Mario & Luigi: Super Star Saga

April 27, 2004

[floatleft][/floatleft]Mario & Luigi: Super Star Saga is the first RPG I have played in over a year, and it does not disappoint. The whole game is endowed with enormous amounts of personality and humor that draw you into the story, and the battle system is much more interactive than the traditional “pick things out of a menu” style of play used in so many RPGs. Despite a few minor complaints, I would say this game is the most fun I have had with the Gameboy Advance yet.

Anyone who has played the original Super Mario RPG will instantly see what the writers behind Mario & Luigi were aiming for. The game acts as a tribute to past Mario games, filled with cameos by major players, and appearances by most traditional Mario enemies. The Beanbean kingdom, where the game takes place, has it’s own wonderful look and feel, but the high points for me were the appearance of major and minor players from past Mario Games.

The environments are typical of RPGs, but with some emphasis on jumping puzzles. You are limited in where you can go by the power ups and “Bros. Powers” you have learned. These Bros. Powers range from Mario jumping on Luigi’s shoulders to make a long distance spinning jump to the brothers hitting each other with hammers and lighting each other on fire to produce various effects. I’m glad to know that so many of life’s problems can be solved by hitting one’s siblings over the head with a hammer.

[floatright][/floatright]The combat system will also be familiar to those who played Super Mario RPG. Instead of simply choosing a command for your character to perform and sitting back to enjoy the show, you must tap or hold buttons at the right times to make a perfect attack or to defend yourself. Properly timed and executed defense can make a big difference in a fight. You can even affect the opening of a battle based on how you interact with enemies in the overworld screens. For example, jumping onto an overworld enemy causes all of the enemies to take damage as you enter the battle screen, and hitting one with a hammer stuns them for a round. These elements add a level of interactivity that is often lacking in turn-based RPGs.

The “Bros. Attacks” are the game’s equivalent of magic. They involve both characters using a series of skills together to cause lots of damage and other effects to an enemy. They involve a sequence of properly timed button presses. These can either be displayed for you, or you can run the technique in slow-motion, or you can try to do it all from memory without the aid of slow-mo or on-screen hints. The less hints you use, the more powerful these are. The moves are hilarious looking, but too difficult to learn in contrast with the rest of the game, so I didn’t use them very often.

The graphics and design for this game were incredible. Everything was very colorful and filled with personality. Mixed with the writing, it really brought the whole idea of the Mario world to life. Every character had a few excellent yet fairly simple animations to help you feel their misery and elation as the game progressed. The sounds that matched every animation were also simple yet amazingly appropriate. Overall I felt that this game did an even better job of portraying the characters and world than Super Mario RPG did.

[floatleft][/floatleft]I did have one minor complaint about the game. Like many modern games, Mario & Luigi only allows you to save at specific save spots. This worked fine in Super Mario RPG, but Mario & Luigi is a portable game. This means you might be playing it in a situation where the game must be turned off at any time, losing all data since the last save. While save points were usually fairly common, the game would have benefited from an extra temporary save that is deleted when it is used, but is always available. Super Mario Advance 4 has this feature, and more games should start using this method.

The effective use of Mario nostalgia, more interactive battle techniques, and excellent graphics and sound design helped give this game a level of personality and fun that is lacking in many games out today. Anyone who is a fan of Mario or RPGs owes it to themselves to give this game a try. Mario & Luigi: Super Star Saga is definitely a worthy successor to Super Mario RPG, and we can only hope that more games like this will appear in the future.