With a look at the two Bowsers standing in her castle hallway, one familiar, one slightly less so, Princess Peach lets out a heavy sigh. Turning to her paper-thin doppelgänger as she laments her imminent kidnapping, she declares that, "it's that part of the story" again - "Oh no. not again" her companion replies, and off they're swept, wrapped up in yet another hostage situation. It's a stark contrast to the Princess Peach you'll know from umpteen Mario platformers, who rarely utters anything beyond 'MARRIIIOOOOOOO!' - this one's witty, aware and surprisingly capable, even if she does still have a knack for getting herself kidnapped.
And in fact, that same description could be applied to much of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros - the latest in the role playing game series that's funnier, weirder and way more interesting than the main Mario games you've come to know and love. With past antics that include exploring Bowser's intestines, dealing with a Toad obesity crisis and fighting their way through Luigi's dreams, the brothers Mario have a real crisis on their hands this time, as poor Peachy has been captured - twice over. In a plot twist that proves that little brothers can't be trusted with anything, Luigi's bumbling in a dark corner of the castle manages to knock over a magical book, spilling its contents to the four corners of the kingdom in a giant confetti typhoon - contents which, for some reason, include paper versions of plenty of popular Mario stars. And while the umpteen Paper Toads don't really pose too much of a problem, a double dose of Bowsers does, and so it falls to the titular Mario and Luigi, with the help of their new-found Paper Mario friend, to put a stop to the Bowsers' nefarious tricks, rescue the princesses and help everyone return home.
It's a suitably silly premise, and one that really plays up to Mario & Luigi/Paper Mario's strengths - often self-referential and hilariously well-written, the extra dimension brings with it more potential for giggles. The clashes of Bowser and Paper Bowser's egos are a particular highlight, often getting into brawls and arguments over which one should be centre stage, while Luigi retreads familiar territory as the bumbling brother, scared of his own shadow. A light-hearted mash up of the two role-playing game franchises (Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario), it's still very much a Mario & Luigi game at it's heart - just one that guest stars our other favourite Nintendo role-playing game mascot, Paper Mario.
While it may be a long running series, you don't have to have played any of the previous games to get going here. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros plays much like previous Mario & Luigi games - essentially a role-playing adventure set in the Mushroom Kingdom, your time is spent exploring areas, talking to the towns-toads and battling enemies via the series staple turn-based battles. With you and the Goombas, Koopa Troopas and Spinys taking it in turns to attack, defend or use items, on the surface it's pretty easy to pick up and play. But Mario, Paper Mario and Luigi have a few tricks up their sleeves to help turn the tide in their favour. You see, the battles may be turn based, but that doesn't mean they're entirely static - during various attacks, whether you're jumping on someone's head, whacking them with a hammer or making paper copies of yourself for extra attack power, button prompts will pop up - and if you match the timing perfectly, you'll deal extra damage, making short work of your enemies.
But the Marios and Luigi can also team up to perform various special attacks, each accompanied by a quick-fire mini-game-esque stream of button presses. Bros Attacks involve the non-paper Mario and Luigi, as they kick Koopa shells at enemies, fling fireballs at unsuspecting Goombas and smash rockets onto Spinys for extra damage - as per every Mario & Luigi game in the history of Mario & Luigi games. Paper Mario meanwhile adds an extra dimension to the team ups, with his new Trio attacks, which let you pummel Bowsers' minions in more creative ways - starting out with a game of tennis, with more unlocked as you play through the game. Boss fights are similarly creative, with the trio working together in new ways to dodge and attack, whether you're lifting Mario and Luigi to safety on a Paper Mario plane or doubling as a boomerang in battle.
It's not just in battle that their unique powers come into their own either, as you'll also need to make use of them while exploring the game's grassy fields, deserts and snow covered peaks too. Whether it's hopping between platforms (with each brother having their own dedicated jump button, having to cover and press the A, B and Y buttons at once is no mean feat!), combining hammer slams into one mega block-shattering smack or stacking yourselves into a wibbly wobbly tower to reach a far off apple, there's all kinds of puzzles to solve during your adventure. Paper Mario meanwhile is the only one of the trio slim enough to slip through cracks in the scenery and uncover new areas, hidden secrets and rescue the occasional lost Toad. You'll also find yourself making frequent use of a new dash move to chase down errant Toads too, slide tackling anyone and everyone who gets in your way.
With all the potential then, it's a shame that all too often Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros degenerates into a simple game of hide and seek with the Toads, with the occasional quiz or chase sequence thrown in for good measure. With way too many papery Toads spread to the four winds and Bowser and Bowser's minions on the lose, you'll spend a lot of your time tracking down all the Toads who've gone into hiding. Whether they're cleverly wrapped around a fence post, cunningly slapped on the front of a shop sign or simply hiding up in a tree, you'll need to scour every nook and cranny of the designated area and find them all before you can progress. And while it's fun enough seeing all the extremes the little mushroom folk have gone to to stay hidden, it does kind of feel like it's at the expense of a proper adventure, especially when the game has a tendency to set you additional Toad-finding quests to complete before you can get past an artificial road block, generally in the form of nabbing Toadette some extra slaves to help build her giant papercraft creations back at the castle.
You see, these papercrafts play an important part in Paper Jam's story, letting you take on Bowser's own papercraft armies in admittedly gimmicky large scale battles. Part rhythm action, part wrestling match and part tank battle, you basically have to slam your papercraft into the enemy's and knock them flying, with the intention of being the only one left standing in the end. Your attacks need to be charged up via a short beat-matching rhythm action section (weirdly enough), and from there its a simple matter of dashing into the rival papercrafts - hit them from behind and you'll topple them over and leave them open to attack, at which point you simply need to chuck your papercraft on top of them for massive damage, then run round and pick it back up before they have chance to come to and counter attack. Different papercrafts have different special abilities too, and while it's nothing ground-breaking, it makes for a fun little diversion from the main quest.
While it may be a bit heavy on the Toad quests front, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros is still a thoroughly enjoyable romp through developer AlphaDream's hilarious take on the Mushroom Kingdom. Its overarching story may be a bit lacking compared to the wackiness of previous instalments, but its dialogue is where it really shines, particularly in dealings between each dimensions' character counterparts. Paper Jam definitely treads more towards the 'lighter', simpler side of the role-playing game spectrum, perhaps even more so than previous Mario & Luigi games, but it's not really any the worse for it - and makes a fantastic introduction to the series for newcomers too.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS