"What comes to mind when someone says "RPG"? Some may think of the good ol' days playing D&D, while others see colorful Final Fantasy worlds with chocobos, airships and enormous weapons. Still, the picture is generally the same: swords, magic and random battles are almost always an integral part of the role-playing genre, right? "
What comes to mind when someone says "RPG"? Some may think of the good ol' days playing D&D, while others see colorful Final Fantasy worlds with chocobos, airships and enormous weapons. Still, the picture is generally the same: swords, magic and random battles are almost always an integral part of the role-playing genre, right?
No, this RPG is not the average 35-hour RPG starring a teenage hero with a big-ass sword. This is Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga,, a Mario RPG for the GBA. Following the traditions of Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario before it, this game incorporates elements from previous Mario games into an RPG. You jump on Goombas, you eat mushrooms, and you have to fight Bowser, eventually. This time, though, Mario and Luigi are paired up in a title that practically screams "Buy me!" right in your face.
Let me explain in detail. The evil witch Cackletta has stolen Princess Peach's voice, and Mario and Luigi have traveled to Beanbean Kingdom to save her (with a little help from Bowser, oddly). Along the way, they'll meet a colorful cast of characters such as the boastful Prince Peasely, the big-boned (read: ridiculously overweight) Queen Bean, and Fawful, Cackletta's henchman with hilarious quotes such as "I am the mustard of your doom!" and "I HAVE FURY!" Filled with surprising plot twists, charming environments and bucket loads of humor, M&L may have one of the best storylines seen in a Nintendo game. Yes, better than Fire Emblem.
Part of the humor is a result of the game's visuals. While they are not amazing like the Golden Suns out there, they give the game the charm necessary in every Mario game. Imagine a mix between the cartoon characters of Paper Mario and the slightly 3D visuals of Super Mario RPG, but with an aspect of emotion commonly overlooked in today's over-the-top action games and RPGs. When the brothers start a conversation, they give hand gestures that are clearly Italian. If a startling event occurs, the two jump up in the air, mouths wide open. Other elements, such as a minor earthquake when Queen Bean jumps for joy, are implemented into the world of M&L perfectly. The battle animations are taken a step further: if you fail to time a hammer attack properly the hammer head will fall to the ground and the plumbers will have bewildered looks on their faces. Each sprite is extremely colorful, and you'll almost never see the common "enemy sprite with a different color scheme" that you do in the RPGs of yore.
In addition to this, M&L has some great music and sound effects.. Mario fans will recognize tunes from the classic Mario games, while other gamers will appreciate the catchy songs played in battles. While there is no actual speech, Mario and Luigi will often talk in an Italian form of gibberish that will make you laugh in spite of yourself. Unless you have no soul. Even some of the classic jump and hammer sounds are here, in addition to the voice samples that inspire smiles everywhere.
Of course, Mario games were never known for their storyline, graphics or sound quality: people played them for the lighthearted and fun gameplay. It's hard to find someone who doesn't smile when they play classic games like Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario incorporated this into an RPG before, and Mario and Luigi improves this formula. You control the brothers across Beanbean Kingdom, using the A button for Mario's actions and the B button for Luigi's. When you enter a battle, however, you'll experience a turn-based battle system that requires good timing and fast reflexes. Both of the brothers can use a jump, hammer or hand (magic) attack, but if you press the right button at the right time the attack will do more damage. Not only that, but they can use their skills defensively as well: pressing a button at the right time when an enemy attacks the duo could make the attack ineffective and possibly even do some damage to your unfortunate foe.
In addition, many of the bad guys you'll fight are completely immune to one type of attack. Jumping on a Spiny, for example, will reward you with a posterior full of spikes. So dish out a Hammer or Hand attack and watch the spiny turtle cringe! And you won't reach a flying Paratroopa with a ground-based attack, so you must instead jump on the winged beast. Once you obtain Hand abilities, the strategy becomes deeper. Hitting a certain baddie with a fire-based attack, for example, may heal the monster, but you can use Luigi to zap his adversary with a critical blow.
However, all this has been done in Paper Mario, right? M&L expands on that by adding teamwork to the game. Besides your normal attacks, you can also spend "Brother Points" on special attacks that require both bros. in action. Watch in awe as Mario spins up in the air, while Luigi grabs onto his shoes and the two smash into whoever was foolish enough to challenge the mighty plumbers. Or, you can see Luigi whack Mario like a golf ball and deliver a painful attack. These attacks, of course, require the same timing as the normal skills, but this time you must alternate the A and B buttons for the two brothers. Once you use a certain skill many times, you can even use an advanced version of it to dish out more damage--after you properly master the technique. Without these techniques, M&L would be a bore to play.
But even more amazing is how these skills are used outside of battle. In the field, the Mario Bros. can jump and attack with their hammers, among other things. If one brother is in the back, however, he can use his own special technique to solve a puzzle or reach an area normally inaccessible. With Mario in the back, for example, the red plumber can conjure a fireball and ignite Luigi's pants, sending the two dashing forward. Sonic must be green with envy. Or, if the cowardly Luigi hides behind his older brother, the tall plumber can jump on top of Mario and send the two up in the air. There are tons of puzzles to solve and platforms to jump to, so when you're not fighting you still will be having the time of your life. Sometimes you'll even have to split up the brothers to solve those two-party puzzles you all know and love.
Fans of RPGs like Chrono Trigger and Tales of Symphonia will also be pleased to know that M&L is completely devoid of random battles. All enemies appear on-screen, and it's your choice whether to fight them or not (with the obvious exception of boss battles). However, M&L throws an element of Paper Mario into the mix: you can choose to attack your enemy outside of battle. If you successfully use a jump, hammer or hand attack on your foe, they'll take extra damage right from the start. But if an enemy bumps into the brother in the back, he will be unable to fight back until his turn begins.
Still, M&L isn't just about battles. There are tons of sidequests for the brothers to accomplish when they're not concerned with saving Peach's voice or whatnot. If you want to make some cool drinks to heal your HP and BP, that's fine! All you have to do is find a few beans and go to the cafe at Beanbean Castle Town. Or, you might want to cool your head with a few minigames at the arcade. Maybe you could do some exploring. Who knows, you may even learn a new technique or two!
But the game is too easy.
Contrary to what RPG gamers may think, this isn't a fault of the genre. There are plenty of challenging RPGs out there, and they're all very good. Consider the precise strategic planning of Final Fantasy Tactics, or the lightning-fast decisions of Final Fantasy IV. If action-RPGs are your thing, you should note the furious bosses of Tales of Symphonia. All of the aforementioned games are not only very enjoyable, but they also punish mistakes. M&L, on the other hand, seems to let any errors you might make be fixable by simply abusing items. You see, early on in the game you will be able to earn an item that gives you twice as many coins as you normally would, and all you have to do is brew a cappuccino. Once you equip that accessory, you can simply fight battles and gain 9999 coins in no time. Add that to the fact that items become less expensive as you level up, and it's never a problem to buy dozens of mushrooms, nuts or syrup cans. In addition, the brothers can usually get away with using the same technique over and over provided they have the right equipment. For example, equipping a certain badge allows Mario to damage spiked enemies by jumping (normally he'd take damage instead). So why bother learning the complex hammer techniques when you can do just as much damage by simply pressing A, B and A again?
Sadly, this mars the game's depth and makes it less fun in general. You could try completing the game with your original equipment, but that would also detract from the game's quality. Either way, you lose.
M&L also doesn’t feature much to do after you’re done with the game. It lasts for about 25 hours, which is considered the “norm” for the average RPG. While you might have a big to-do list, most of the time you’ll spend after you beat the game will be playing simple minigames at the arcade. Unfortunately, there are no optional bosses or major sidequests, and the only extra feature is Mario Bros. That’s the same Mario Bros. that has appeared in all four Super Mario Advance games. Am I the only one who thinks it has overstayed its welcome?
Still, this isn’t enough to keep Mario & Luigi from being one of the best games on the Game Boy Advance. While the romance wasn’t as long as I hoped it would be, I had the time of my life when M&L was packed into my GBASP. It’s not too hard for casual gamers, but it’s still entertaining enough to keep hardcore RPG addicts satisfied, and it also pleases those just looking for something new and fresh. Forget swords and sorcery, gigantic airships and epic storylines! Mario and Luigi are some of the best knights you can find.
Community review by eoib (September 27, 2004)
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