E3 2015 Hands-on Preview: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Is it a “jam” as in malfunction, or the tasty kind you put on toast?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/19/2015 07:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

Well, that was unexpected. After watching Paper Mario team-up with Mario and Luigi during Nintendo’s E3 broadcast, I didn’t quite know how to feel. I guess I’ve never really thought of the two series/characters existing in their own universes, so to speak, so seeing them come together like this was something new to process. From a pure gameplay perspective, I’ve rarely sat and broken down how different and similar the two series actually are. The battle mechanics are fairly similar, with both games utilizing timed hits as their bread and butter for enemy encounters. Battles in Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi have always been more kinetic and player-involved than the average RPG. World exploration is the biggest difference between the two series, however, as Mario & Luigi has traditionally emphasized teamwork between the two brothers to advance, while Paper Mario instead focuses on the plumber’s flattened body to get from point to point. Taking the best elements of both and merging them into a single experience seems to be the goal of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, and it’s a match that is already working wonders at this point in the development process.

Though the Nintendo rep I spoke with couldn’t confirm or deny if Paper Mario would be Mario and Luigi’s only ally during the game, using the trio to explore the environment seems enough to really be inspiring the design team to go nuts coming up with clever uses for the different abilities that all the characters have at their disposal. It’s not something totally new for the Mario & Luigi series of course; Partners in Time saw players utilizing four characters to traverse that game’s world, and some of the ideas presented there are clearly influencing Paper Jam. The biggest difference comes from Paper Mario, who’s malleable body can squeeze into nooks and crannies and take a number of different shapes. The Mario RPGs have always been offbeat and silly, but bringing together the two franchises that comprise the plumber’s role-playing titles is taking everything to the next level. It’s clear that Nintendo is having fun combining all these pieces trying to figure out how Paper Mario would fit within the Mario & Luigi world, and just the attention to detail being placed on how these three would take advantage of one another’s skills is impressive. It’s going to be a treat finding ways around Paper Jam‘s overworld, for sure.

Nintendo of America has become famous for its spectacular game localizations, with the various Mario RPGs over the years being the highlight of the company’s efforts. By all indications, Paper Jam is looking to add to that impressive legacy. The game is simply hilarious. The evolution of dialogue in Nintendo’s software is something I’ve always gotten a kick out of observing, and the quirky things that come out of the characters mouths keeps on taking me by surprise. It’s apparent that Nintendo of America is given considerable leeway to insert colloquialisms and Western sensibilities into the ways that the cast talks in everything from Animal Crossing to Mario & Luigi, and that latitude has proven invaluable each time. RPGs live and die by how well the characters and story suck in the player, and Paper Jam already has me invested in finding out how the adventure ends. That’s nothing to take for granted, and I hope that this brief taste of what’s to come in the final game is followed all the way through. I have yet to be disappointed by a Mario RPG, so my expectations are high.

Battling is the other half of the core of the experience in Paper Jam, and as usual the combat system is top tier. The timed hits I mentioned are on full display, with Paper Mario introducing some new elements to battling that add some flare and challenge to the proceedings. The character can make copies of himself that take on multiple enemies at once. In my battle with Petey Piranha, for example, Paper Mario multiplied into a number of duplicates and began rushing at the villain en masse. The usual timed hits of the attack button required much faster presses than anything I’ve experienced in a Mario & Luigi game, so I had to acclimate myself to the more challenging pace. It was worth it to adapt, as being able to do so dealt a ton of damage as a result. Everyone’s attacks are tied to a specific button, as is typical of the Mario & Luigi series, allowing for numerous simultaneous actions to be made on screen. At one point in the fight with Petey, all three of the characters became controllable at once, with Paper Mario assuming the form of a paper airplane, alternating between the two brothers who could be made to leap into the sky and hang onto him in order to avoid a rush of the boss’s attacks.

This single boss battle took a considerable amount of strategy to complete, and between the solid controls and innovative implementation of each series’ character’s specific abilities, I was left feeling very satisfied after I won. If Paper Jam is at risk of anything, however, it’s being too clever. It’s not the easiest task to control three characters at once, and I can see some players possibly getting tripped up by doing so. That said, the game is very careful about guiding the player through the controls and making them feel comfortable, so it’s not the biggest worry on my mind. Again, I personally got along just fine in Partners in Time with its four simultaneously controllable brothers, so with one less to keep track of in Paper Jam, it shouldn’t prove too difficult. It’s worth it in any event, as the game is demonstrating once again why Nintendo’s Mario RPGs are some of the best the role-playing genre has to offer, regardless of system. There might be a slight learning curve, but for those who take the plunge, they’ll be rewarded with a rich and rewarding battle system complemented by some of the finest writing in the business. Paper Jam is aiming high, and if its team can come through, 3DS will be home once more to yet another can’t-miss game.

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