Back on the SNES, once close friends Squaresoft and Nintendo teamed-up to produce a new RPG featuring none other than the loveable plumber – with many believing it to be one of the finest in the genre at that time. Following the success of this was the magnificent Paper Mario, a pseudo-sequel on the Nintendo 64 that was developed by Intelligent Systems this time around, sporting an extremely lovely graphical style where all the characters were as thin as paper. Finally, after many circulating rumours, a third title in the franchise has been unleashed, again with a new developer. Welcome to Mario & Luigi’s Superstar Saga…
Rather than the usual Mario-fare where Bowser turns up, snatches Princess Peach from the Toadstool Kingdom and whisks her away to his evil domain in a remote location, whilst sending out his troops to slow down the unwitting plumber's rescue-mission progress, there is a slight twist here. Bowser arrives at the Princess's castle all ready to hoist her off when he realises that somebody has stolen her voice and replaced it with volatile symbols that explode as soon as she expels them from her mouth. Disheartened that his own castle would be destroyed if he kidnapped her now, he begs that Mario (and Luigi, who gets dragged along in a highly comical manner) dashes off to find the culprit, return her ability to speak so that he can conclude his evil plan...
There is just one matter that has to be brought to attention before talking about anything else – the top-down viewpoint, as with the recent release of Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge, can be a little irksome at times due to depth perception issues. Whereas over-head boxes have nice shadows below them to make it clear where to stand when jumping, elements such as pathway routes can be difficult to identify because of the static environment, unlike the Nintendo 64’s Paper Mario that had 3D locations that moved everything around for the perfect perspectives each time. But this is a very minor gripe as the rest of the game is a delight.
Aping Paper Mario's and Yoshi's Island's style, Superstar Saga plumps for a cartoon-ish approach to graphics in order to complement the sense of humour found throughout the title. Whilst looking at still images might lead you to believe that not much effort has gone into the presentation side, it is only when you witness this marvel in motion that you will fully understand why Alpha Dream has been so ultimately successful in its operation. The animation is the key, with many little peculiar facial expressions making an appearance at regular intervals and comic slap-stick action between the two Mario brothers that give the general feeling of watching a comedy cartoon show. Mario & Luigi exudes charm and will frequently have gamers grinning and chuckling at the humorous, and highly colourful, on-screen antics.
Music to my ears…yes…indeed – and do you know why? It is because I have always been a fan of Nintendo games, especially the Mario titles and Superstar Saga pays homage to many of the ‘old skool’ tunes by featuring slightly modified remixes that will be immediately identifiable – one main example being the dark, echoing Bowser Castle theme. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, I am sure you will agree. In addition to these, there are smatterings of new tunes that are equally as catchy and Nintendo-esque – the team at Alpha Dream has done a splendid job of emulating the styles of Nintendo’s main music-man Koji Kondo.
But music is not the only attraction, as there are cute sound effects and ultra-funny noises that act as voices for certain characters. This is done in a similar vein to Rare’s Banjo series where characters grunt rather than speak, but is carried out to far greater effect. The amount of times that Mario and Luigi have to converse with other characters by mumbling in their fast and inane fashion, only for the in-game listener to be completely baffled by their speech and constant gesticulations is immense…but all the better for it as Mario and Luigi are comic genii – whether they mean to be or not. It is not often that a title will make gamers chuckle out loud, but Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga does indeed manage it in an extremely clever fashion. Bravo!
Have a guess – you have to rescue the Princess, right? Well, not exactly… As mentioned in the storyline, it is her voice you are trying to save – already proving that Mario & Luigi is a little stranger than your average role-playing title. But you might still be thinking to yourselves that you know exactly what this game is all about – boring statistics, annoying random battles and, most likely, a long-winded storyline that will have you flicking through reams and reams of tiresome text. Well guess what? Mario & Luigi is nothing like that at all! If anything, Nintendo has tried its utmost to avoid heading down the traditional RPG-route, and instructed Alpha Dream to keep the whole experience one of a light-hearted nature so that any gamer, be them veterans to the genre or complete amateurs, will find the title to be perfectly accessible and, most importantly, fun.
For the majority of the adventure you must control both Mario and Luigi in the same instance, one under the role of the ‘A’ button and the other controlled via the ‘B’ button. For example, simple things like jumping up steps will not be possible unless you make both characters climb up. This might sound confusing, but will become second nature within a very short period of time – the controls are generally very intuitive and only become marginally cumbersome during some of the heated battles where most of the time although you will hold the game liable, it will in fact be your own fault that something has gone awry! Anyway, as straightforward as this initial scheme sounds, do not be fooled, this is no child’s game. As you progress, your characters will receive upgrades to their move repertoire – with early examples being Luigi who can access a special high jump and Mario obtaining the ability to carry Luigi across gaps by spinning through the air. Also, hammers will become available towards the start of the adventure, with two more skills cropping up – when Mario is hit on the head he shrinks to fit through small gaps and when Luigi is hit he falls underground to find hidden items. There are many more features like this, but to reveal them all here would remove an element of surprise from the adventure as a whole.
Progression through Superstar Saga is done by following instructions, sometimes clear as day whilst sometimes rather cryptic, that will lead you ever closer to your ultimate goal – capturing the evil doer that stole the Princess’s speech. Along the way are several (mainly rudimentary) puzzles and enemies encounters…with the latter thankfully not being of the random variety! You can see exactly where your enemies are on the screen, thereby allowing you to completely avoid them if you so wish, or even gain the upper-hand by jumping on them or hitting them from behind - this then gives you a slight head start when the battle commences, which will be a huge relief later on. Fighting consists of turn-based action, as is the norm in RPGs, but there is a greater level of interaction going on, with the player able to get extra hits in on enemies when attacking and pressing the action button at a specific time, or countering foe attacks by again depressing the correct key when necessitated. It all results in the incidents being quite satisfying rather than chore-like, and there is even the addition of being able to choose which player statistic (health, defence, speed, plus many others) is raised by a few extra points when levelling-up.
Thrown into the mix, to round off such a magnanimous gaming product, Alpha Dream – the team behind the so far Japanese-only quirky Tomato Adventure also on the GBA – has included several references to past Nintendo games, such as Kirby and Wario homages, appearances by Professor E. Gadd from Luigi’s Mansion and the infamous Yoshi, Birdo from Super Mario Bros 2 turning up later on, small mini-games that are reminiscent of titles such as Dr Mario and the original Super Mario Bros…plus many others that will be pleasantly surprising for Nintendo aficionados everywhere. Oh, and to put the icing on the cake, you can actually use the rumble element of your GameCube controllers if you choose to play Superstar Saga through a GameBoy Player…Now that is what you call attention to detail!
Enough brotherly love to last a lifetime… Well, that would be if the average lifespan was around the thirty-hour mark, of course. Many will grumble that too much time is spent in battles, but thanks to the pleasing fighting mechanics and constant interaction, conflicts hardly ever grow to be too exasperating. The quest itself, however, is exceptionally vast, putting Nintendo’s recent ‘short-but-sweet’ adage in the closet for the time being (fortunately!), with the plethora of puzzles and mini-games dotted through the adventure, as well as the actual item-finding quests that you will be sent on and comical storyline to follow. Novices will probably squeeze at least thirty or so hours out of the teeny-tiny GBA cartridge, whilst those of us that like to sit in our rooms with wizards hats on, rolling dice on a regular basis (*ahem*) will still managed to reach the twenty hour mark easily.
Hmm, and if all that is not enough to satiate your appetite for gaming, then there is always the added bonus of the original Mario Bros as an extra that can be played both solo and with three other friends via just the one cartridge, or even by connecting to owners of any Super Mario Advance titles! Still want to argue that this game does not provide enough value for money? No, I did not think so…
There are barely any faults with Mario & Luigi. Alpha Dream has cooked up a new RPG that surpasses Super Mario RPG and battles Paper Mario for ultimate supremacy. Beware folks, this game will have you addicted...
A nice cartoon-y style to the graphics suits the comical nature of the game and the crazy animations add to the whole experience in the best possible way.
Easily up there with the likes of other in-house developed Mario titles. A great mixture of classic Mario-themes remixed, new tunes that are instantly catchy...and the brilliant use of 'voice' acting!
Want to breeze through without finding everything? Fine, but it will still take you a long time to complete. In general, the average gamer is looking at around thirty hours, which is more than enough for a GBA title.
If you are from Europe, then chances are you never played Super Mario RPG due to it never reaching our shores and the import versions of the SNES title not working with any converters. In fact, most Europeans will not have enjoyed Paper Mario for the N64 either, due to the lack of marketing drive from Nintendo when it arrived late in the 64-bit console’s lifespan. But hey, you have your chance now – forget the likes of Golden Sun and Final Fantasy. Instead rush out and buy Mario & Luigi, the real Kings of the RPG!