605th played so far

Genre: Role-Playing
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Year of Release: 2003
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve been holding off on covering the Mario & Luigi series for a hwile until we started running out of Mario series games a bit… I really love the Mario RPGs and these are the ones I probably have the most affinity with. We’re covering the three games in the series that were out at the time the first edition of the book was released, and that means starting at the first game that paired Mario and Luigi in a single RPG.

Our Thoughts

There is something special about Mario RPGs. They are fairly light and funny, but the gameplay systems go surprisingly deep cmpared to what you’d expect. The timed attack and defense are still here in this version – more noticeably than in other games as the damage values are higher and some enemies expect you to use them, which requires quite a bit of memorization. Both hammer and jump attacks exist, like previous games, and of course it matters for the enemies. But having two brothers on the field at one time, you get a bunch of strategy that the single character(ish) Paper Mario games do not have.

While Super Mario RPG had a party, it played like a standard Square RPG, with limited interaction between party members beyond the likes of buffs and multi member attack. Superstar Saga takes this further, by allowing the brothers to combine attacks (with multiple button prompts), as well as requiring observation to see which brother will be attacked. The last turns into a bit of puzzle, moving the defense system beyond just the right timing into getting the right button press as well as the right time. It’s not too difficult if you know what you’re looking for, but it can take some time to make the connection.

The brother interaction, then, really makes for some unique combat situations, but the neat thing is that it applies to the world as well. Several barriers need to be crossed by the brothers working together, jumping one after the other, and the game delights in creating new situations where their powers need to work together. This is even more special once you get specific powers, and have things like Luigi squashing Mario with his hammer so the latter can fit through small holes. They really reward exploration and backtracking without feeling forced or limited. Furthermore, a lot of the powers feel a bit slapsticky, which adds to the light tone the game has throughout.

The story is partially standard – save the Princess’s voice after it has been stolen (and later save the Princess herself). It takes place, at least initially, without Bowser as the main protagonist – a nice tradition of many Mario RPG games to give a different antagonist – and moves you to a new kingdom mostly populated by green bean creatures. You still encounter many known enemies, but by avoiding having too many Toads, the game again creates a unique atmosphere. It also delights in its own wackiness, not making it (somehow) too serious an adventure and through that creating a story that’s far more memorable. It avoids a lot of the standard Mario story tropes (and allows them back in later when they fit better) while introducing a new cast that feels just as worthwhile to play. Of course a lot of it is restricted to cameos in later games, but here’s it’s just good enough.

Final Thoughts

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga starts a subseries that feels unique enough to have its own voice and niche. It still feels like Mario, and especially like a Mario RPG, but it doesn’t force in what it doesn’t need, and creates its own additions that create a far more interesting world. For me, I prefer the Mario & Luigi series to the Paper Mario run because of its weirdness, and this game shows best why this is the case.