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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.

Transcript Edit

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:

  1. Let's all laugh at Luigi for having emotions, and
  2. 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 all 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!!

Addenda Edit

  • 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

Screenshots Edit

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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