Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – Game Boy Advance
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Developer: Alphadream, Vanpool (For the Mini-Games)
Release Date: Japan: November 21, 2003; North America: November 17, 2003
Genre: Role Playing Game
Reviewed by Flagostomos
In 1994, Square-Enix (then known as Square) took everybody’s favorite plumber and cast him in his first role-playing adventure. Though a sequel was teased many times for the Nintendo 64, which eventually became Paper Mario, there was a growing desire amongst Nintendo fans for new life to be breathed into the Mario role-playing games genre. As a sort of “spiritual successor” to the success that was Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (from hereon out referred to as SMRPG), Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was shown to the world at E3 2003.
Drawing its inspiration from Paper Mario (hereon out referred to as PM), Mario and Luigi would return in a role-playing game with similar elements from both the games that preceded it. When we first gain control of Mario, we are given the Mushroom Castle grounds to explore the control basics. Mario’s ability to jump and do actions in the over world was the same as in PM, however this time with a new twist. Mario and Luigi walked in a sort of “caterpillar” manner, one brother behind the other. Each brother is controlled by separate buttons, meaning that any jumps performed would have to be done sequentially, first with the brother in the lead and again with the brother trailing. Many puzzles play on these mechanics, with new abilities that you gain giving the brothers more and more abilities that they can do.
What’s nice about these abilities being gradually given to you, is that the game allows you to master one element before you have to learn another. The jumping mechanics are the first ones you learn, and they do take time to master. A little later on, you receive hammers and a whole new set of mechanics come into play. Not only can you hit switches on the ground, but the brother behind you can use his hammer to differing effects: Mario can hit Luigi to bury him in the ground, and Luigi can flatten Mario to a pancake. What’s remarkable about these mechanics is that, while the main purpose is to solve the puzzles, there are various little secrets throughout the entire world that you have to come back once you gain these moves to unlock. None of those secrets are required to beat the game, but it adds a level of ingenuity that really stands out for an RPG.
The last mechanic that is given is Mario’s Fireball and Luigi’s thunder abilities. Burning Luigi’s backside causes him to run fast, while shocking Mario lets the brothers walk in an almost militaristic fashion (were not Mario convulsing due to being shocked!) The puzzles become more and more elaborate, relying on you to use all of the skills you have acquired to solve some of the most difficult challenges.
The battle mechanics have also been greatly enhanced. Role-playing Mario games have, in my opinion, always been better than their competitors in this regard. Many RPGS just use a lackluster, turn-based fighting system. But Mario & Luigi: SS take battles to a whole new level
Again, each brother controls separately, which gives you very good control over each of their specific battle commands. You have the basic abilities (Jump, Hammer, Fire/Thunder), but the game also introduces “Bros Attacks”. Mario and Luigi team up to perform powerful attack combos, which is one of the first implementations of quick time events that I can remember, albeit not as memorable as some other games. You can use the combo at its weakest, meaning that the game spoonfeeds you the timing of the attack, or at it’s most powerful when the game gives you no help and the attack plays at full speed. You can also discover the advanced versions of each attack. Mastering these is very important, as you can begin to dish out very high levels of damage with a 100% correctly executed attack.
What makes battles in this game most memorable for me, however, is the defense mechanic. You can literally go the entire game without taking one hit. I am dead serious. Every enemies’ attack is dodgeable, although some attacks being very difficult to effectively evade. If one brother falls in battle, the other will jump over and pick him up, trying to salvage his corpse I guess? This makes defense even more complicated, and is an extra incentive to stay healed rather than allow either brother to fall in battle.
Ironically, what makes the gameplay of Mario & Luigi: SS so effective is what also turns off many new players. It is rather slow paced for a role-playing Mario game, especially in comparison to SMRPG. The game favors long, drawn out tutorials to teach you the basic mechanics. While I despise tutorials as much as the next guy, in this game they are kind of necessary as you would never be able to figure out some of the mechanics on your own. Puzzles can easily stump you until you remember one of your abilities. And finding every last secret will take even the most dedicated gamer many hours.
M & L:SS has, in my opinion, the best story of any Mario game. It starts out having ambassadors from the nearby “Bean Bean Kingdom” coming to offer gifts to Princess Peach. However, they reveal themselves to be enemies and steal Princess Peach’s voice, replacing it with explosives every time she utters a word. Mario and Luigi show up to find Bowser trying to kidnap the Princess, but not even he wants her in the current condition she is in. They battle quickly, with Mario easily overpowering Bowser.
After the battle, it is decided that Mario and Bowser will team up, to chase down whoever stole Peach’s voice and restore it to her. Even though Luigi wasn’t supposed to come along, he is accidentally thrust into the foray. The brothers quickly decide that they will have to work together in order to finish their quest.
I would love to share the entire story here, but I’m afraid I cannot share many more details without revealing MAJOR spoilers.
The dialogue in this game is another thing that greatly contributes to the overall enjoyability. Mario and Luigi’s interactions show the depth of the love they have for each other, without ever uttering a single, intelligible word. The game makes great fun of the fact that Mario is world famous, however many characters don’t even recognize Luigi. This, combined with many memorable characters, make M & L an experience you will not soon forget.
The controls are hard to explain without actually performing them yourselves. Please refer to “Gameplay” where I tried my best to breakdown how each character is handled.
On top of that, the controls can be finicky until you master the actions. Usually when a mistake is made, it’s more so that you simply didn’t know how to execute a command, rather than it being a difficult one to perform. Once you master the new mechanics, the game controls flawlessly.
As I mentioned in gameplay, the new abilities you pickup have far reaching effects, some requiring you to go back to one of the very first areas of the game to unlock new things. None of these secrets are necessary, but they add an incredible depth and give you some of the best items in the game as a reward. Some people love backtracking, others hate it. However this game does a great job in making the backtracking feel like visiting familiar places with new objectives. Beating the final boss becomes way easier once you have picked up the powerful items that these sidequests can grant you.
Also, for all you SMRPG fans, keep on the watch for Geno! He’s there and is easily missed if you don’t spot him right away.
The graphics are good for a Gameboy Advance game. The environments are beautifully drawn for the limitations that the system imposes. The graphics easily rival that of SMRPGs, and showoff what the system is really capable of. Character models are beautifully animated, with Mario and Luigi themselves having some of the most expressive emotions seen in any Mario game, including up to the most recently released 3D Mario World.
The audio is also great. Classic Mario tunes come back with remixes, and the new compositions set the mood very well. While writing this review, a lot of the music came to mind and played as if I had my Gameboy on and playing it alongside with me. They are that memorable. You very much get the feel that the composer knew well what he was doing, and masterfully wove the soundtrack together with the ambiance and emotions of the game.
Controls: 3 until you learn the new mechanics, then easily changes to a 9 once mastery is achieved
Replayability: 7. Depends how much you enjoy backtracking
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is one of those games that you just have to try for yourself. If you’re a fan of Mario games and Role-playing games, I feel this is a great addition to your library. However, the slow pace, easy to play yet hard to master style of the game and almost required backtracking makes the experience a pass for some gamers.
All I know, is that for me, this easily places as number 2 on my list of Mario role-playing games.
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