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Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. review

The origami killers

One of Bowser’s frequent tricks is to send giant, papercraft enemies to stop you proceeding. Luckily, you’ve got a few papercraft creations of your own (hefted around by some poor toads). Battles between these hulking, origami brutes play out like a weird, real-time 3D brawler punctuated with rhythm action sections which recharge your papercraft. They’re a welcome change of pace, much like the giant battles of Bowser’s Inside Story, despite being one of the weaker elements of the game.

As usual, enemies are thoughtfully designed and plentiful, with each
one more like a puzzle than the sentient health bars you normally fight
in RPGs. Each has a range of attacks, often with subtle tells to
indicate what they’re about to do. The boss fights in particular are
spectacular, and too good to spoil here, but each one will have you on
your toes, dealing massive damage to players who don’t get out of the
way of their varied, powerful attacks.

For series veterans,
Paper Mario and his wafer-thin cohort are the key ingredient in making
things feel fresh. At a base level, he adds a third character to keep
track of during battles – his fluttery jump requires different timing to
the original duo – and his ability to create multiple copies of himself
to boost his defences adds an extra smidgen of tactical depth. Most
exciting, though, is his arsenal of trio attacks, in which he flattens
enemies with a ginormous cardboard hammer ready for further abuse. The
first, for example, sees the squashed enemies pinned to a wall as the
heroic trio thwack a squash ball into them. Even better are the tiny
details which give the paper cast a distinct identity; how they become
‘crumpled’ rather than stunned, or the way that paper koopa troopas fold
themselves into 3D shells to attack. It’s ludicrous, convention
breaking, and utterly charming.

Outside of battles, you find
yourself in the main overworld, where some light-platforming awaits.
Traversing the terrain requires a range of slowly unlocked special
moves, such as a devastating triple hammer technique, and these act as
Metroidvania style gear-gating. Returning fans might find they know
exactly what move they’ll need to access some secret areas, which can be
mildly frustrating, knowing that you’ll need to backtrack later. The
in-world puzzling is never as taxing as, say, a Zelda dungeon, but this
keeps things breezy and prevents sticking points.

The pacing, in
general, is excellent, breaking up the main battle-platforming-battle
formula with races, hide-and-seek challenges, pop-quizzes, papercraft
battles (see boxout) and plenty more. Despite boasting a lengthy main
quest, monotony is an issue it deftly sidesteps – a feat few RPGs manage
quite as well.

With Paper Jam Bros being the fifth entry in
the series, perhaps it could have done more to shake up the formula, but
when the status quo is this inventive, it’s hard to hold a grudge.
Delivering another excellent and original entry into a consistently
brilliant, and heartbreakingly overlooked franchise, might just make
this the highlight of Nintendo’s Christmas line-up.

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