Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Review

posted 12/8/2003 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
When Nintendo first announced Super Mario RPG it was hard to imagine one of the best-known platformers becoming a tradition turn-based role-playing game. Even though he had done just about everything from kart racing to tennis, it seemed like a stretch for Mario in full-fledged adventure game. Yet, somehow Square was able to turn something so simple into an epic masterpiece that people still talk about.

When Paper Mario was announced for the Nintendo 64, many wondered if Nintendo would be able to deliver, what with the absence of Square. We worried that lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice; this plumber could not have another big adventure in him. But like Super Mario RPG, we had no need to worry; Paper Mario was a triumph in every possible way.

While Nintendo has given me no reason to doubt them when it comes to making a competent Mario RPG, I still feel somewhat skeptical every time a new one is announced. Thankfully I am here today to tell you that while Mario’s newest RPG, Mario & Luigi: the Superstar Saga, doesn’t quite top Paper Mario, it is one of the best games you could own on the GameBoy Advance.

As with most Mario games, the princess is in a whole mess of trouble. This time her words have been replaced with exploding phrases, making her too difficult for Bowser to kidnap. Knowing this is a bad situation for everybody involved, Bowser teams up with Mario & Luigi and sets out to determine what is wrong with the Princess’ voice.

You take control of both Mario and Luigi at the same time. While walking around, one will always be walking behind you as if they were on a short leash. One button is used for Mario; the other is used for Luigi, no matter if they need to jump, hammer, or any other kind of action available to them in the game.

This sense of teamwork rears its head in combat, as well. For the most part the combat is like a lot of traditional role-playing games; each character takes turn attacking the enemies, and then the enemies have their turn, repeated until one or the other is dead. What sets Mario & Luigi apart, though, is how it allows you to interact with what’s going on when you’re playing both defense and offense. When you are performing your attack, be it jumping on a character, using fire, or whatever your method, you will be able to take more damage if you push the buttons at the right time.

This works defensively, as well. Every character in Mario & Luigi has a pattern for their attack, learning that pattern will allow you to jump over the character or even counter attack. Memorizing what enemy does what is vital to you staying healthy as you adventure out to help the Princess.

There are no random encounters in Mario & Luigi, you will always be able to see the enemies you will face just roaming around the countryside. If you run up and jump on the enemy before the fight, you will have the upper hand when you get into the battle. Likewise, if the enemy spins and hits you forcing you into a turn-based fight, they will have the upper hand and the first attack.

The game ends up offering an engaging story that will have you captivated all the way through. Even for gamers unsure of the whole role-playing genre, Mario & Luigi offers a lighthearted adventure that earns a few good laughs and actually manages to be interesting. It’s not weighed down by a lot of extra characters or useless dialog; it’s to the point and keeps the pace up.

The world map invites a lot of exploration and rewards gamers who aren’t afraid of doing a little backtracking. Mario & Luigi’s world is decidedly more interactive than that of Golden Sun or other popular role-playing games. You can break rocks with your hammer to uncover secret paths, you can collect items by hitting your head on blocks, and you can jump around like an overhead platformer.

Each character ends up lending their own unique power to the quest. Mario can use fire and can be jumped on like a trampoline. Luigi, on the other hand, is good with lightning and can spin really fast so you can float across large gaps. The game is set up so you will constantly be learning new moves, all of which are used to solve puzzles throughout the course of the adventure.

As you explore the world you will also find a bounty of mini-games that will test your memory, finger skills, and timing. Some of these games you are required to beat in order to continue your quest, but just as many of them are there for fun and amusement. As you understand your surroundings more, it’s easier for you to transport from one area to another just to play these mini-games.

The game is generally pretty easy, always giving you enough money and mushrooms. The puzzles are fairly basic as well, only a few really offer much in the way of a challenge, and even then an experienced gamer shouldn’t get stuck more than once or twice. The game is fairly long, though, offering a good twenty hours, with a lot of incentive to play longer and find the items passed over.

My only real complaint about the world is that it reminds me too much of Hyrule in the Legend of Zelda: a Link to the Past. Looking past the similarity in style, Mario’s world seems to offer a lot of the same clichés that litter Zelda’s, including a mountainous area, a desert valley, and even a maze-like forest. There are a few surprises in Mario & Luigi, but most of it feels oddly reminiscent of Hyrule.

The graphics are exceptional; both of the characters are extremely large and well animated. The enemies are all familiar faces, and each look simply stunning on the small screen. When it’s at its best, during cinemas and boss battles, Mario & Luigi manages to inspire and compliment the series, and even at its worst, it looks better than most portable games.

The game isn’t without a couple of minor faults, though. While I enjoyed using a different button to control Mario and Luigi, there were moments when it was hard to keep the buttons straight. Much of the game’s frustration comes from pushing the wrong button at the wrong time, and since so much of this game’s exploration hinges on you having perfect control over both characters, you will undoubtedly have to take a few jumps more than once.

The combat could have been a little deeper, perhaps allowing for a few more moves. You get a fair number of attacks, but compared to most role-playing games, Mario & Luigi is awfully short on the diversity. You don’t get any magic, but you do get team moves that require precise button pushing. But even then you only get a few of those, and they aren’t that spectacular to look at.

It’s also worth mentioning that Mario Bros returns as a bonus game. Yes, the same one that appeared in the original Super Mario Advance, not to mention the other three Super Mario Advance games. Perhaps it’s asking too much to have the original Super Mario RPG packaged with Mario & Luigi, but couldn’t we at least get the original version of Super Mario Bros.? Anything other than the original Mario Bros for the fifth time.

It may not be perfect, but Mario & Luigi is the first new Mario game on the GameBoy Advance and it’s not going to disappoint. Like Paper Mario and the original Super Mario RPG, this is the type of game that is easy to go on about. There are so many little moments of pure brilliance throughout Mario’s entire adventure, it’s hard to only talk about a few. This is the kind of game you just have to experience for yourself.




A-
It’s not every year we get a Mario game that is this much fun. If you’ve never thought about owning a GameBoy Advance, this is about the best reason you will every have for picking one up. Mario & Luigi is a masterpiece.