The odds are, when you think of Mario, you think of platforming your way through stage after stage, leaping on Goomba's heads, and munching on mushrooms - or perhaps even accidentally leaping to your doom. Or maybe you think of racing round tracks, spamming your opponents with shells, bananas and bombs, a la Mario Kart. You probably don't think of a sprawling story-driven role-playing game adventure - but it's a genre Mazza knows all too well, with not one, but two separate series under his belt. While Paper Mario and Mario + Luigi may have had rather different graphical styles (the former starring cardboard cutouts of the famous plumber), both also had a lot in common, being hilariously well-written, bursting with character, and with fun turn-based battles to master. Easily among our favourite Nintendo series ever, the two games now actually have even more in common, as their latest 3DS outing is a mash-up adventure, which explains what happens when two of your favourite game worlds collide...
A mash-up of the Mario + Luigi and Paper Mario role-playing worlds, Mario + Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. kicks off when Mario's clumsy brother Luigi trips and knocks over a mysterious, magical book, spilling its contents all over the Mushroom Kingdom. As it turns out, the book seemingly held the entirety of Paper Mario land in its hallowed pages, and the force of the crash sends its paper-thin residents flying far and wide. Sooner or later, one thing leads to another, and before you know it the forces of Paper Bowser and regular Bowser combine to put together the ultimate evil army, and try to take over the world once more.
Luckily for us, on the other side of town, a very similar thing happens, as the paper protagonist from the book world, Paper Mario, joins up with the retro styled Mario + Luigi, to set off on yet another journey to put a stop to that Koopa King's evil schemes, and set everything right once more.
At a recent event in London, we went hands-on with an early demo of the game, which was split into three sections. It's famously very hard to do a demo of a role playing game, as with a vast story to get your head around, you can't just drop people in halfway and expect them to follow - and so our demo was split up into three very specific segments - an exploration-focused quest, a boss battle, and one of the all-new papercraft battle sections. With Mario + Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. being one of our most-anticipated games, we decided to tackle each one in turn.
Kicking off our time with the game, we decided to try out the Quest Mode first. Tasked with rescuing a load of paper-thin Toads who'd got themselves lost/stuck/kidnapped, this was a sequence that wouldn't have been out of place in a Splinter Cell game. With the poor Toads stranded in various parts of the stage, the idea here is to stealthily make your way around the level, avoiding the pesky Shy Guy guards on patrol. Of course, that's easier said than done. Usually stalking around where the level gets narrow, forcing you to walk through the middle of them, you have to use rocks, bushes, and timing to your advantage to sneak past without being spotted. Luckily, the Shy Guys are usually patrolling on a set path, pausing for a few seconds in each spot before carrying on, or looking to the left for a few seconds, before turning to look to the right - but it's a lot harder than you'd think. Out of the ten or so to rescue, we never managed more than 8. If only we could have sent Paper Mario in. He could have folded himself up to slip by...
Having given up on ever rescuing all of the toads (sorry guys!), we turned our attention to the next trial segment - a boss battle against recurring bad guy, Petey Piranha, a giant red and white spotty flower with a bad attitude.
As before, battles are turn-based, with Paper Mario, Mario and Luigi taking it in turns with Mr. Piranha to attack. With a number of options available to choose from a menu, from standard attacks, to special moves, items, or running away (cowards!), you've got plenty of time to think your choices through. But the battles are perhaps more interactive than you'd think. If you've ever played a Mario + Luigi, or Paper Mario game before, you'll know what to expect here, as rather than simply sitting back and watching your moves play out, the battles here involve a bit more user participation. When you're attacking enemies, a well timed button press can let you dish out double the damage - and pressing the guard button just before you get hit can reduce the damage you take. It's a really nice touch, and one we're glad to see has been kept on for the new game.
But Paper Jam adds an extra incentive to time things right - stars. Accumulated for every attack you execute with perfect timing, you'll be able to exchange stars for a variety of 'cards' from the Touch Screen, which offer a number of buffs and useful effects in battle - whether it's healing damage, increasing your character's speed, or dishing out a special move. These special moves take the standard timing-based combat, and take it to the next level, giving you the potential to dish out loads of damage - but only if you get your button pressing right. Whether you're hitting a ball backwards and forwards between characters in a tennis-like attack, or throwing ninja throwing stars in another, you'll need to press the right character's button at the right time to effectively "charge up" the move, or add extra effects, such as poison or dizziness to sap health or prevent enemies from moving.
And, like previous instalments in the series, Paper Jam puts a bit of a spin on the traditional turn-based formula, as sometimes, mid boss-fight, the game took on a rather different tack. Periodically deciding to chase after the trio with fireballs, the battle screen switched over to show Mario and Luigi constantly running towards the screen, followed by a rather angry Petey Piranha, launching mudballs at whichever one of the two brothers he took a disliking to at that moment in time. However, by combining their bro powers with that of Paper Mario's, and hitting the right buttons at the right time, it's possible to avoid most of Petey's attacks, and live to fight another day - you see, Paper Mario, being the crafty little plumber he is, can fold himself up into a paper aeroplane and lift one of the Mario brothers to safety. All you have to do is move the plane across and press the right character's jump button to soar over the top of Petey's balls, totally unscathed.
Last, but not least, we played through the brand new Papercraft battles - huge battlefield brawls in giant papery 'tanks'. A weird mash-up of rhythm-action musical button pressing and Rock 'em Sock 'em robots-esque battling, the Papercraft battles are a tad unusual to say the least. To start, you need to 'power up' your giant Papercraft 'tank', by moving it onto a coloured circle, then pressing the buttons in time with the music while a load of Toads seem to dance around it, charging up your attack bar. When charged, you can wonder around the battlefield, charging at weaker groups of enemies to take them out. Larger enemies and bosses require a bit of a different strategy though, as you need to charge at them to knock them over, then press A to launch your Papercraft tank at them, like a giant, paper projectile, and deal even more damage - before racing back to your Papercraft tank to right it again and climb back in so you can launch another attack. And, during all this kerfuffle, you need to keep one eye on your attack meter, as you may find you need to charge it up again - via the same musical mini-game as before. It's weird - but still pretty cool!
Not hitting the 3DS until Spring next year, Mario + Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. is still a fair way off - although, from what we played, it's shaping up to be another thoroughly enjoyable instalment in the winning role-playing game franchise. Mashing up the two worlds of two of Nintendo's best franchises of recent years - Paper Mario and Mario + Luigi - and the hilarious circumstances that come from it, we can't wait.