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TLDR: Paper Jam may be the weakest in the series, but it is still a good game that gave me plenty of joy, in spite of its lacklustre aspects. About a month ago, I decided to begin Paper Jam and finish with this wonderful series
I have now reached Adventures End, and beaten Paper Jam. It's a really bittersweet feeling for me.
Paper Jam was the only remaining M&L game I had not played. I looked forward to Paper Jam when I first saw the E3 trailer, but the mediocre reviews scared me away for years.
A year ago I got interested in 3ds gaming and mario&luigi again. I started looking at getting Paper Jam, and eventually got lucky, as I found a cheaper copy of it being sold nearby for $25.
I really wanted to complete my collection of Mario&Luigi games, so I decided I would play Paper Jam, should I find it at a lower price (which I did). When I heard of Alphadreams bankruptcy, I began playing the Superstar Saga remake that had collected dust on my shelf.
I had a blast with it, but despite wanting more M&L, I was hesitant to start Paper Jam and end the journey. So almost a year after Superstar Saga, I found myself craving a nice Mario&Luigi adventure, after Resident Evil 7 scared the shit out of me. I decided that it was time to finish the journey and begin Paper Jam.
Having completed Paper Jam, I have to say that I am glad I played this game. Although it is certainly the weakest Mario&Luigi title, it is still a true Mario&Luigi title and a good game (although in the shadow of great games).
I came into this game with tempered expectations, being fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of Paper Jam. In spite of my mindset, I found the opening phase to be a serious struggle. It reminded me of Dream Teams opening, with how slow it was.
The funny thing is that Paper Jam was the greatest game yet, in terms of managing tutorials and handholding. The other games had suffered from this, with Dream Team as the worst offender (Dream Team is still my favourite game in the series though!). In fact it was really great that Paper Jam assumed the player knew what they were doing, and made the tutorials optional.
The increased difficulty was also quite nice. Paper Jam was so hands off compared to the others, and it doesn't get enough credit for that.
Unfortunately, with all the fat that was trimmed, Alphadream found a more agitating replacement. Send in the Toads! This game has made me a complete racist towards toads. I cannot stand them anymore! The Blorbs were the cure for this vile toad virus, and I wish that Fawful had won!
The Toad missions were not only tedious and boring, but they actively pulled me out of the game, into a different video game where I played hide and seek with toads. The game throws so much of this at you in the opening few hours. It utterly derails the flow and pace of the game.
The fact that almost every npc in this game is a toad, makes me hate them even more. It's not enough that I have to waste all this time doing Toad fetch quests. I also have to see hundreds of Toads everywhere I go, rather than the unique characters of past games. That is utterly infuriating!
I will admit that the toad missions did significantly improve around the time I reached the Twinsy Tropics. Some of the toad missions did become tolerable, if not slightly fun, as the game progressed. Unfortunately, they saved all the worst toad missions for the first few hours of the game.
It would have helped greatly, if the better toad missions been implemented into the beginning, with much more mario&luigi gameplay happening in between. With all that being said though, the toad missions were overall an insultingly mediocre form of padding that only pulled the player out of the Mario&Luigi experience.
If Toad missions were pulled from this game, it would be much shorter, but much sweeter! There was nothing to lose and plenty to gain.
Anyway, I kept plugging away at the game. Once I reached the second area, Doop Doop Dunes, Paper Jam began to really improve. There was suddenly a large amount of breathing room, with a good sized break from Toad missions. I was able to explore the new area, fight enemies, solve puzzles, and experiment with the bros and Paper Mario.
This was where Paper Jam began to feel like a genuine Mario&Luigi game.
Paper Jam is of course a crossover between Paper Mario and Mario&Luigi. Paper Jam does some great things with Paper Mario as a playable character. While controlling 3 bros could be tricky at times, it made battles more exciting and challenging.
Paper Mario had a distinct playstyle from the other bros as this unique glass cannon who could dish out good damage on tons of enemies at once.
He also had his own style of dodging and countering, which was more forgiving to compensate for his fragile healthpool. The Paper Mario copies enabling his high damage as a sort of resource you managed for defence and offence, was pretty cool too.
I especially loved getting 8 copies of Paper Mario late into the game. Paper Mario's copies did protect him a bit too much though, when factored in with how easily he could dodge attacks.
Paper marios special attacks were also pretty awesome once I realized I could skip the intro animations.
All in all Paper Mario was a nice addition who excelled in different areas from mario and luigi, without making the bros feel weak.
The 3 bros were all great to play as with some nice special attacks. While its a shame that mario and luigi recycled a lot of attacks, it was at least a good set of attacks. I particularly loved the paper mario shuriken attack, Luigi's balloon attacks, and Mario's toad attack (which almost made collecting every toad worth the effort).
I also loved the card system. While its basically an altered version of badges, I really liked the mechanics of collecting cards, building a deck, and having a variety of unique effects to utilize, so long as you have the available star points.
There's so many cards (many of them being very niche) to play around with, and there's a card for nearly every situation. If you're struggling with a certain boss or situation, there's likely a card for that scenario. The card that extends timers was a lifesaver during a countdown segment in neo bowsers castle.
I wish I could have played around with some amiibo cards, but alas it was not to be.
Cards were imo a really nice variation on badges, allowing for a greater range of effects within each battle. I just wish cards had come into play much earlier than they did.
Enemies and bosses in this game were a joy to fight against. Although they were all vanilla mario enemies (which is lame), they at least offered a good challenge and lots of exciting moments. For vanilla mario enemies, Alphadream did well to add some of the less common mario enemies, and a couple classic bosses like King Boo and Big Bob Omb. While I wish we had original enemies and bosses, I'm satisfied that what we did get was excellent in gameplay.
One thing I was torn on was the leveling, with the lack of optional stat bonuses. Choosing your stat and trying to get the highest number was always a nice little part of the games, that allowed for more freedom in how you built the bros. Although it was kind of nice to not have to think about stats every time I went up a level.
I also really liked the rank bonuses you could choose. While some were obviously better than others, it had me motivated to climb the ranks to unlock cool new enhancements like extra copies, extra gear, increased scaling on certain stats, and reduced Sp costs.
I'd love to both have those rank bonuses and the option to choose which stat to improve upon going up a level.
The one area where the battle system falls flat is the Papercraft Battles. As someone who loves Giant Battles, the various creative gimmicks&minigames, and someone who sees Giant Bowser as the best boss in the series, I really did not enjoy Papercraft battles.
Papercraft battles suffered from straying too far from the games mechanics. While giant battles were quite different, they still used similar rules and concepts to the battle system. It was like fighting a traditional bossfight but on a much more climactic, badass level.
Unlike regular battles, Papercraft battles lacked any semblance of challenge. I never had to focus or worry about performing well. Instead I just had to grind through enemies in an unrewarding minigame that felt like bumper cars (if it was boring). Like the worst toad missions, it just felt I'd stopped playing a Mario&luigi game. Papercraft battles also dragged on for far too long.
The only battle that was somewhat enjoyable was the final papercraft battle, because of a slight degree of challenge, and more mechanics to contend with (although this one dragged on far longer than the rest). I appreciate what they were trying to go for with papercraft battles, but this was a case of a creative risk failing. I'd have loved to seen what they'd have done with giant battles in this game. If the great battle system was any indication, we'd have gotten the finest giant battles yet.
All in all the battle system is where Paper Jam shines brightest. It is fantastic and refined from 4 previous mario&luigi games. It challenges the player more than past games, and has plenty of unique, new mechanics mixed with the tried and true mechanics of older games. Papercraft battles are the only notable blemish, but those are practically separate from the battle system.
As I mentioned previously, Doop Doop Dunes is where the game began to come into its own. When Paper Jam relaxes from its fetch quests, and lets you quietly explore areas, it is at its best.
Paper Jam kept gradually improving from this point onwards. Although there were some setbacks in Twinsy Tropics with more Toad padding, the game was still more open than it had been.
I believe that Mount Brrr is the point in which Paper Jam truly hit its stride. Although it is not a visually unique location, something about it just feels more like it's from a previous game. It's just a joy to traverse the mountain. The music for this location is excellent, and the various little puzzles you're solving with your drilling and other abilities, are great.
The drilling ability in particular was quite fun to use in this game. The little puzzles involving the dash were great.
It came far too late though, and led to a ton of backtracking for beans, which was irritating. Paper Jam needed to introduce certain things earlier than it did.
I especially loved the addition of a run button for the bros. It made it so much smoother to travel and backtrack. There were also some fun new segments that running made possible (except for chasing toads and Nabbit, that got old fast!).
Some rooms definitely did feel too large and open though. It made it tedious to clear out enemies and explore. Running made this a lot more bearable, but it was still irritating at times.
After Mount Brrr I was thinking I was at the end of the game when I reached Neo Bowsers Castle. It was kind of annoying to get faked out, but the backtracking to older areas was kind of nice. It reminded me a bit of Metroid in that new challenges and rooms were opened up now that I had more tools at my disposal. Gloomy Woods was pretty fun on the second outing, with a great King Boo fight and some fun moments with the ghosts and separated bros.
Mount Brrr was a joy to explore a second time, with the exception of some of the worst toad missions in the whole game, that kinda dragged it down. It culminated in a strong boss battle with Big Bob Omb, rewarding me with an entrance into the skyward Neo Bowsers Castle, for real this time.
I was starting to feel sad at this point as I knew I'd come a long way in the game, and that the end was near. I backtracked as much as I could to collect every bean, and even rescue every toad. I loved the special toad attack I got for Mario, so that softened the blow of the toads.
Eventually I went up to the castle and spent the day working through it. I've always loved final castles in these games. It's always a long and climactic dungeon, full of tough enemies, good loot, and puzzles. Paper Jam was no exception, with lots of enemies and rooms to tear through.
I finally got to the end of the castle, after a great Kamek fight, and spent a while on final preparations before making my way through the door. At this point the game was feeling epic and a tad emotional for me. The gauntlet before bowser was a bit annoying, but it was a solid final challenge that put your skills to the test.
Finally I took on Bowser and Paper Bowser. I'd actually been listening to the final boss theme for this game for quite a while. I was very much looking forward to experiencing the epic duel that accompanied this grand theme, and I was not disappointed.
Shiny Robo Bowser is one of my favourite bosses in the series, and a superb final boss for Paper Jam. It's far more epic than a generic Bowser encounter has any right to be. I think it actually is my favourite final boss in this series. It is a fantastic showdown, with plenty of challenge to it, and a very climactic feel. I loved how the Bowsers used their own paper abilities (reminded me of Bowser and Antasma in Dream Team). The excellent theme for this fight also plays a key role in its greatness.
Yoko Shimomura has always done a superb job at composing the soundtracks of these games. Paper Jam still had a strong soundtrack, even if it was weaker than its predecessors. Yoko really saved her best for last with the song she did for this fight. Even if it felt a tad out of place, it is still a beautiful song that really elevates this fight.
I came really close to dying in this fight, having to fend off a barrage of attacks that would have killed my 50 hp paper mario. I successfully countered the attacks and then had just enough points for a double one up card, leading into an excellent paper shuriken attack to finish off Bowser.
It's a great note for me to end my journey through the Mario&Luigi games on. Like Shimomura's soundtrack for this game, Paper Jam saved its best for last and went out with a bang. It took me 35 hours in total to beat it, though several hours should have been shaved off of this game.
It feels like the end of an era for me, having completed every game in the series. I'm sure I'll replay some of the games eventually, but you can never recreate the magic of the first playthrough.
I really wish Paper Jam had ended up differently. As a Paper Mario and Mario&Luigi Crossover, it sadly fails to live up to its mountainous potential. More than any other game, this deserved to be the greatest Mario rpg. It is very saddening to me that this game struggled with tight deadlines and creative limitations.
One of the key components of a mario rpg is to have unique worlds, characters, lore, and an important story. Paper Jam has absolutely none of this. It got "Sticker Starred", and that is tragic. It is such a colossal shame that we didn't get any new characters, interesting areas, or interesting story.
The vanilla New Super Mario Bros style with no story and recycled enemies&worlds has been done to death. Paper Jam is the greatest telling of the vanilla Mario story, but at the end of the day, it is still a vanilla Mario story. Alphadream did what they could, slipping in humorous dialogue and character dynamics, but it wasn't quite enough. It sums up this game really. Alphadream did the best that they could with what they were given, and still produced a respectable game.
As of Mount Brrr, Paper Jam was a solid game until the end. It reminds me of Dream Team in that it badly stumbles in the early phases, before finding its footing. While Dream Team becomes brilliant, Paper Jam merely becomes good. It suffers from padding, bad pacing, and a saddening lack of story&worldbuilding, but compensates with great music, quality of life features, and a wonderful battle system.
If Paper Jam had not replaced the fat it trimmed with arguably worse fat, and had introduced more mechanics sooner, it would have been a far better experience.
Nonetheless, despite some very lacklustre moments, and an ocean of wasted potential, Paper Jam is a genuinely good game that any Mario rpg fan should play. It may not be the masterpiece that it should be, but it is absolutely a game worthy of the Mario&Luigi series. I am glad that I gave this game a chance and saw it through.
I hope to see Mario&Luigi make its return someday.
Farewell Paper Jam.