Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga kind of came out of nowhere but set an extremely high bar for portable RPGs. With its amusing story, excellent localisation and interesting battle mechanics it felt like the start of something new for RPGs on the move. The game was perfectly designed for short periods of play, but it was the script and treatment of the Mario Bros that proved particularly gripping.
Established conventions of the mainline series were mocked and the characters of the Mushroom Kingdom were given a far greater degree of depth. Since the release of Superstar Saga there have been a number of follow-up games. All followed the same formula with the addition of new gimmicks or gameplay mechanics in an effort to keep proceedings fresh.
Sadly, none of the sequels released since the excellent first entry have quite managed to capture what made the series so fun to play. The additions made to game mechanics often felt like ways to artificially lengthen the game. Indeed Dream Team
, the last entry on the 3DS, was particularly guilty of this with endless tutorials and dialogue that could not be skipped.
It was from this aspect that it was clear that the series had gone rather badly off the rails. Superstar Saga
's script sparkled but by Dream Team
the text had become unnecessarily verbose, a considerable concern for an RPG so reliant on keeping players engaged with the plot.
Happily, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.
fixes a number of the problems that plagued Dream Team
. The script is tighter, tutorials are no longer forced and are instead placed in a manual that can be accessed at any point through the pause menu.
During cutscenes the player is also given the option to speed up text by pressing the right shoulder button, in a similar way to the 3DS's StreetPass games. Although this is very welcome it also highlights one of the game's main problems - it's still not as engaging as its predecessors. The inclusion of the 'fast forward' button feels like an admission that the story is not immersive enough for the player to get engaged with. Whilst the plot is largely irrelevant in the mainline Super Mario
games, it has always been one of the key aspects of the Mario & Luigi
The concept for the game is certainly intriguing, as the world of Mario & Luigi
is merged with elements of the Paper Mario
series. However, although this interesting premise promises a new take, the result is sadly rather uninspiring.
The game begins with Luigi attempting to make repairs inside Princess Peach's castle. He accidentally knocks over a bookcase that contains a book within which the residents of Paper Mario
's world reside. The characters are set free from the book and spread across the Mushroom Kingdom. After some amusing bickering, Paper Bowser and his Mushroom Kingdom counterpart agree to work together to kidnap Peach and Paper Peach. Mario is then entrusted with the usual task of rescuing the princess(es) and also returning the paper characters to their own world.
Whilst the plot does feel rather lazy, that wouldn't matter so much if the execution was good. First impressions are not reassuring as the similarity of the game environment to previous entries in the series is immediately apparent.
The inclusion of the 'paper' element to the game swiftly dispels these feelings as the addition of Paper Mario to the traditional two-man team of Mario & Luigi quite significantly changes the battle dynamics. Indeed, encounters become more intense because of the number of enemies on screen at once. I was initially worried that this would mean that battles would become more drawn out and tedious. Fortunately, the character of Paper Mario is different enough to make this a non-issue as his attacks, particularly the 'copy' command, whereby Paper Mario duplicates himself to make attacks more powerful, provide great variety.
The addition of 'papercraft' battles significantly improves on the large scale battles of previous entries in the series. After collecting the requisite number of Paper Toads a large papercraft character is created in the image of, for example, Yoshi. This is then taken into battle against an opposing papercraft character such as Bowser Jnr.
These encounters are a welcome break from the turn-based combat present throughout the rest of the game and are well paced. In addition, the inclusion of a rhythm-based minigame to 'power up' the character adds a nice amount of tension to the confrontation. Control of each 'papercraft' is rather cumbersome, but this doesn't feel out of place as each design does look rather unwieldy.
The turn-based combat system has changed little from earlier games. Unlike the majority of other turn-based RPGs, the Mario and Luigi series has always required not just thought but also good reflexes during encounters. Attacks can be dramatically increased in strength if timed correctly and defensive moves can limit damage to zero if well executed. It is this element of the game that prevents the battle system from becoming too repetitive as the skill of the player is rewarded, as opposed to the game just relying on selecting an attack from a menu and hoping that it will work.
Nevertheless, the extent to which the combat hasn't changed is also one of the more negative aspects of the game. Although the system works well, moves from earlier games are reproduced here and the number of new ways to engage in battle is, Paper Mario aside, disappointingly small.
Although skilful play is rewarded, players who may find the game too challenging are also taken into consideration. As has been the custom with this generation of Nintendo games, if the player is struggling with a part of the game he or she is then given the option to skip the section. Whilst this is a welcome addition, it does rather gut the game of any challenge. With a story as weak as the one here it is questionable why anyone would want to play the game with all the difficulty removed.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
kept me engaged on multiple levels with an excellent story, script and battle mechanics. Mario and & Luigi: Paper Jam
succeeds on building on only one of these areas, the battle mechanics. Whilst the script is amusing in places it never reaches the level of earlier games in the series. Furthermore, the plot is the weakest aspect of the game. The player is given even less incentive than usual to care about Mario and Luigi's antics.
Does this prevent the game from being worth playing? No, the core gameplay is enough to keep players engaged and there is more than enough content to make the game feel worth digging into. However, parody and in-jokes only work for a limited period of time. If developer AlphaDream could bring itself to step away from the more established tropes of the Mario
series and create something new, as it did with Superstar Saga
, Mario & Luigi
could become truly great again.
+ Addition of Paper Mario greatly improves the battle system.
+ Papercraft sections are a welcome addition.
+ Tutorial system has been streamlined.
- Extremely weak story.
- Battle system could still do with more variety of moves.
- Mini games are rather repetitive.
SPOnG Score: 7/10