Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros - a paper thin experience

If nothing else, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros has fixed some of the most egregious issues with the brothers' last outing, Dream Team Bros.

The endless tutorials are largely gone - now they're optional, and stuffed into an in-game guide book. And the endless chattering can be sped up, thanks to an omnipresent fast-forward button.

But the game also continues the march away from cracking RPG gameplay of old, in favour of endless mini-games, distractions, and diversions.

You must now play hide and seek hunts with paper toads, strange Pullblox-style puzzle bits, trivia quizzes, rhythm-driven mini-games, and, strangest of all, these gladiatorial arenas featuring massive papercraft versions of Mario and his enemies.

Here you ride around battlefields in real-time, bashing into cardboard goombas and stomping on a corrugated Kamek before you get crumbled yourself. To replenish health, you have to return to a Toad pad and smash the button to the beat of their little song.

None of this stuff is much cop, and it definitely doesn't fit comfortably in a turn-based, role-playing game. It all feels like unnecessary filler, to be truthful, making every hour with the game feel like you've spent five.

Cardboard to death

When you finally do get into a battle, Paper Jam Bros starts to feel like a proper Mario & Luigi game.

Here you have to pick your attacks wisely, juggle items, and make smart use of bros attacks - mad button-bashing tests of skill that help you dole out huge damage.

In fact, every attack has an action element where hitting the button at the right time can boost your damage dealt against an enemy. And the same goes for defending against incoming attacks.

Some bits have been dumbed down - there are no badges, and you can't shape your stats when you level up. But you still have some depth, like battle cards, Amiibo cards, and chooseable perks when you go up a few levels.

Oh, and you have a new character to use in battle, too. Did I forget to mention that Luigi knocked over a book and let the characters of the Paper Mario series spill out into this one? Which means Mario's paper-thin doppelgänger is in your party.

And he's different. Paper Mario can spend a turn to copy himself onto several sheets of paper, which acts like armour and a damage multiplier. And his fluttery jump makes his defence strategy completely different to the 3D(ish) bros.

Plus, the new trio attacks - including a giant game of tennis and a kite-flying dive bomb - are great fun.

Sibling rivalry

The enemies have some ingenious attacks, too. Flying Shy Guys secretly juggle a bomb between themselves between turns. Paper enemies get creased. And a giant Petey Piranaha chases you down screen as you escape on Paper Airplane Mario.

But they are also taken from a wildly uninspired cast of characters. Remember fighting against a crab Christmas tree, Rawk Hawk, Fawful, a paper dragon, Booster, and a sword-wielding puddle of soda in previous Mario RPGs?

Here, it's all koopa troopas and goombas. Plus, the story is about boring old Peach and boring old Bowser. And worse yet, there's now two of each - one paper, one 3D - all spouting out predictable dialogue.

The game still has some heart and charm left. Luigi is still the loveable doofus who steals the show. But, like the other recent Mario RPGs, it simply can't match the high standards of the franchises's early outings.

When you're in battle, Paper Jam Bros reminds us why we've spent countless hours with both Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games. But everything else feels like a pale imitation of two, once great games.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros - a paper thin experience

A safe and conversation mash-up that fails to meet the high standards of the best Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario games
Mark Brown
Mark Brown
Mark Brown is editor at large of Pocket Gamer