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November 17, 2003
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 Written by Tim Stevens  on January 27, 2004

Review: It's Super to see Mario and Luigi a game. Thanks for asking!

Remember Paper Mario, that quirky 2-D Mario-themed RPG on the N64 that was critically acclaimed for breathing some fresh air in to the genre and was great fun to boot? No? Well, you're not alone. Unfortunately, being critically acclaimed does not equate to mass-market appeal. Nonetheless, GBA owners have been treated to a sort of follow-up to the oddly textured RPG called Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. This one's just as good, but a lot more portable.

The story in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is that someone has captured Princess Peach's voice. And for once, it seems like Bowser is not involved! Perhaps not the most original storyline, but at least Peach isn't stuck in some castle yet again. Anyhow, Mario and Luigi are drafted to recover the Princess' voice and quickly become embroiled in an adventure more complicated than they'd expected.

While Superstar Saga definitely falls into the RPG category, that label doesn't really capture what the game is all about. Sure, it has many RPG elements like turn-based battles, towns with shops and inhabitants who love to pace, and experience points that upgrade Mario and Luigi's abilities. But, it also takes plenty of cues from the old side-scroller days, like floating boxes to punch, plenty of jumping and stomping, and classic Super Mario Bros. enemies everywhere. It's an interesting blend of the two genres, leaning strongly toward RPG while still presenting plenty of platform-hopping action to keep things interesting.

The game's platformer aspects show through in the many mini-games and challenges you'll encounter as you play through this game as well as in the combat. As you wander around the countryside you'll control both Mario and Luigi. One brother leads the other, and you use the A button to make the lead brother perform an action, B for the follower. At first the brothers can only jump, but soon they'll learn special jumps and earn a hammer they can swing along with other actions that are available at certain places in the game.

Combat is controlled similarly; A to make Mario do something, and B to control Luigi. Things are turn-based, and in your turn you can do things like stomp an enemy, attack with your hammer, use an item, or perform a Bros. attack. The Bros. attacks use Bros. points (think Mario-manna) and call on both brothers to act in tandem to attack an enemy. But, they also call on you to master your timing in a series of button pushes in order to inflict max damage. When enemies attack you, you can also use the A and B buttons to jump over enemy attacks or even counter-attack with your hammer. If you get your timing right you can get through battles without taking any damage, but most enemies have tricky patterns to make that difficult.

It may sound like you need to be a very dexterous gamer to do well in this game, and while quick thumbs make things easier, most of the enemies and mini-games just require you to learn their patterns. Just the same, if you're stuck with a pair of slow thumbs, you may find yourself getting a little frustrated at times with this one.

Moving onto the aesthetic side of things, Superstar Saga is a great looking and sounding game. Colors are bright and the style of the game's art looks fantastic. All of the characters are very well animated and have unique personalities. The game has a very limited set of sound bites for both Mario and Luigi but makes very good use of them. Most of the music tracks are remixed versions of classic Mario Brothers tunes, which, along with the game's visual style and gameplay, will give us old-timers fond memories of the original Super Mario Brothers games.

Bottom Line
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is about as good as it gets when it comes to light-hearted RPG entertainment. No, the game won't impress you with character creation options or dazzle you with magical spells, but its style will often bring a smile to your face. And, while the quest is far from the longest we've seen in an RPG, it's a fun one that might just warrant multiple trips through. Highly recommended for those looking for a lighthearted and fun to play RPG.

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