The sheer idea of a Mario RPG, or a Mario game set in a universe made of paper, are both something that you would be forgiven for laughing at if it when they were announced at the time. Yet with the benefit of hindsight both of these series managed to become amazing and grow in their own right; Super Mario RPG threw Luigi into the mix for a bunch of fun RPG adventures in various wacky situations, and Paper Mario did roughly the same, but each had their own charms and personality. Knowing the success of each, it was only logical to then team them up for a joint adventure; take the best bits of each series and merging them together could only be a good thing after all, right?
Well, the main thing that becomes readily apparent about Paper Jam Bros is this is not a Paper Mario game – if you’re coming into it expecting that sort of gameplay and humour you’re going to be rather disappointed. What it is, though, is a very good Mario and Luigi game with Paper Mario and friends tagging along for the ride. The main change this creates is navigating three people throughout the game instead of two, each mapped on to their own button. It’s a bit confusing at first (Praise be to the button that lets them all jump at once), but it thankfully doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it, and adds a new (second) dimension into things. Having Paper Mario in where this is most readily apparent – he can create copies of himself to attack more foes at once or soak up damage, and the team up with the others for pretty inventive and devastating power attacks. The simple fact he stands further back than the other two when battling is a new element of its own, meaning you have to time counter-attacks a little bit later than with the others. It sounds complicated, but in reality it all works rather cleverly.
Everything else in the game is nicely bundled together as well. This may be practically par for the course with Mario and Luigi games, but it’s nice to have this layer of polish anyway, and it’s also good to see some grievances from the previous titles ironed out. For example, the infuriating endless tutorials from Dream Team are all but gone, now replaced with a system where reading and learning about attacks is purely optional. Boss battles to me are also more refreshingly frequent but not overbearing, even though some of them prove more annoying than they have any right to be. Giant papercraft fights also add more into the mix – they’re nothing mind-blowing and appear slightly too infrequently, but they’re fun to play and mix things up just that little bit more. It’s all just good solid fun.
Despite these improvements and features, though, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the game overall is depressingly routine. Nintendo often gets flack for generally bringing out the same game over and over, and while the past few years and games like Hyrule Warriors are trying to buck the trend, predictability is out in full force here. Peach is kidnapped, so you travel to a desert world, then an island world, then an ice world, than a fire world…. You get the picture. There’s a lot of hitting X amount of buttons in different areas of the map to trigger something also, and not enough unique ways of pushing your progress along away from the skill you learn through the game. In short, there’s just nothing here that really tries to buck the trend, and make things really exciting.
The second problem I had with the game stems from the first, and that is the fact that eventually things start to get a little bit repetitive, even for an RPG. Fighting is the main culprit here – by the end game especially, the easiest and most logical way to win is to keep spamming your special attacks, all of which take a good 30 seconds to complete each time. Yet this is the best approach with every enemy, not just bosses – and there are a lot of enemies about. There’s also not a lot elsewhere to distract you from the story itself. Paper toad rescue missions are the main draw, but apart from the ones you have to complete to progress the story, I honestly didn’t see the point of doing any of the optional ones. There’s also a minigame arcade that challenges you to score big by doing good at… What you’ve been doing throughout the game anyway – and again the rewards don’t seem much. It edges dangerously close sometimes to falling into the category of being boring sometimes – but then there’s another fun little segment pops up, or a genuinely funny piece of writing makes you laugh, and the game manages to pull itself from the brink.
Overall, I rather enjoyed Paper Jam Bros. It could have done with a bit more originality thrown into the mix, and the lack of Paper Mario being much more than another party member could be lamented, but overall the game doesn’t do much wrong. It’s quite simply another Mario RPG to add on to the long list of those that you can gladly enjoyed whittling away the hours away on.