can play Dream Team for the hell of it, but as there are is no consequential story between Dream Team and Paper Jam, you could quite easily skip straight to Paper Jam if like me, you’ve been stung by Mario RPGs in the past and just want a fun game to play. I really did like the interactions between the characters and their paper versions, a unique take and one that I would possibly be happy to play again if they ever do such a collaboration ever again.

*No screenshots this time due to lack of ability on 3DS. Will find a way to do it for future 3DS games.

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