The premise of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is that Luigi accidentally knocks open the book that contains the Paper Mario universe, releasing all of the paper characters into the 3D world. This means there are two of (almost) everyone in the game – two Marios, two Peaches, and two Bowsers. This concept sounds like crack, and it absolutely is, but it’s a lot of fun.
The story and characterization are also surprisingly well written.
I love the easy friendship between the two Peaches. They immediately get along together, and there are several scenes of them indulging in girl talk, which is beyond adorable. The pair is also resourceful, remaining imprisoned and ignoring everyone outside their room when they want to chill out and escaping by surprisingly devious means whenever it suits their fancy.
This could just be my delusion talking, but I’m almost certain the Peaches allow themselves to be kidnapped at the beginning of the game. When they realize that the Bowsers are on their way over, they come up with a scheme that will allow them to escape; but, when it seems like their plan to evade capture has worked, one of them sabotages it, and the other immediately gets onboard with what’s happened. I get the sense that being kidnapped is like a vacation for them, and that they not-so-secretly enjoy it.
I also love the bittersweet friendship between the two Bowser Juniors. They enjoy each other’s company, but they’re also more self-aware about their situation than anyone else in the game. Namely, they know that their time together is limited, and so everything they do has a subtle air of manic desperation, like they want to have as much fun as they possibly can before the party is over. Both of the Juniors seem very lonely, and they never leave one another’s side.
In a crazy knife twist to the heart, the Juniors make fun of the Bowsers, but it’s also clear that they both really, really want their fathers to be proud of them. Neither of them is enthusiastic about fighting Mario, but they go ahead and do it anyway because they think it will make their dads happy. They then proceed to spend the entire fight challenging your party to silly games and healing each other if you hurt one of them. In other words, they are two tiny cinnamon rolls too good for this world, too precious and too pure.
Speaking of which, the fierce dad Bowsers are amazing. They obviously dislike each other, but they both adore their sons, and so they grudgingly work together to impress the boys. After the Marios trounce the Juniors, the Bowsers ignore them, hugging the Juniors and telling them how much they love them and asking them if they want to see something cool (they’ve rigged their castle to fly). It’s only when they realize that their kids have been hurt that the Bowsers begin to care that anyone else is in the room. Both Bowsers have always been violent and temperamental, but when the Juniors start sniffling their dads really start to fuck shit up in a major way.
The Bowsers are too narcissistic and self-involved to be “good” parents, but watching them cradle and comfort their sons before going on a rampage to avenge them is a sight to behold. The complicated yet genuine flow of affection between the two pairs of fathers and sons in this game kind of makes me want to become a parent myself, to be honest.
There are other cute touches of trope-defying characterization in Paper Jam, and probably the only thing I disliked was how mean the game is to Luigi. Seriously, it’s like how Family Guy treats Meg – the meanness is supposed to be a meta-joke, but the humor is too bitter and caustic to actually be funny. Meanwhile, Paper Luigi (who is the secret star of the Mario franchise) spends the entire game relaxing on the beach and listening to music, which makes me happy.
I like to envision Luigi as living in some skanky walk-up in Brooklyn and working a garbage job while dealing with his sociopath brother, and then suddenly he’s transported to a beautiful fantasy kingdom where he doesn’t have to worry about any of that nonsense ever again. I mean, honestly, who hasn’t wanted that at some point? You stay cool, Paper Luigi.
( Header image from the Polygon review of Paper Jam )