When I reviewed Super Mario RPG, I mentioned that it was one of the most demanded games to be ported onto the Game Boy Advance. However, with the relationship Nintendo had with Square at the time, it was clear that probably wasn’t going to happen. The demand for a Mario RPG on the GBA was obviously too great for Nintendo to ignore though, so they made a new Mario RPG series specifically for their hand held systems. What we got was Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga for the Game Boy Advance.
The game begins at Princess Peach’s castle, where we see that she is meeting with the ambassador of the neighboring Bean Bean Kingdom. However, the ambassador reveals herself to actually be a witch named Cackletta and steals Peach’s voice. Mario is immediately contacted and rushes over to the castle, dragging Luigi along (literally). Once they get there, they see it’s too late, as Cackletta and her sidekick Fawful have escaped already. Oddly enough, it’s Bowser that restores hope, as he shows up to kidnap Princess Peach, but realizes there’s no point without her voice. He enlists the help of the Mario brothers as they take off in his battle ship. However, when they come close to getting the Princess’ voice back, Mario, Luigi and Bowser are knocked from the sky. The two brothers wake up and find that they are at the Bean Bean Kingdom boarder and have no choice but to explore this strange land.
The story is just solid fun. It’s light hearted and classic (Mario saves Peach), but with enough new elements to make it original (like the new villain and the new setting). There is also a weird sense of humor that is carried throughout the game (which is probably hyperbolized through Fawful). It is really impressive when you can make a rather odd game, but still make the story play out in a really smart way. There’s a plot twist about half way that I just didn’t see coming and completely turns the tables. You will want to help the brothers out just to see what happens next.
The fact that this is Mario & LUIGI is a really big deal: Luigi had not been playable in a Mario adventure for a long time, probably not since Super Mario World. As a matter of fact, this might be one of the few times where it’s actually necessary to play as him in a game that has his brother. It seems Nintendo (or possibly developers Alpha-dream) knew they had to make this part of the game play, and they managed to integrate it rather well. Mario and Luigi follow each other around and you can switch up who is the “leader”. This is important, because each brother can use a combination of jump, hammer and “hand power” skills that will change depending on who is leading. For example, if Mario is leading, Luigi can jump on him to give the two brothers an extra high jump, but if Luigi is leading, Mario can do a spin jump to allow the brother to fly over gaps. These techniques are also used in the game’s battle system as “bros. attacks”, but if one of the brothers is knocked out, you can’t use them anymore.
Learning when you should use these skills on the map is important, as the map is not linear. I resist calling it Metroidvania style, since you could almost stretch it so most RPGs, but it gives off that impression. The map is mostly open to you (though there are moments where places only open after cut scenes) and the only thing preventing you from accessing everything is the fact that you need every skill. There are several parts in the game that make use of areas you’ve already visited, but since you can use a new skill on the map, you’ll find whole new area there. Granted, the game tells you where you need to go most of the time, but it’s well thought out when compared to games where you visit an area once and never need to go there again.
Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga might not be as great as Super Mario RPG, but it might be better because of that. What I mean is, while Super Mario RPG is a great game and I would have liked more people to experience it with a GBA rerelease, this first Mario & Luigi game is not only a great NEW experience, but also started off a pretty solid side series (with a 4th installment, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, coming out this summer). It also makes great use of timed hits and defensive moves (which I explained a bit during the Partners in Time review) and the graphics style of the game is so good that some online communities pretty much re-sprited the whole Mario universe in this style (it looks simply amazing for the GBA). What else can I say but the story is fun, the game play works from every angle and it’s just a high quality game. I give Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga for the Game Boy Advance 10 level out of 10.