Recently, my daughter and I attended a pre-release event for Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and our immediate impression of the game painted it as a fun and easy-to-learn RPG. After some extensive play, that opinion is largely unchanged. One can derive a lot of enjoyment from the surprisingly deep single-player RPG. However, if you are considering playing the title, it’s important to note that there will be moments where patience will become a necessity.
Paper Jam is my first experience with the paper version of Mario and it’s a decent RPG title. The plot kicks off when the Paper Mario world is accidentally released into the regular Mario world, causing all kinds of problems. The 3D versions of the Mario characters must team up with their paper counterparts to defeat Bowser and Paper Bowser, who have combined their armies and have kidnapped Peach and Paper Peach.
Though simple, the story is entertaining. There’s a lot of great humour (my daughter, 8, mentioned it a few times) thanks to clever writing and cute visual gimmicks that make me wish that I had played one of the previous iterations of the Paper Mario series. There’s a lot of depth to the battle system, but the controls are intuitive and the game is easy to learn for adventurers of all ages. Additionally, for those who need extra help, there is an extensive guide and a great “Assist” system that takes some of the guesswork out of the battles for more inexperienced players.
The game unfolds as you play, revealing new gameplay elements fairly regularly with accompanying tutorials (and a more permanent reference in the guidebook that can still be accessed mid-battle). As I progressed further, I unlocked a number of useful attacks that made the battles even more fun than those fought at the beginning of the game. Regular attacks (which involve some active timing thanks to a damage-enhancing mini-game) are accompanied by a number of co-operative attacks that introduce a whole new layer of fun and, when performed properly, devastation. Fantastic papercraft battles also change things up, injecting even more amusement into the experience.
However, those positive elements come glued to some rather tedious bits that make Paper Jam drag just a smidge. Throughout the game, the player will have to participate in a number of mini-games that feel as if they were tacked on for no good reason. Many of them will be relatively easy for seasoned gamers that are used to video game activities that require fast hands or a puzzle-solving mind. They’re not as much fun for those that don’t have the patience or experience to deal with that type of gameplay. You may find yourself getting frustrated and bored or – if you’re a parent – you may be placed on-call indefinitely if your kid(s) are still young in the ways of Nintendo.
Similarly, while I found the main story amusing, there are definitely characters that feel incidental, and the game loses some of its shine due to that lack of depth (many of the offending characters are not paper ones). Boring dialogue and repetitive landscapes can wear away at the nerves, especially when framed within a highly linear quest.
Still, I suspect that the target demographic, namely those on the young side, will probably not care so much about those sorts of details. The bland landscapes and simplistic dialogue are not that important when compared to the overall story and the addictively fun battle system. The linear storyline is a great aid to those who are new to gaming (or the series), while the plethora of mini-games that litter Paper Jam will shake things up and prevent younger audiences from getting too bored. Amiibo compatibility also adds new battle aids to the mix, giving collectors an edge as their various amiibo will offer new and exciting ways to approach the fights.
In other words, a few boring moments and some repetitive gameplay is offset by a stimulating battle system and amiibo compatibility. If you’re looking for a deep and moving RPG experience, you might want to forego Paper Jam for something a bit more substantial. However, if the intended player is young or young at heart, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam might just be the ticket. Just be prepared to lend a helping hand once in a while.