Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga

Ever since Nintendo joined with Squaresoft to produce Super Mario RPG towards the end of the Super NES era, the Big N has gone solo in producing RPGs starting their trademark plumber, with Paper Mario, developed by Intelligent Systems, somewhat enriching the Nintendo 64’s dry RPG selection. In 2003, Nintendo banded with another developer, the Alphadream Corporation, to produce an RPG starring not only Mario, but also his neglected brother Luigi, entitled Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, which is a flawed but fun jaunt through the siblings’ universe.

Superstar Saga begins with two Goodwill Ambassadors from the Beanbean Kingdom, a neighbor of the Mushroom Kingdom, delivering a gift to Princess Peach Toadstool; however, the two turn out to be a witch named Cackletta and her servant Fawful, who steal the princess’s voice and escape. Mario and Luigi are alerted to this, and thus rush to the princess’s palace, meeting Bowser, who wishes to kidnap Peach only for her to spout destructive vocabulary (which literally wrecks her palace). Wishing not to kidnap her in this condition, Bowser travels with Mario and Luigi to the Beanbean Kingdom to solve this problem, where the brothers separate from their nemesis on their own misadventures.

Mario and Luigi, naturally, must fight a number of foes throughout their quest. Enemies wander the game’s various fields, with Mario or Luigi being in front and the other brother being behind, and either sibling can jump on enemies to do preliminary damage or strike them with a hammer to stun them when a battle begins. However, jumping on spiked enemies will deal damage to the brother who jumps, and if enemies touch the brother second in line, he’ll be temporarily stunned once the fight starts.

The battles themselves are turn-based, although they’re far more involving than in most other turn-based RPGs. Mario and Luigi each start with a jumping attack, with increased damage done when the player presses each brother’s assigned button at the right time, although they eventually acquire hammers and hand (or magic) attacks, which also deal more damage with timed button pressing. Each sibling also acquires up to three Brothers Attacks, which consume Brothers Points and require more complex button pressing skills; the player can adjust how many Brothers Points each attack consumes, with lower BP use meaning more challenging execution yet increased damage if wholly successful. After a certain number of uses, each Brothers Attack becomes “Advanced,” which means—you guessed it—higher damage.

When enemies take their turns, Mario and Luigi can jump or use their hammers to dodge enemy damage and occasionally damage their enemies in the process, which requires careful timing and is critical to victory throughout the game. Fortunately, players can carry a more-than-generous amount of items into battle for those times when slipups can cost plenty of HP. When Mario or Luigi levels up, their stats naturally increase, and players can choose a stat to give an additional bonus. Each brother, surprisingly, has a Moustache stat, which determines the cost of items at stores. The only real shortcoming in the battle system is the unfortunate lack of inns or recovery points, but battles are fairly enjoyable, albeit occasionally frustrating, in the end.

Interaction is clean for the most part, although there are some annoyances. The menus are easy to navigate, with equipment hardly being a hassle and no limited inventory space to worry about. The controls outside the menus take a bit of getting used to, though, with the brothers’ abilities playing part here, as well. The fact that players must press the A and B buttons simultaneously for both brothers to jump across gaps and onto enemies, for instance, will certainly annoy. Players use the L and R buttons to cycle through Mario and Luigi’s abilities needed to advance through the game, with a few combination abilities such as a high jump being available. Some of the mini-games are a bit infuriating, as well, and ultimately, interaction is passable, but not perfect.

The degree of involvement in and out of battle (and the Moustache stat) is what mainly separates Superstar Saga from other RPGs, and the story manages to do something in the Mario universe other than having Peach be kidnapped. Granted, the timed button pressing has played part in the other Mario RPGs, although the game feels fresh overall.

It’s difficult to judge the merits of a “wacky” storyline such as Superstar Saga’s, although the aforementioned change in pace from previous Mario RPGs is welcome, as is the exploration of new territory in the Mario universe. I had heard great things about the humor in the game, although I personally didn’t find much of it to be special. The story certainly isn’t for everyone, although there are some interesting twists, and the plot, while not a major draw to the game, holds it together decently.

The aurals, as with most Gameboy Advance titles, leave a bit to desire. Yoko Shimomura, with a little help from Koji Kondo, provides the soundtrack, which is certainly not one of her best, what with its weak instrumentation at times and redundancy, although some tunes are actually pretty catchy and quite good. The vocals for many characters are a nice, though unnecessary, addition, and in the end, the aurals are acceptable, if nothing more.

The game buries itself in a bright, cheerful feel, and does a pretty nice job, with vibrant colors and expressive sprites. Granted, many of the residents of the Beanbean Kingdom look odd, to say the least, although the visuals do their job overall.

Finally, Superstar Saga is largely easy if players get a handle on the battle system, although those whose reflexes aren’t fully honed might find a few difficult spots, especially towards the end; the game is fairly short as well, taking from fifteen to twenty-five hours to complete.

Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, in the end, is worthy of the Nintendo name, and is, despite its flaws, perhaps the best Mario RPG since Super Mario RPG. The battles in particular are a surefire test of reflexes, being neither too simple nor too complex, and the other elements, while not perfect, hold their own charm. The game could’ve certainly been better, although it is nice to see the Mario brothers working well together again after endless titles of separation.

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