Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros is the fifth installment of the Mario & Luigi series of games, which started with Superstar Saga in back in 2003. The series, for those who have not experienced it yet, is essentially a JPRG starring the eponymous, infamous plumbing brothers (who, in retrospect, haven’t actually done any real plumbing in…years). I grab my markers, my glue, and my construction paper and head for the hills of the Mushroom Kingdom to see what this game is all about.
In Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros, Luigi somehow finds a book that serves as the portal to the world of Paper Mario, allowing the contents of said world to pour out into the 3D world. This means that both regular Bowser and Paper Bowser kidnap both regular and Paper Peach, leaving both regular and Paper Mario (and only regular Luigi) to go and save the day, and return all the paper denizens to their own world. With egregious use of papercraft.
The game plays as an isometric 3D platformer for the majority of it, doing many of the same things that Mario would normally do, such as hit mystical floating blocks for coins. The trick here is that you control all three characters—Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario—at the same time. Each character is assigned their own action button, so jumping is no longer a single-push affair. You want to get to a higher platform? You work for it! I call it an action button because it does more than just jumping. As the game progresses, you unlock abilities that the three characters can perform together, such as whacking things with successive hammers to break large bits of scenery.
The usual array of foes, both regular and paper, roam the scenery, too, and colliding with one starts a battle, which if you’ve played a Mario & Luigi game before, will be the familiar turn-based action you’re used to. Like prior games, there are attacks that both brothers can perform together that deal more than the usual amount of damage. There are also some attacks that all three characters can inflict, which usually involves turning the foes into paper before hitting them with a minigame. The attack minigames are fun enough that you actually don’t mind playing them to make for more damage. For more strategic play, the game introduces battle cards, which are cards you can collect and create throughout the game to help influence the tide of battle. And of course, Paper Jam Bros. comes with amiibo support, letting you create new battle cards using your amiibo that you have lying about.
Although some reviewers criticized the fact that Paper Jam Bros hands out powerups and upgrades slowly, to me it felt more like a Legend of Zelda-style progression, allowing earlier sections of the maps to be revisited with the new powers. I’ve always enjoyed this method of gameplay opening, allowing you to see things before being able to use them later on. It has its drawbacks, though, because every new power and ability is preceded by a really long, drawn out tutorial. And each time, the tutorial double and triple checks that you’ve understood correctly before letting you proceed. It can become a bit annoying.
This game gets a lot more right than it does wrong, however. From the art style, to the humor, to the funny pseudo-Italian noises that Mario and Luigi make when they talk. It’s a fun and funny game with some great moments. It’s got a fair amount of content, so you’ll be at the game for a good amount of hours, even if you don’t grind to level up your characters. In fact, one of the things I enjoyed about the game is that it’s possible to play it without grinding, if you play skillfully enough. Not many RPGs can boast that. It’s got a lot going for it, more than the last two games in the series, and it’s a definite step back in the right direction for the games.