For anyone that's unaware, 2003's Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is one of the best Mario games you've never played. The franchise as a whole has been consistently entertaining too, which makes its relatively quiet buzz every time a new one is released slightly confusing. Its fan base has remained solid and, to a point, niche rather than grow into an excited mob. It's perhaps with this in mind that Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. has looked to evolve without ignoring its roots.
For those not aware, the DS (and now 3DS) run of games have always focused around the two brothers and how you as the player can make them work together. Battles are turn-based and every action from puzzling to platforming involves both Mario and Luigi. You even control how they jump independently.
The key to its success has been how well Nintendo has made this work over the years. As seamless as it is satisfying, it gives the series a unique feel whose only real comparison is Paper Mario. Hence why the two have now finally met.
Pushed together to try and invigorate both, Paper Jam is very much an amalgamation of the two. The staples of previous Mario RPG games return, but with some Paper Mario 2D sprinklings on top. That means paper toads, paper goombas, paper environments, paper items. It never dominates, mind, the focus very much being on how adding a third hero (Paper Mario himself) expands what's possible.
Mario & Luigi has always impressed when giving you 'Bros Attacks' to dish out, often asking to interact with ridiculous, yet enjoyable, scenarios. Rather than use a red shell to kick at an enemy, for example, the plumbers will take turns booting it into an enemy's face, the skill coming in how long you can keep it going from smartly-timed button presses. It's not only the reason the battle mechanic remains so pleasing all these years later, but also how subsequent sequels have managed to follow suit.
Paper Jam takes this idea even further. The addition of Paper Mario means you can now use 'Trio Attacks' to your advantage: they may merely ask you jump from the A button, to the B button, to the Y button, but the speed and rhythm it chooses is just a touch more challenging than you'd expect.
Our new friend also introduces an entirely new wave of both offensive options and enemies to defeat. Paper Mario can make copies of himself, for instance, allowing him to jump multiple times on someone's head, while opponents made out of paper have different attributes to those that aren't. It's constantly trying to find ways to keep proceedings interesting and different, even when you're hours into the thing. If you're a fan of both series there's nothing too far out of left field that will surprise, but the bringing together of both works simply by embracing pro-wrestling legend Paul Heyman's number one rule: Play to your strengths. Ignore the weaknesses.
The desire to always surprise runs true throughout. While the core experience remains more or the less the same, Paper Jam is always only a few moments away from throwing a one-off gimmick or pleasant diversion in your face. This could be the ongoing side-mission to locate all the missing Toads (which in itself constantly changes gears), the bizarre, yet oddly pleasant, trivia quizzes that you just so happen to stumble upon, or the ridiculous (yet excellent) aeroplane mini-game that some battles take on as and when. None stand out as a single highlight, but they all come together to ensure everything is very entertaining from start to finish.
You would assume that's all Nintendo want from it, but - as before - Mario & Luigi has also got to be a contender for the funniest game of the year. Completely self-aware of the fact it's a video game and more than happy to continually break the fourth wall, no one is safe from either being completely humiliated or poked fun at, even you. It provides a much welcome break from the dross we're usually used to and remains utterly different from anything else out there. I would implore other developers to try and follow suit, but ultimately I doubt they'd be able to pull it off.
While Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is in many ways a retread of what's come before, it's exactly what anyone could ask for from the series while also being open enough to win over those who play it for the first time. I'd be happy to be given a new Mario & Luigi once every two years with a different cloak simply thrown over the top to make it feel new. They're that fun and they're that good.