Key to Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is rounding up paper Toads and forcing them to create papercraft weapons of war. It’s sadistic when even considering the suggestion. Nintendo often likes to be.
Dropping Yoshi into a pit to gain vertical leverage spawned a popular .gif from Fox’s Animation Domination. Yoshi isn’t innocent either – the pastel-colored dinosaurs sling their unborn young as weapons. That doesn’t say much for Yoshi’s sustainability as a species.
Nintendo’s Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t seem cruel on the surface. You’re meant to learn about respecting one another and their individual identity as Paper Mario’s crumpled denizens fall into the rotund Mario & Luigi ‘verse. Paper Jam has the aesthetic of an after school special. It’s cute. A clay-like motion to character animation is reminiscent of ABC’s Saturday morning commercial bumpers (“… we’ll be right back”), Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, and even Gumby. Slapstick attacks bring in the best of Chuck Jones and Looney Tunes.
Under the same veil, it’s possible to believe the paper Toads are hiding around the realm because they’re scared of their differences (that IS the intent, anyway). They’re thin, wind-swept aliens in a world of dimensionality. Mario and crew set out to give these otherworldly toads comfort.
Soon, they’re all whisked away to Peach’s castle and come out only when they’ve built a monument to war. Intent can’t hide the absurdity.
Paper Jam is afflicted with a conservative approach. The series remains married to Punch-Out-like combat. That flair for timed button presses and reflexive dodges has given this decompressed JRPG series a signature since the Game Boy Advance. This sequel is a touch more scatterbrained than most, distracted with time-sucking side games which zaps the cross-over gimmick of energy. This in a game which, like the predecessor Dream Team, is burdened with a syrupy pace.
Familiarity and repetition does subside. Dialogue cuts down the fourth wall, the Mushroom Kingdom is primed for war (Bowser’s troops are preparing for invasion before Mario becomes involved), and Peach prods at the inanity of gender roles. Paper Jam proves consistently smile worthy. Nintendo’s colorful splash of dark humor works in context, flushing Paper Jam of its faults.