Mario & Luigi: Pa­per Jam Bros

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Al­phaDream’s Mario & Luigi RPGs have al­ways shown a keen in­ter­est in du­al­ity. Since 2005’s Part­ners In Time, the se­ries has thor­oughly ex­plored the con­cept of two in­ter­con­nected uni­verses, find­ing new ways to demon­strate how ac­tions in one can have ef­fects on the other. Here, the worlds col­lid­ing are the Mush­room King­dom and its two-di­men­sional equiv­a­lent, and the im­pact is akin to a vi­o­lent fend­er­ben­der. Pa­per char­ac­ters and scenery lit­er­ally fall from the sky. When more ob­sta­cles and en­e­mies are needed, they’re fired from a gi­ant card­board can­non. Any fears this is a quick cut-and-paste job, crudely sta­pling as­sets from Pa­per Mario: Sticker Star into the world of Dream Team Bros, are un­likely to be al­layed by early con­tact with Pa­per Jam Bros. At least it’s up front about it.

Hap­pily, while its as­set re­use is far from el­e­gant, the de­vel­oper hasn’t used up all its best ideas – and it’s learnt lessons from the luke­warm re­cep­tion to its pre­vi­ous game. Pa­per Jam Bros isn’t en­tirely free of the pad­ding and oc­ca­sional bag­gi­ness of its pre­de­ces­sor, but the pace is much brisker. Its se­cret is to en­sure you’re never pur­su­ing a sin­gle ob­jec­tive for very long: any time it be­gins to set­tle into a fa­mil­iar rhythm, there’s some form of dis­rup­tion. Of­ten this in­volves re­triev­ing pa­per Al­phaDream’s fond­ness for bit parts sees it grant Toad­ette a scene-steal­ing cameo. As the ar­chi­tect of gi­ant paper­craft mod­els, she’s cre­ative and ca­pa­ble – though woe be­tide all who in­ter­rupt her pre­cious think­ing time Toads, which have been scat­tered across the world, but th­ese brief quests as­sume a va­ri­ety of forms. One asks you to cor­ral a par­tic­u­larly twitchy bunch into a safe area, an­other sees you peel­ing them off cave walls, and there are stealth in­ter­ludes and timed pur­suits too. Show­piece bat­tles be­tween huge paper­craft mod­els are a less suc­cess­ful change of pace, though they’re too short, easy and in­fre­quent to be a se­ri­ous ir­ri­tant.

Mario might lead the way, but his com­pan­ions are the stars. Al­phaDream’s take on Luigi as a cow­ardly klutz who wears his heart on his sleeve is still in­spired, his over­re­ac­tions and prat­falls making him a re­li­able source of laughs. The scriptwrit­ers have raised their game, too, a streak of self-aware hu­mour de­liv­ered with a rare light­ness of touch: one scene sees Peach pass the Bechdel test with her­self. Mean­while, the plumber’s pa­per coun­ter­part helps re­fresh a never-bet­ter bat­tle sys­tem, with a range of abil­i­ties un­lock­ing a string of in­ven­tive at­tacks (a spi­ralling sky­dive is the stand­out) and eva­sive moves. His pres­ence alone makes dodg­ing more chal­leng­ing; while bat­tle card items can re­dress the bal­ance, they’re pow­ered by per­fect at­tacks and avoid­ing dam­age, in­cen­tivis­ing skilful tim­ing.

As­set wear and the odd tear mean the sub­ver­sive Su­per­star Saga re­mains the se­ries’ peak, then. Still, this at­tempt to fuse two very dif­fer­ent Mario worlds is more than the sum of its mis­matched parts.

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