The world has seen its fair share of monumental crossovers: DC vs. Marvel, Jetsons meets the Flintstones.
And now, Mario meets Mario in a game of the same genre but technically in another universe because one is made of paper and, uh…
The specifics of how this all happens in the story likely doesn't matter, even when taking into consideration these are the only two Mario titles that typically have a defined narrative.
But for those who still want to know, the demo for Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam begins with the Mario & Luigi cast in the castle before discovering among them a paper version of the princess. "Is that….YOU?", everyone exclaimed. Bowser, too: "Even your insults are knockoffs!" screamed Bowser at Bowser.
All that really seems to matter with Paper Jam is that its very premise is the perfect vehicle for delivering the self-referential humour both titles are known for. The demo wasted not even one second to reaffirm that the humour was not only back, but likely to go into overdrive with in-jokes and irreverence.
One of the three demos available on the show floor featured a giant, robotic Mario held up by little Toads. They were in battle with equally sized, robotic Goombas. This was not the demo I played, though others seemed to be enjoying themselves quite a bit when forcing several kinds of cartoon explosions. I instead asked to play a level that more reflected the core gameplay, and thus was handed the challenge of navigating an RPG party of three to discover 7 toads lost in the desert.
For those familiar with the Mario and Luigi games, you're already familiar with Paper Jam. If you're wondering whether this game is more Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi, the demo gave the impression the title is, at least, 60/40 greater Mario & Luigi – maybe more. The terrain and all of its inhabitants were rendered in 3D, and the perspective followed more closely that of Mario & Luigi. Conversely, the game did often feature folding effects into the matches, more reflective of the Paper titles. As I wandered the desert, I was given 15 minutes to search for Toads "hidden" behind massive blocks, in the clutches of wandering Flyguys, and desperately avoiding quicksand. Sometimes I just (strategically) walked into the enemies in order to enter into battles, other times I solved springboard puzzles. All the basics should be familiar to fans of virtually any RPG; if you aren't familiar, it's doubtful this game would trip you up.
Most new to the series are the card decks. "You earn cards by gaining points", my rep curtly stated during my playthrough. I gathered that a large star meter in the top left corner may have been what they were referring to.
Up to three types of cards take up the entirety of the bottom of the touch screen. Clicking them ahead of your turn will add an effect to the battle, such as making you stronger, disarming your enemy in some way, or more.
"These cards are kind of like a Hearthstone element?", I asked the Nintendo rep.
"Yeah, sort of."
The cards may not be nearly as in depth as the virtual card game "Hearthstone", but their inclusion is certainly in consideration of the trend. Truthfully, I did not end up using them much during my hunt, though they appear to be a compelling addition. What did end up being a huge game changer, however, was Paper Mario himself.
Like the source material, the options of items, jump and hammer attacks, specials and run are all still in order. Unique to the Paper Mario character was the option to add multiple copies of himself (like the clone jump sticker), allowing for greater attack strength. I found that Mario and Luigi's physics have changed to be a touch floatier than in their respective series, while Paper Mario came down hard and fast on his foes, also a touch faster than his respective series. Besides this being strangely ironic, this also massively improves upon a major gripe of both Sticker Star and Mario & Luigi: gameplay felt more varied and much more character specific.
This difference hit me by the time I had gotten about five of the seven toads. After having played the third Mario & Luigi title Bowser's Inside Story, and certainly by the time of Dream Team, attacking between Mario and Luigi became mostly just a difference of character values. But in Paper Jam, I had begun my plan of attack to synergize Paper Mario's special abilities in tandem with (regular?) Mario's all around attack, followed with Luigi's hammer abilities.
This felt like an actual RPG team.
Especially after the sorely missing team element of Sticker Star, as well as Dream Team's more repetitive nature, this made the whole experience much more engaging by comparison. Nevermind that otherwise, the game was similar in almost every other way: Mushroom houses, levelling up Mario poles after matches and identical items, all retained wholesale from the Mario & Luigi predecessors.
Of note, I noticed that every enemy I encountered on my travels came complete with a text box beneath them that displayed what level they were. As an example, a level 7 sand monster was all the more intimidating than the sand monster from the beginning of the demo. Whether this bodes well for those hoping for deeper RPG mechanics in these games, myself included, is yet to be seen. But I was definitely excited by the prospect.
"Oh my gosh. Only one other person the entire day has actually found all 7 toads!" Exclaimed my rep. I was 20 seconds away from the end of the demo, and both remaining Toads were in sight.
I don't mean to brag, but I definitely did what I had to do.
"Wow, you're the second person to ever get them all! Good job!"
If the final game ends up being anything like our time with Paper Jam, I plan on getting way more than just those seven Toads after its release date.