A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is a cartoonish role-playing game with mild violence that involves Mario and Luigi hopping on or using hammers to hit Goombas, Buzzy Beetles, and other fantasy creatures. The turn-based combat isn't graphic, and enemies are "knocked out" rather than killed. The story involves Mario, Luigi, and a paper Mario from another dimension questing after Princess Peach and a paper Princess Peach, both of whom have been kidnapped by Bowser and a paper Bowser. Black-and-white good-guy-vs.-bad-guy morality applies through much of the game, though this is occasionally subverted, such as when a bad guy decides to help the good guys (though for a price). Also, the two Princess Peaches talk about how tired they are of needing to be rescued by Mario and work on a plan to escape on their own, which at least partially begins to address the series' longstanding problem of gender bias. Parents should be aware that this game supports and promotes the use of amiibo figurines (sold separately), which can make combat much easier.
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What's it about?
Two worlds collide when a book in Princess Peach's castle spews out two-dimensional paper doppelgängers of Mario and his friends in MARIO & LUIGI: PAPER JAM, a role-playing game for Nintendo 3DS. The book also creates doubles of his enemies, resulting in Bowser and Paper Bowser joining forces to kidnap Princess Peach and her paper counterpart. This forces Mario, Luigi, and Paper Mario to embark on a quest to rescue them. The action is largely similar to previous Mario & Luigi games, with turn-based combat putting players in control of Luigi and Mario simultaneously. Kids need to precisely time taps of the A (Mario) and B (Luigi) buttons to attack enemies and defend against incoming assaults. Things quickly become even trickier with the addition of Paper Mario, whom players control via the Y button. As the trio travels around the world, they learn cooperative skills that allow them to do things such as stretch themselves across gaps, burrow into the ground, and smash obstacles, gradually unlocking access to new parts of the world in the process. A new battle-card-collection activity adds a fresh strategic element in battle, and if players own certain amiibo figurines (sold separately), they can be called on to deliver a variety of combat bonuses, including free attacks, limited power-ups, and consumable items.
Is it any good?
This new role-playing game does a great job of combining two of Nintendo's most popular Mario series for its hand-held consoles. It retains the cooperative combat and exploration that make the Mario & Luigi games so much fun while dropping in several of the elements that have come to define the Paper Mario franchise, including paper characters' ability to "stack up" and squeeze through tight spaces. It all adds up to a bounty of interesting and diverse things to do. One moment you'll be battling Shy Guys and Cheep Cheeps using special "trio" powers that are themselves little games, the next you'll be trying to herd sheep-like Toads through a maze of bridges and islands. And tasks keep getting added all the way through. Battle cards -- which are fun to collect and confer important powers and attacks -- aren't even introduced until about 10 hours into the game, at which point they become a key part of combat. At times it feels like half a dozen games rolled into one.
Granted, the quality of activities is a little uneven. Chasing down lost and hiding paper Toads eventually becomes tedious, and battles between giant papercraft characters tend to drag on too long. And choosing to use amiibo figurine powers -- which don't count as a turn -- can dilute the challenge of combat, especially early on. But Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is, by and large, another very fun (and often funny) entry into one of the deepest and most entertaining series available on Nintendo's hand-held systems. It'll keep kids -- and some gamer parents who are still kids at heart -- playing for dozens of hours.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Princess Peach. Perpetually in danger, she seemingly always needs to be rescued by Mario; what sort of message about gender roles does this send to kids?
Discuss the impact of violence in media. What do you think happens to the enemies "knocked out" by Mario and Luigi in this game? Do you imagine them eventually recovering, or do you think they disappear permanently from the world?
- Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
- Subjects: Language & Reading: reading
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: analyzing evidence, logic, solving puzzles
Collaboration: cooperation, teamwork
- Price: $39.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release date: January 21, 2016
- Genre: Role Playing
- Topics: Adventures
- ESRB rating: E for Mild Cartoon Violence
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.