Review by AK_the_Twilight
"Luigi's Big Break! Oh...and Mario's in it too."
While Mario has been well-known as the king of the modern platformer, he also has starred in some of the most treasured RPG's across the Nintendo platformers. Super Mario RPG was widely regarded as one of the best role-playing games ever to be released. Also, the N64 title Paper Mario was a late-bloomer that appeared near the end of the N64's life cycle, which, despite being released so late, was an engaging and stylish role-playing game. Mario has appeared on the GBA frequently, but now it's time for the famed gaming icon to take his role-playing tricks to the portable platform. This time, however, Mario isn't alone. It's about time that the lean, green machine Luigi stepped into the spotlight. Now both Mario Bros. make their first RPG team-up in Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga.
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga takes place in a new land: the Beanbean Kingdom, a parallel world to Princess Peach's Mushroom Kingdom. Upon arriving in the Beanbean Kingdom, Princess Peach is attacked by a new enemy, the witch Cackletta, who instead of simply kidnapping the princess, decides to steal her voice. The loss of her voice replaces Peach's words with explosive grammar. It's up to Mario to stop Cackletta. But unlike other Mario RPG's, Luigi is actually a serious character. In fact, this is one of Luigi's biggest roles yet, even bigger than Luigi's Mansion for the Gamecube. After accidentally tagging along on the trip to the Beanbean Kingdom, Luigi teams up with his older brother to stop Cackletta. The Mario brothers must work together to save Princess Peach's voice and the Beanbean Kingdom. The story is a unique and expressive twist on the Mario formula, and adding the noble (though slightly cowardly) Luigi as a main character makes the entire experience feel fresh and new. Even better is the unquestionably humorous tone that Superstar Saga takes. The writing is hilariously executed. Whether it is the expressive gibberish that Mario and Luigi spit out in conversation or the absolutely timeless mustard of your doom line from evil lackey Fawful, there is always something along the way that will make you crack a smile. The overall setting gathers the best of the familiar, while also keeping the surprisingly robust humor at the forefront of the game's great storyline.
Like other Mario RPG's, Superstar Saga bases a majority of the gameplay on timing-based abilities and reflex-testing puzzles. A key factor in controlling Mario and Luigi comes from each brother being controlled with a single button: Mario with the A button, Luigi with the B button. Press each one individually or both at the same time to allow either brother to jump alone or together, respectively. Switching the formation of the two characters is executed with the Start button and the formation actually makes a difference once more advanced moves are introduced, like the High Jump and Spin Jump. The overall control takes some getting used to, but it gradually becomes intuitive throughout the course of the game. Along the way, the duo earns new moves that can be used to progress throughout the Beanbean Kingdom, many of which feel familiar to the Mario universe. Many of the exploratory puzzles feel tight and demand reflexes to complete, something that many of the Mario RPG's have successfully created as well.
Upon making contact with an enemy, the battle system kicks in, and Superstar Saga has an incredibly fun one. Much like in the exploration, each brother is controlled with a single button, even in the menu system (which can take some getting used to). Mario and Luigi can select traditional attacks like jumping or using a hammer, select a target, and execute the attack. Also, like in past Mario RPG's, pressing certain buttons just before an attack connects increases damage. In addition to solo attacks, the brothers can team up in Bros. Attacks, attacks that require well-timed button presses for the best results. Enemy attacks become reflex-testing minigames, as each battle presents opportunities to avoid damage or even execute a counterattack depending on the enemy itself. This integration of minigames in the battle system is dynamic and executed very well. The game can get a bit more challenging than other RPG's, since number-crunching isn't the main event, but it retains much of the fun of other Mario RPG's.
The game's RPG system, however, feels a bit neglected compared to games like Paper Mario. You can equip different clothing and badges to change the course of battle, but compared to Paper Mario, these are few and rarely make a serious difference. It would've been much cooler to see more diversity in the RPG system. The overall RPG system is functional and has some interesting quirks, but it still feels toned-down this time around.
The game can last up to around 20 hours, but there isn't a ton to do after that. Despite the addictive and challenging battle system, the game doesn't have much to do outside of the main quest. You can find hidden badges and Advance Bros. techniques, level up the duo all you want, and participate in some extra minigames, but it's a shame that there isn't much to do after the main quest. It's a fantastically funny and challenging quest, but it would've been better if the game had some depth in the side-quest collection. You also get a Mario Bros. game, similar to the Super Mario Advance series, and you can rack up points in that as well. It's a clever diversion, and being able to play either the Mario and Luigi game or the Mario Bros. game on the go makes the whole package a great one.
Superstar Saga's graphic style is simply superb. The sprites are incredibly expressive and the animations feel whimsical and cartoony. Mario and Luigi move and emote in funny ways, and the in-battle attacks and animations burst with color and motion. Simply seeing Mario and Luigi freak out after a twist in the storyline is a treat to watch. Cutscenes may be told through text, but the sound design is also well done. Catchy battle tunes and short, funny quips from the Mario Bros. gives the game even more style and expressiveness. The GBA graphics may feel dated by today's standards, but the sheer amount of charm that Superstar Saga delivers shows some of the best and funniest moments you'll see on a GBA cartridge.
+ Storyline is unique, though comfortingly familiar
+ Battle system is dynamic and intense
+ Humorous writing delivers a new spin on the Mario world
+ Some of the most expressive graphics you'll see in a GBA game
- Lacks the RPG depth of former Mario RPG's
- Needs more side-quests
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is full of Mario charm, while also adding in a unique battle system that sets the game apart from the many other RPG's that are on the GBA platform. The battle system's throwback to Mario platformers is remarkable, making battles challenging and very fun to play through. The lack of a serious RPG emphasis may alienate RPG gurus, and the game itself doesn't have a ton of meat on its bones in terms of side-quests, but even once the final boss is vanquished, returning through the story to experience the main quest again is a treat. Add in some hilarious dialogue, incredibly expressive graphic design, and the ability to take the game with you on the go, and you have a game that really pushes the boundaries of a role-playing game, all while making it fun for those who've yet to experience one. Superstar Saga really shows the beginning of a stellar new series in the Mario universe, one whose laugh-out-loud storylines and engaging battle system push Mario and Luigi into the forefront of the role-playing scene.
So do you have fury?
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 12/11/09
Game Release: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (US, 11/17/03)
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