Review by THayes

"One of the finest Role Playing Games on the Gameboy Advance"

Since Mario first appeared back in 1981 in the game Donkey Kong, there have been over one hundred games made that feature the character either as a starring role or as a sub-character. These mainly consist of platform games on the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64 and GameCube, but there are also a number of other genres such as driving (Mario Kart), tennis (Mario Tennis), fighting (Super Smash Bros.) and puzzle (Dr. Mario). It wasn't until 1996 though that Super Mario RPG was released, the first Role Playing Game to feature Mario, which involved a massive adventure to find seven lost stars. The game was incredibly fun, humourous and lengthy, though the game wasn't released in a majority of Europe and so many gamers unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to play it. The one character that was missing from Super Mario RPG game was Luigi, who was first featured as Mario's brother in Super Mario Bros. on the NES and was seen in many future Mario games. Here he gets the chance to go on an adventure with Mario, in what is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable RPGs yet seen on the Game Boy Advance.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga begins with a goodwill ambassador from the nearby Beanbean Kingdom coming to visit Princess Peach in her castle, but it turns out that the ambassador's only intent was to steal Peach's voice and replace it with words that explode when she speaks. Mario and Luigi decide to go off on another adventure to find the mysterious enemy that stole her voice. This simple plot would not usually be enough to keep players interested throughout the adventure, but the game handles it with such style and humour that it's incredibly easy to be drawn into the game's world. The game doesn't take itself too seriously, and the conversations with the various characters through the locations are enjoyable to read, written in a way that is helpful, funny and informative.

Though at the start of the adventure only Mario can be controlled, a large portion of the game will feature both Mario and Luigi as playable characters. The D-pad moves the characters in a and the L and R buttons are responsible for changing action commands shown at the top of the screen, and the A and B buttons are used to perform that displayed action with either Mario (A) or Luigi (B). Though to start with only the jump action can be used, later solo actions include the hammer which can be used to break objects like rocks, and Fire and Thunder powers which can be used as more effective means of defeating enemies and can also open secret areas. The controls do take a while to get used to, but the game is well supplied with informative and interesting tutorials that explain each move very well.

All of the command actions mentioned so far only include solo actions, but there are numerous commands that can be used only when Mario and Luigi cooperate with each other. There is a High Jump which is used for getting up to platforms that can't be accessed by a normal jump, a Spin Jump for hovering across large gaps, and the hammer which can also be used as a solo command action. Having Mario hit Luigi with the hammer causes him to enter Mole mode, where he can tunnel under the ground revealing normally hidden objects and passing under low doors and gates. Having Luigi hit Mario with the hammer will make him shrink, where he can pass under low entrances that Luigi may not be able to. The Fire and Thunder powers are similar, making Mario run much faster and Luigi able to move through previously inaccessible areas.

Locations in the game are varied, colourful, well-designed and more often than not an absolute joy to explore. Hoohoo Village is found near the start of the game, which is filled with a variety of characters that can be communicated with. The general feeling here is of a happy place where everyone is in a good mood, and there is a feeling of relaxation and silence which the player of the game can't help but feel. Other areas include the dark and mysterious Chucklehuck Woods, an eerie place which still retains the same friendly feeling seen everywhere else. An oasis (Oho Oasis), university (Woohoo Hooniversity) and even a seabed feature as some of the other locations in this game, and it becomes clear that the designers of each area have tried to make them all as different, original and fun to play through as possible.

The game contains a variety of items that can be bought and sold in shops. Despite the massive amount of areas in the game, there are only two areas that actually contain a group of shops, with a group consisting of an item shop, a badge shop and a fashion shop. The items consist of the basic health-healing objects like mushrooms and nuts of varying degrees of power for HP and BP; the badges will increase the statistics of Mario and Luigi, and may include special powers like restoring HP when an enemy is hit, increasing lucky attacks, or having more chance of getting a dropped item from an enemy; and the fashion shop will sell clothes that also affect statistics by increasing HP or defense. It's great to buy a new item from a shop and see it work well in some of the battles in the game, and if there's one thing Mario and Luigi has a lot of, it's battles.

Battles can be started in three different ways. The first involves jumping on the enemy or hitting it with a hammer to start the battle, which will take off some HP for each enemy at the start of the battle. The second involves walking into the enemy face on, which will start the battle as normal. And the third is the one that should be avoided: Having the enemy walk into Mario or Luigi when their backs are turned. This causes either Mario or Luigi to skip a turn at the start of the battle, allowing enemies to inflict damage more easily. The battles are different from most Role Playing Games in that the player has lots of control over them. When the enemy advances, the player can jump to avoid the attack or even defend against the attack when the hammer becomes available in later parts of the game.

Exploration is a main part of this game, as the game features a vast number of locations which each contain various areas. The chance of getting lost is reduced thanks to the very useful map which is given near the start of the game, which can be accessed from the start menu and is used to point out the current destinations to travel to and important objects that must be collected. It can be frustrating to walk all the way to one side of the land only to find you have to travel back to the other side for the next section of the game, but this is solved by using warp pipes: Green pipes located in nine different areas of the world which the player can use to select exactly where Mario and Luigi travel to next. Warp pipes must be found to be activated, but are extremely useful for quick travel.

The difficulty of the game is really very simple, with most puzzles involving simple mazes or of picking up an object to take it to another character in the game. Nothing really much different from many other RPGs then, but the fact that everything is mapped out so nicely into specific locations makes it incredibly simple to complete even the most complex puzzles in the game. A few puzzles are definitely more of a challenge, and these can range from pushing switches to divert the flow of a laser beam, to puzzles in the boss battles themselves. One boss battle early on in the game has Mario and Luigi fighting a statue named Hoohooros, where pillars must be hit in the exact order to lower the boss's defenses so that he can be hit. Other boss battles are suitably involving, normally involving a simple puzzle that can be solved in order to make it easier to defeat the boss. The difficulty of these battles is normally always easy however, and most players will be able to defeat even the most difficult bosses in the game with no difficulty at all.

Graphically the game is astounding, featuring colourful, lively and creative locations with well-animated characters. Mario and Luigi have various animations that display a full range of emotions ranging from sadness and anger to fright and happiness. Enemies each have their own various animations and attacks which they use, and there is no instance in the game where enemies seem dull; they are all designed well and a lot of thought was obviously given to the creation of them. The music is excellent and fits the locations superbly: From the joyful tune of Hoohoo Village to the haunting melody played throughout Chucklehuck Woods, a great deal of attention seems to have been given to squeeze even more atmosphere out of the locations than is already given by the graphics.

Replay value is a low point due to the fact that when the game is over, there seems to be no reason to trek through the game again. Although the adventure is fun, and a whole host of interesting characters are interacted with throughout the game, that alone doesn't justify playing through the game more than once. There are some scattered mini-games throughout the quest, and these mainly involve finding a number of objects in order to receive a special item for Mario or Luigi. Saying all this though, the game is so superbly designed and filled with such humour and variety of characters that it can be impossible to pick up on all the detail in the text and locations on playing through only once. Mario and Luigi has little in the way of extras after completion, but the replay value is high because the quest alone is worth experiencing more than once.

In every Mario Advance game on the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo has added the original Mario Bros. game as a bonus. Although it has nothing to do with the actual Mario and Luigi game, it has also been added as a bonus in this game that can be selected from the main menu. This bonus offers players the chance to play single player or multiplayer (with two consoles). In single player, the action is displayed in the form of a 2D platform game, where various blue platforms are displayed with enemies walking over them. Two POW blocks are shown at the top and bottom of the screen, and when hit they turn the enemies over for a few seconds. At this point, Mario can run up to them from the side and kick them off screen. When all enemies have been booted out of the area, the phase is completed. Though Mario and Luigi is simple, having the original Mario Bros. on the same cartridge is an excellent idea, as it provides a nice diversion for when the quest starts getting tiring.

Though this RPG focuses more an exploration and battles, there is still some need for communication throughout the game. One example of this is on Hoohoo Mountain where players may find that the bridge leading to the next area will never be built, but this problem is solved by simply speaking to one of the bridge builders. There is no hint given that says who to talk to, and many players will likely find themselves stuck at this point unless they decide to talk to everyone in the location. Other locations are similar, but the communication dialogue is so well handled that talking to the various characters is usually more of a joy than a chore. Overall then, this is a superb Role Playing Game on the Game Boy Advance which features great graphics and sound, a lengthy adventure and tremendously enjoyable game play.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/14/04, Updated 06/22/04

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