Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam suffers from creases around its edges

Brian O'Kelly

A blank sheet of paper is full of endless possibilities, but it’s a shame that “Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam” chose to play it safe by drawing nothing but stick figures.

“Paper Jam” is a crossover between the “Mario and Luigi” and “Paper Mario” role-playing games — two of the most charming and creative RPGs around. Yet even with those two games as its basis, “Paper Jam” never truly capitalizes on its potential.

The game begins in the “Mario and Luigi” universe as Luigi investigates a draft coming from an old storage room. Startled by a mouse, Luigi knocks over a book which contains the world of “Paper Mario,” releasing the contents of the book into the non-paper world.

The story then plays out with Bowser and Paper Bowser joining forces to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Just as the two join forces, Mario and Luigi unite with Paper Mario, integrating a third member into their dynamic duo, tasked to save the day.

“Paper Jam” utilizes contrast as a theme with the mixing of paper and “real” elements playing a key role in the story and environments. But the game is still largely a “Mario and Luigi” game with the “Paper Mario” universe functioning as one big guest character to liven up the Mushroom Kingdom.

The joining of these two universes gives way to many of the game’s highlights. Bowser and Paper Bowser constantly clash egos, often resulting in meta jokes, and Princess Peach and her paper counterpart discuss how mundane the repeated kidnappings they are subjected to have become.

Princess Peach’s conversation points out one of the series’ key flaws — it is rather boring. The story doesn’t branch out from the same old storyline of Bowser kidnapping Peach and Mario having to go rescue her. It tries to throw in something different here and there, but nothing truly stands out or takes a risk.

The same can be said for the games various locales, which follow the same environmental tropes of most Mario games. The locales in the game are the same generic deserts, forests, plains and winter landscapes seen in almost every Mario game. Luckily, the story doesn’t distract from the game’s charm. The same disregard of the fourth wall that the series is known for remains intact.

Story progression is also broken up by two minigames, Toad Hunts and Papercraft Battles. Toad Hunts make the player search for Paper Toads in a small hide-and-seek challenge. While they get rather tedious, the minigames never take more than a couple of minutes to complete and don’t really detract from the overall experience.

Papercraft Battles, on the other hand, are a welcome addition to the series, featuring large cardboard figures dueling in an arena. While they’re not very in-depth, the Papercraft Battles are fun and not overused, making them a fun break from standard gameplay.At one point, a character takes the action icons from the player’s user interface, rendering them unable to engage in standard battle.

Battles are the strongest aspect of “Paper Jam,” with turn-based combat that uses small minigame attacks and timed button prompts to keep the player engaged and active. 

In contrast to other turn-based combat systems that simply have players take damage, “Paper Jam” makes the player actively jump over or use their hammer to repel enemy attacks. Rather than just pressing an attack button, the player has to follow up by timing their button presses or engaging in a small minigame to maximize the damage dealt.

While the series isn’t known for grueling difficulty, “Paper Jam” does require skill from the player by having them master the dodging and countering mechanics to stay alive. The game’s new addition of convenient practice and assist modes help relieve some of the difficulty for more casual players, making landing an important hit or dodging a devastating attack easier.

“Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam” sadly suffers from a lack of innovation and creativity, but its charm and gameplay are as enticing as they have ever been. It isn’t the beautiful paper origami that it could have been, but it’s still a fun piece of papier-mache.

Title: Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam
Genre: RPG
Rating: E
Grade: B