Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was first unleashed on the world back in 2003. It was first game in Nintendo's RPG series starring both Mario Brothers, and the third in the long line of this role-playing series that started back in 1996 with The Legend of Seven Stars on the SNES, and was followed by the much more famous Paper Mario on N64 in 2000.
With the support of Alpha Dream, who've had a hand in the series since the first entry on GBA, the Kyoto-based company decided to refresh its established formula with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros., a new RPG game available on Nintendo 3DS from December 4. This time the famous Mario & Luigi franchise gets a 'paper touch' by adding Paper Mario to the mix.
One of the things that has always stood out in this series is undoubtedly its sharp wit; it's full of jokes and charming characters, a feature that Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam doesn't shy away from. The plot of this adventure is as simple as it is original: while Luigi and Toad poke around in the attic of Princess Peach's castle, the lanky green-clothed plumber accidentally knocks a mysterious book off of a shelf. In its pages tells the story of Paper Mario. Suddenly the characters in the book come to life and begin to populate Mushroom Kingdom. The task of the two brothers is to find and then ally with Paper Mario and bring the paper characters back to their world, facing two Bowsers (one normal and one in paper form), who have banded together in order to kidnap both versions of Peach and who stole the book that contains the characters of the Paper Mario saga.
Moving on from the totally over-the-top plot, we started to explore the interesting game mechanics that define the new Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.. Although the game mixes up aspects of both series (Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario) with great ease, Alpha Dream has enriched the whole experience with some absolutely unique and original touches. The combat system proves a perfect blend of turn-based battles and real time attacks, a mix that ensures the game has great versatility but without sacrificing the tactical depth of the classic RPG experience.
The experience as a whole is, as is usual in Nintendo games, very accessible thanks to some practical tutorials and training scenarios which the player can access at any time using the bottom screen of the console (through a proper guide or, during combat, using two specific buttons). The mechanics that support the game are have both depth and complexity. Like its predecessors, the game works on several levels, allowing both novice players and RPG fans to enjoy the experience.
As we said earlier, Paper Jam Bros. consolidates the combat system seen in the both series, but at the same time it adds some new features. With the addition of Paper Mario to the experience the player has the ability to pull off Trio attacks, such as the Trio Racquet, for example (simulating a squash game). Here the three characters have the ability to inflict Critical Attacks on the enemy, striking the ball, and thus the enemy, with good timing and the right character selected (each character is assigned to a specific button: "Y" for Paper Mario, "B" for Luigi and "A" for Mario). Furthermore, the possibility to work in some attacks borrowed from the two different series, such as Bros. Attack for Mario & Luigi (3D Red Shell, Rocket Blast, Bomb Derby for Mario and Fire Flower, Drill Shell and a Bros. Attack that makes Luigi giant) and the 'Copy Block' function to create copies of Paper Mario (which actually act as a shield), offer a certain freshness and variety to combat.
As in most RPGs we can equip our heroes with new weapons and armour, the latter can give special skills to the characters, one of these increases the defence of the character that owns it, while another randomly drops an iron ball on an enemy that's already been hit.
Special cards that add a further strategic element to combat - up to three at a time - can be purchased in Toad shops or won in battle, and have the most varied effects, such as dealing damage to enemies without using up turns or the possibly strengthening the stats of your characters temporarily. Another interesting new innovation introduced by Alpha Dream is the addition of Amiibos figurines (only the Mushroom Kingdom set, but not Baby Bowser), that allow players to use these figurines and turn them into useful cards to play in-game. Although they are particularly powerful, you should only use them when absolutely necessary, because they're rare. The Amiibo cards, however, are not essential to the experience, so if you decide to enjoy the game without using them, you're not really cut off from any content.
Another interesting addition are the mini-games, such as the Paper Toads collection. You access these missions through Lakitu centres, and they're both optional and useful to progressing the story. If you get together the various Paper Toads, you can build a useful "work force" that supports Toadette in construction of the massive paper-craft models. These mega hardbacks help us defeat similarly gigantic enemies of paper, an element that breaks the monotony of battles and proves a great diversion. Finally, another very interesting aspect is how Alpha Dream has decided to take advantage of the 'thin' size of Paper Mario when it comes to exploration. Often you can find gaps where only Paper Mario can slip through, and there he can find fun collectibles, equipment, coins or easter eggs.
Regarding the game world, Alpha Dream did a great job in terms of design, offering very different environments, from the sands of the desert to the dungeons of Bowser's Castle, with both among the most beautiful places we visited during our experience. As it often happens in some of Nintendo's games, the world was given plenty of attention in terms of detail, this time mixing "paper elements" and classic themes from Mushroom Kingdom. In terms of the landscape, it recreates the same ambivalence that veins through the entire game (another of its more interesting strengths). The only flaw, however, comes in the small size of the game map, something that's compensated by the presence of many secrets and hidden treasures which Paper Mario can access.
Our experience with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. was overwhelmingly positive. Thanks to an interesting and fresh combat system, combined with many things to do within the game world, the new role-playing game starring Nintendo's mascots has entertained us for several hours. If we have to be nitpick, the only flaw in Paper Jam is its plot, that even if it's sweet, doesn't really reach the same heights we've seen before. Another flaw is the small size of the game map and the soundtrack, which ends up being a bit repetitive, especially when it comes to battles. But aside from these minor flaws, this game deserves a spot on your Christmas wish list. It is recommended for both fans of the series and for Nintendo aficionados in general, but it's also accessible enough for complete newcomers to the RPG genre.