Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga
Game Boy Advance
Reviewed: 12/30/2006

Upon its release, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga had a lot to live up to. Previous attempts at combining the Mario juggernaught of a franchise with RPGs had yielded two games that were both counted among the better RPGs on their respective system. While Mario and Luigi doesn’t come close to reigning supreme over the Game Boy Advance’s RPG selection, is does provide in itself an RPG-platforming hybrid worth a playthrough.

Screen Shot
Revel in beating up Fawful at the start of the game, because he gets a lot harder.

The adventures of the famous two begin when Princess Peach’s voice is stolen by the evil witch Cackletta and her backwards-talking lackey Fawful, who are posing as ambassadors from the nearby Beanbean Kingdom. It is, of course, up to Mario and Luigi to save the day and in some fashion, the world. The plot on a large scale doesn’t go anywhere that hasn’t been gone before, and can at some times be downright boring, but where it entertains is in the smaller scenarios that pop up within the larger plot. These smaller situations are punctuated by the entertaining script and interesting environment. Altogether, while the story is skeletal and unlikely to drive players through the game, it does provide a good enough excuse to explore the Beanbean Kingdom.

Exploring the Beanbean Kingdom requires the powers of both Mario and Luigi, and no single brother will hog the front spot in their travels. On the map, one follows behind the other, and are controlled with A and B respectively, while the Start button swaps the two. As hammer, fire and thunder powers are acquired throughout the game for battle, so are their useful abilities for navigating the world. The brother in front affects which abilities are used. The system allows for some interesting variety in exploring dungeons, and more importantly, adds some interesting puzzle and platforming elements. The puzzles and platforming sprees are just the right degree of difficulty, and never too frustrating, but sometimes feel too frequent or gimmicky.

Aside from a few flaws, the game’s battle system shines throughout the duration of the adventure. Battle is entered by touching enemies on the map screen, and in a manner similar to PAPER MARIO, initiative is determined by how one encounters the enemy: a jump or hammer strike will begin the battle with an extra hit in the player’s favour, but being touched from behind by an enemy will mean exactly the opposite. From here, the A button will always control Mario, and the B button, Luigi. Once one of the brothers gets a turn, players may select the option to flee, use an item, execute one of three solo attacks (jump, and later hammer and hand), or attack as a team with Bros. Attacks. Solo or Bros. attacks will require some simple timed button presses. In the case of the latter, a nice feature allows players to set their attack at either 1, 2 or 3, depending on their skill with the timing of that technique. A 1 will have the technique performed in slow motion with obvious indicators of which button should be pressed and when, but sacrifices some attack strength to compensate, while a 3 has the attack performed at normal speed and no button flags, with higher attack and lowered cost to compensate. When the enemy receives a turn, jumps or hammer swings can be used to dodge incoming enemy blows, or even used to counterattack. In this manner, every single attack by a foe may be dodged, with proper timing.

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Luigi gets a bit of a raw deal.

The only real downside to the battle system is its repetitiveness. The bestiary is varied and unique, and finding out which attacks work best on which enemies is fun, but the limited amount of attacks makes the process of eliminating foes dull after a time. Additionally, in difficult battles, players must use the same (and most effective) attack over and over and over again. This becomes less of a problem when defending from enemy attacks, however, because often one attack will have several variations in timing, forcing the player to pay attention.

Gamers who are not fond of excessive levelling up but like action elements will enjoy the difficulty curve of Mario and Luigi. The game has few, if any, points where going out of one’s way to power up is in any way necessary–provided they have the dextrous fingers for accurately attacking, and more importantly dodging. Progression from one location to another is hardly steep, but particularly in the later game, Mario or Luigi’s power, defense or speed will take a backseat to “How many of these rings of fire can I jump through before I miss and lose half of Mario’s max HP?” Enemy attacks, particularly in the finale including boss sequences with Fawful and Cackletta, are relentless and will eliminate the brothers in one shot if no buttons are pressed to avoid them. The sheer volume of attacks that must be dodged with consistent accuracy in the endgame may prove taxing for many players, but where this is not frustrating, it can be deliciously challenging.

After the completion of Mario and Luigi, however, players will find little to bring them back. There are a few mini-games present for players to repeat if they desire, but most are either too difficult to be rewarding, or uninteresting. The only benefits to jumping rope or racing mine carts one more time is to receive more beans for brewing. Aside from two secret Bros. Techniques to be found in the world and these passable mini-games, players will find no extra tasks or sidequests with which to busy themselves except gathering more beans, which becomes tiresome quickly. Add that to the fact that this linear game gives off an air of dragginess throughout the midpoints, despite its peppy atmosphere, and this isn’t a title to really pick up again soon after its been finished.

On the technical side of things, Superstar Saga has crisp, neat graphics that do a good job of expressing the overall feel of the game. Animation is always smooth and colours are almost always bright and interesting, a few locations excepting. The game’s music is a bit of a mixed bag, with a lot of average tunes, a bunch of catchy tunes, and a small handful of really irritating ones. The sound effects do a lot to enhance the experience of the game, even considering the tinny quality of the GBA speakers. What is especially impressive is how clear the short voice clips for Mario and Luigi are, and how effectively the game uses them. It’s fascinating how much funny a well-timed “Oh, no,” or “Hmmmm,” can deliver in the midst of onscreen action.

On the whole, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga provides a worthwhile game for players with a craving for both action and platforming elements. Though hampered by a dull plot, linear pacing and a great deal of repetition, its solid technical aspects, combined with an interesting gameplay concept for battle and exploration, make it a game that can stand on its own next to its predecessors and show its own brand of fun.

-Janelle Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Below Average
Graphics Very Good
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Horrible
The Verdict: 6