Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros
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.