This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.
Oh boy, I love reviewing new Mario RPGs; taking another opportunity to bang on about how they'll never be as good as Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door never fails to thrill me on an almost erotic level. This time however, I can do it with added relevance as Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (that's Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros in the European regions; I wonder if they need to specifically confirm that they're brothers so we don't look for other explanations of why two grown men with German porn star mustaches would spend so much time together) is the crossover between the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi serieses that nobody asked for.
Why am I reminded for the second week in a row of an orphaned puppy being let in out of the rain? It's like Nintendo found Paper Mario stuck to the underside of their jackboot one day and they've been trying to think of somewhere to put him ever since. They're making him share a bunk bed with the runty little brother, which is at least an improvement of the Paper Mario: Sticker Star situation when he was being kept in the septic tank. Just re-release Thousand-Year Door, Nintendo, for fuck's sake! I promise not to give more shit than you are currently getting!
The premise of Paper Jam is that a magic book gets inevitably disturbed and a swarm of paper characters descends upon the Mushroom Kingdom and everyone gets to meet the alternate paper version of themselves. It's like a stationary-themed remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Thus is the stage set for a Mario & Luigi game to make its usual two jokes:
- Let's all laugh at Luigi for having emotions, and
- Boy howdy, that Princess sure gets kidnapped a lot.
Only now it's two Princesses, and there's a scene where they're stuck in a cage together where I was absolutely convinced they were about to start lezzing up.
So it's another episode in the Saturday morning cartoon of Mario's life: defeat Bowsers, rescue Princesses, maintain all wasted status quo, just with a bit more paperwork than usual, hem hem. How the crossover works is that Mario & Luigi contribute the mechanics, visual design, controls and general style from their games, while Paper Mario is also there. He's not much more than another tag-along to extend the miniature snake of characters you're parading around the world, and to make even more difficult than it already was to get all of you to jump onto something. They do include a button to make all three jump at once, but that jump isn't high enough to reach most ledges or bonus blocks for no particular reason besides "fuck you".
Mario & Luigi never spending any time in Paper Mario's world feels like a curious missed opportunity, especially since the last two M&L games have been all about the dual world thing, and especially-especially since Paper Jam is straining so hard to think of new ideas you can practically hear its hernia plop rhythmically in and out. Pressured to perform on stage in the great spelling bee of creativity, Paper Jam wets its knickers and runs crying to the Mario comfort zone or rather zones (everyone sing along): grassland-desert-ocean-jungle-ice world-fire world-boss! In fact, those are literally the areas we visit in order of progression. It's like a Minecraft map where the biomes are only twelve foot across.
I think I've said before, it's always a shame when a Mario RPG goes back to formula when they've been at their best when they indulged ideas outside the everyday "kidnap, murder and arson" of the Mushroom Kingdom; i.e. climbing up Bowser's rectal passage. And Paper Jam is about as back to formula as it gets, to the point that it seems to have formula instead of a plot. By which, I mean all the usual suspects are arranged in their usual places and then proceed to move about like turds around the floor of a flooded bathroom until events meander their way aimlessly to a climax. So we chase after Bowser and fight underling after underling, the Princesses resist each other's womanly charms long enough to plan an elaborate escape that is immediately foiled (so one wonders why the game spent so much time building it up), another inoffensive corporate stooge gets elected to the White House and the world continues inexorably to turn.
Every now and again, the game remembers Mario RPGs are supposed to be the wacky crazy ones and has characters act out a faintly desperate little comedy skit for our amusement. But it's not the lack of comedy that's the problem, it's the lack of drama. A fairly large portion of the game is spent rescuing paper Toads in a variety of hide and seek style minigames, but they're just in a flap 'cause they're in a world that cant be threatened with safety scissors and there's nothing specific that they need rescuing from. You could argue that there is afterwards 'cause we immediately sell them to slavery, but more on that later!
The main challenge of the game is for me deciding what part got the most tedious. For most of it, I thought the paper Toad gathering was going to take home the gold, but then towards the end, I think the combat started putting a very convincing case forward as I braved a seemingly interminable sequence of boss fights that required me to spam my special attacks, all of which take about half an hour of minigames to pull off and which do fuck-all damage if you get the timing wrong 'cause your brain is squeezing the drips from every gland it can reach just to keep you from passing out.
Most of the special attacks were either copy-pasted from previous Mario & Luigi games or are similar enough that it makes no odds, but just as the game occasionally remembers Mario RPGs are irreverent and proceeds to embarrass itself on the open mic circuit, it also occasionally remembers that Mario RPGs are experimental and pulls out something like the card battling system, which is too grand a name for a secondary item menu whose contents you don't get to choose. Cards range from the "acquire a number of coins equal to your star points divided by your level plus your current market value of nickel" sort of useless and good one embodying the eternal gaming paradox: useful, therefore never use.
Lastly, most notably, we have papercraft fights. Every now and again, the whole turn-based combat 2D RPG thing nips off to the Green Room for a Gatorade and a wank, while we play a totally disconnected 3D fighting minigame in which characters fling oversized cardboard facsimiles of themselves at each other. It's like trying to play air-hockey on a table on which some people are trying to fuck. Like all 3D gameplay in the Soviet dystopia of 3DS World, the one analog stick per citizen policy means that seeing where the fuck you're going is a decadent capitalist luxury.
And for no particular reason, you need to do a little rhythm game to get your weapon energy back. Maybe it was some legal necessity like the live music in episodes of The Young Ones. Or maybe something ordered by the Un-Nintendo Activities Committee. You can wade ankle-deep through shredded cardboard in your sick, Thunderdome bloodsport arena, but you gotta have a little singalong in between to balance it out.
Anyway, the real question for me is how they built these things. All I know is we rounded up a bunch of paper Toads and sent them to work in the weapons development lab. Where are they getting all the cardboard fro- OH MY GOD, YOU MONSTERS!!
- Shits on the paper: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- These Paper Mario games could take no time at all if the Mushroom Kingdom implemented a decent postal service
- Guess we're climbing up Bowser's rectal passage tonight