Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA) Review

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Review by The Every Gamer (February 2018)

Score: A-

   It’s time for another Mario RPG. So far, I’ve managed to play two of the games. First there was Super Mario RPG on the SNES, which was a simple RPG with a Mario tale that deviates from the norm for all the right reasons and the gameplay is really good, making it great for beginners who want to try RPGs. Paper Mario was more adventurous; it had similar gameplay with its own charm and great graphics for the Nintendo 64, but the plot was a paint-by-numbers Mario plot we’ve seen many-a time; you know what’s going to happen and how it will end and for that, I didn’t enjoy it. But now it’s time to be introduced to a new Mario RPG series, the Mario & Luigi series, making Luigi playable for the first time in an RPG. There have been five games in this series so far and I’ve heard good stuff about it…and the first game is considered to be short…NICE!

   Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (known in Japan as Mario & Luigi RPG), was developed by AlphaDream and published by Nintendo. It was released in November 2003 worldwide.Two mysterious people enter the Mushroom Kingdom to speak with Princess Peach in hopes to bring unity to another kingdom. However, these mysterious people are actually our main villains of the game, Cackletta the Witch and her assistant Fawful. The two steal Princess Peach’s voice and replace it with…Michael Bay’s visual and audio effects. Toad rushes out to find Mario & Luigi and inform them of what happened,who then rush out to the castle to find Bowser, where they battle. As it turns out Bowser was in fact going to kidnap Peach, but because some bad guys broke the norm, Bowser teams up with Mario & Luigi to get Peach’s voice back from Cackletta. There’s more to the plot, but I won’t spoil it.

   The story overall is pretty good, it goes back to Super Mario RPG territory by making a story that deviates from the traditional series formula and for what it did, it’s pretty decent. We have new characters that are memorable and leave a lasting impression on the player since new characters in a Mario game is a godsend nowadays. Though I had more interest in the plot of Super Mario RPG, because something about this one…is not really doing it for me that much, but don’t worry, it ain’t bad at all, I just enjoyed Super Mario RPG’s plot a bit more.

   The game is set in the Beanbean Kingdom, a neighbor of the Mushroom Kingdom, so get ready for characters made out of green beans called the Beanish and fricking bean puns, as well as new enemies. The game world overall is quite creative and refreshing, you’re going to forests, caves and such, but there’s more areas that feel new to the Mario series as a whole. The only reason I’m surprised by this is because most new Mario games follow the same formula and this deviates from what we know from the series, and keep in mind that I’m viewing this from the perspective of 2003 and I haven’t played the later Mario RPGs at this point.

   The gameplay had to be very simple, yet complex due to the lack of buttons. But then something ingenious was put into place: You have the A & B buttons…so A for Mario, and B for Luigi. And so we have our RPG! You move around with the directional pad and the A & B buttons are used for each plumber, so you press A for Mario to jump and B for Luigi to jump. In the overworld, this mechanic is mostly what you’ll be using, but over time, when you learn moves and collect hammers, you can switch commands by using L for Luigi and R for Mario…or vice versa as you can press start to switch places.

   There are several special moves for the overworld, for Mario, you can do the High Jump, using Luigi to jump on Mario to hop to higher ledges. For Luigi, you can do the Spin Jump using Mario to jump on Luigi to spin to further ledges…oh my, is it opposite day? You do get other abilities later in the game, but I’ll leave that to you should you want to play it.

   And now for the battles…and it’s very similar to the previous Mario RPG titles being turn-based. You can attack an enemy before battling and they’ll take damage, you use timed-button attacks for more damage or timed-button hammer damage, team attacks (now called “Bros. Moves”), choosing a bonus whenever you level up, use items during your turn, and equipping clothes as well as badges to improve the power of your stats.

   So what’s new? Well both plumbers can defend themselves from any attack should you time your button presses and such, something you couldn’t do in previous games in the way this game does it. Despite this, the battles are really fun, simple yet engaging enough that it feels like you’re battling like any other RPG and the simple controls do a fantastic job with it, but the battle mechanics are still something to get used to, because you’re going to have a brain fart and forget which correct button to press…or is it just me?

   The game is simple, so simple in fact that it’s quite short for an RPG, and can take you only a day to finish it. Thankfully it never gets boring, I usually give an RPG a few hours, but I could take breaks and go back to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. And should you hate the fact that you could get lost in an RPG, not to worry as the level design is made to be quite linear, and there are directions to show you where to go next just in case, so this could be the reason for its short gameplay. Also, grinding is not an issue here since enemies can be avoided and battles are short depending on how much you’ve levelled up; all in all the game is more streamlined, so this is on a list of RPGs that are great for beginners.

   The graphics look nice for the Game Boy Advance and the art design looks very welcoming no matter where you are, it’s very cartoonish and seeing concept art, it looks like it could have been a Saturday morning cartoon…REMEMBER THOSE? Though I did have some issues with perspective, where an enemy is hidden behind some objects and they could approach from nowhere, whether I was ready or not. The music is very cheery and upbeat…but the soundtrack reminded me of something…then I found out who composed it: Yoko Shimomura, she composed the soundtrack to Super Mario RPG, so it sounds similar, but it feels different enough that I’d know which song came from which game.

   Overall, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a very fun RPG with simple mechanics and a complexity that makes you appreciate it. The gameplay is accessible for beginners, but never feels boring for people who have had experience with RPGs like me. The plot is enjoyable with new characters and less of a Mario plot…well there are some cliches, which means we still get a plot with a few similarities to other Mario Bros. titles. It also has some jokes that aren’t bad and a few homages to the series overall. For a GameBoy Advance game, it’s a fantastic and I recommend it if you like Mario and have not played an RPG other than Pokémon.

You can get it for the Game Boy Advance and the Wii U Virtual Console.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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