Review: Mario & Luigi: Super Star Saga (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Mario & Luigi: Super Star Saga
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Developed By: Nintendo
Published By: Nintendo
Released: 11/17/03

Whenever I hear that Mario is going to be put in an RPG environment, I get a good feeling about what is to come. I’ve played both Super Mario RPG on the Super NES (although I never saw to the end of it), and Paper Mario on the N64. Both were extremely well done games with memorable characters and interesting stories. I expected nothing less from this game.

I did have some doubts as to how this game would fare in the beginning. Mario and Luigi were both on screen, controlled at the same time, yet with separate controls? How the heck would THAT work? Luckily, my doubts have officially been put to rest. This is one of the best games you’ll ever see on a Nintendo console. Period.

STORY

The game opens with an ambassador from the “Bean Bean” Kingdom visiting Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom as a goodwill mission. But things turn horribly wrong when the ambassador is revealed to be an impostor. And it ISN’T Bowser! This time, it’s an evil witch known as Cackletta, and she steals Peach’s voice for reasons we won’t find out until later. Peach can now only speak with “explosive language”. Meaning that when she speaks, strange characters fall out of her word bubbles and explode on impact. (The fact that she can’t stop talking doesn’t really help matters.)

So, this brings in Mario to investigate. Luigi reluctantly tags along, not planning to participate in any action. But as the situation is being explained to the Mario Brothers, Bowser shows up in order to kidnap the Princess! When it’s figured out that someone else has already beat him to a dastardly deed, Bowser decides to help “Mario and…uh…you! The Green Guy!” to get Peach’s voice back.

They all set out on Bowser’s airship to begin with, but things go wrong again when his ship is attacked, separating the brothers and their archrival from each other. This begins what the game’s advertisement have dubbed “Mario and Luigi’s most ridiculous adventure ever.” And when you play the game, you will totally agree with that statement.

Story: 9/10

GRAPHICS

Who says that 2D games can’t be completely beautiful? You know what? Not many people can say that with a straight face these days. Games like Yoshi’s Island and Golden Sun have proven the GBA can deliver top-notch graphics whenever it pleases. Superstar Saga is no different in this regard.

For one thing, the worlds you travel are very colorful and detailed. The world maps are dripping with watercolor paint, and look incredibly beautiful with every coat. Even the dark and dank dungeons have tons of color in them. You can see exactly where you are and what you are doing at all times of the game thanks to the bright and cheerful look. And I am thankful to Nintendo for that.

What impresses me the most, however, are the character animations. Both Mario and Luigi have an incredible array of sprites used for so many situations. Most of them are incredibly cartoony, but that’s to be expected. They’ll express a wide variety of emotions, go through quite a few different attack animations, and offer plenty of comic relief during the cut scenes. Luigi’s been given more funny animations out of the two brothers. You’ll see as when Mario is listening intently to the plot, Luigi will be off doing something else, such as drinking coffee, scared in a corner, poking the dead boss you just fought, etc.

I was very impressed with the graphics here. If you’re going to make a game look good on the GBA, THIS is how you do it!

Graphics: 9.5/10

SOUND

The game offers a nice selection of music to listen to. The soundtrack is a combination of several catchy, new tunes, with a slew of remixes of older Mario music. You’ll recognize such hits as the Castle theme from Super Mario 64, as well as the original SMB Theme and Sewer music. Some of it can get repetitive, but you’ll enjoy listening to it nonetheless.

What’s also impressive is the amount of sound bytes in the game. Mario and Luigi both have plenty of spoken words in this regard, but only because they don’t have any actual lines of text! When they talk to someone, you’ll either here something like “Yes”, “No”, or a line of gibberish. Luckily, there’s plenty more where that came from. Quite a bit of new material was recorded for this game, which is a welcome refresher considering that Super Mario Advance 1, 2, and 4 all had nearly the same sound bytes.

Sound: 8/10

GAMEPLAY

It may have taken me a little while to get used to it, but the way the game is designed is genius. Pure genius. And that’s putting it lightly, people. You should be thanking your lucky stars (heh) that Nintendo is still developing new and innovative titles such as this one.

Mario and Luigi are the only two characters you’ll be playing as throughout the whole game. This is a departure from the other two Mario RPGs, where there were plenty of other characters to worry about, but this system greatly simplifies matters. Both characters are moved together with the direction pad (one follows directly behind the other), but are controlled separately with the A and B buttons. The character in front will perform an action with the A button, and the character in back will use B. You can switch the positions of the characters easily with the Start button. The L and R buttons are used to switch the actions presently assigned to each brother (which I’ll go into later.) Finally, Select brings you to your standard RPG menu, where you can use items, check stats, and where you are on the world map. The controls may appear complicated once you start playing, but will become second nature after you’ve been playing for a while. In fact, you’ll never get over how well the controls were designed as you progress from puzzle to puzzle.

To get from place to place in this game, you’ll need to make use of special “double-team” moves both Mario and Luigi possess. When you start out, you’ll only have the “Jump” command available. Meaning when you press the A and B buttons, Mario and Luigi will jump in the air. This will get you through the initial bits of platforming, but you’ll need much more advanced techniques to get through the rest of the game. You’ll learn some new jumping maneuvers not to long into the game. Mario learns the “Spin Jump”, where he and Luigi can jump further across. Luigi gets the “Super Jump”, where the brothers can jump twice as high. These are the techniques you’ll use the most during the many, many platform sections. And this is an RPG?

As you go through, Mario and Luigi will both obtain hammers, similar to the ones seen in Paper Mario. The hammers serve two main purposes: (1) To knock down rocks and walls in order to progress, and (2) To smack the crap out of each other. No, I’m not kidding. Eventually, you’ll learn techniques that involve causing bodily harm to your own flesh and blood in order to proceed. Mario can pound Luigi into the ground, allowing him to tunnel under it like a mole to access hidden stuff. In turn, when Luigi smacks Mario, he’ll become Mini-Mario and able to walk through small openings he couldn’t otherwise. (He also fits into most overhead storage bins, but that’s never touched upon in the game.) These techniques are learned a little later after acquiring the hammers though, so attempting these beforehand will greet you with a humorous animation when you pound your brother into submission.

Completely new to the game is the addition of “Hand Powers”. This is the final tool you’ll learn in order to get past obstacles. Mario will be able to create fire from his bare hands, while Luigi controls the power of lightning. You’ll need these in order to light torches, or power up electrical orbs. And much like the hammers, Mario and Luigi can use these magical powers on each other for some hilarious techniques. Mario can burn Luigi’s backside to make him run very fast, while Luigi can paralyze Mario in order to make them walk synchronously. This game scores major points with me here. Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but causing bodily harm to your teammate in order to solve puzzles is pretty hilarious to me.

Now, the environments in which you use these powers are so well designed that I was literally foaming at the mouth for the new puzzle to solve. Plenty of these areas involve platform elements that make the Mario games so famous, and are executed near flawlessly here. In fact, several areas will take you back to the older Mario games entirely. Heck, there’s a part where you’re jumping over BARRELS to get to the top of the area. If that isn’t nostalgia, I don’t know what is.

Also scattered around these areas are the famous “?” blocks that Mario games are chocked full of. Some contain items, some contain a coin, and some have multiple coins. Some blocks, however, do contain a twist as how they are operated. There’s an “Arrow” block where you’ll have to hit it once with Mario, then with Luigi, and repeat until you run out of coins. Then there’s the “Rally” block, where Mario and Luigi smack the block back and forth until it flies over someone’s head. Assuming you’re good at it, you’ll be able to get lots of coins out of it. Finally, there’s a “Random” block that’s GIGANTIC, and will change colors depending on who needs to hit it next. These are some nice diversions to the main quest, let me tell you.

Now that I’m done babbling about how great the puzzles are, lets get right into the game’s battle system. Like the previous Mario RPGs, random baddies walk around the map until you encounter them. You can jump on them or strike them with a hammer to get a preemptive strike on them, but if an enemy hits the character in the back of the party, that character may be disabled for a tiny bit in the battle.

In any case, once you’re in battle, it controls a lot like Paper Mario. You have the option of selecting a single attack (Jump, Hammer, or Hand), or a “Brothers Attack,” which uses that character’s “Brothers Points”. Using a single attack is a lot like Paper Mario, where you have to press the attack button at the right time in order to do extra damage. Brother attacks are the “magic” attacks of this game, which involve a double-team attack that does major damage. At least, if you pull it off correctly anyway. You’ll need to press the right buttons at the right times in order to execute the attack correctly. If you miss a button press here or there, the attack will become botched, and you’ll carry out an improvised version that isn’t as powerful.

You can also carry out three different versions of each attack. Version 1 will let you do the attack in slow motion and tell you which buttons to press at the right time. Version 2 gets rid of the slow motion, and Version 3 loses the button prompts. However, you’re encouraged to use Version 3 considering that it costs the least amount of BP. Plus, if you successfully pull off an attack enough times, the attack will become “Advanced” and be more powerful when you use it again.

When you’re on defense, you’ll be given the chance to dodge your enemy’s fire. Depending on the type of attack, you can either jump to dodge, or smack it away with a hammer. In certain situations, you’ll be able to inflict additional damage on your foe with a successful dodge! You’ll need to time your button presses accordingly, though. Each enemy has different attacks and different ways to counter you.

As with other RPGs, you’ll “Level Up” after gaining enough experience. In this game, you’ll be able to gain actual stats with every level, such as HP, BP, Strength, Defense, Speed, and “Stache” (the Luck stat). A clever addition is the ability to choose one stat at each level-up, and increase it by a random amount. Need an extra “oomph” in Strength? No problem! Pick Strength, and it will increase a little more than the rest of the stats!

As with Super Mario RPG, you’ll be able to buy equipment for Mario and Luigi as the game goes on. The equipment falls into three categories: Overalls, Badges, and Ribbons. Overalls and Badges will increase certain stats, while Ribbons will add special abilities in battle, such as double EXP and double Gold.

All in all, the system used here is simple, but it’s very fun to work with. I haven’t encountered many RPGs of its kind with such a great way to play. Wow.

Gameplay: 10/10

REPLAYABILITY

By itself, the game is a rather short affair. Veteran gamers will most likely breeze through the game in a few days. That is NOT to say that the game isn’t worth replaying. There is a lot here to keep gamers coming back. There is a lot of comedy, sight gags, and nostalgia aspects that players will no doubt want to see again. There’s also a moment near the end of the game that shall live in infamy in the RPG world. I won’t spoil it for you here, but you’ll know when you get to it. And your eyes will burn. But in a good way.

There’s also the famous “Mario Brothers” revamp that has been on EVERY Super Mario Advance cart before it. It provides a tiny bit of replay value for the cartridge, but do you really want a 5th high score on a 5th cart?

Replayability: 8/10

BALANCE

To be honest, the game doesn’t pose THAT much of a challenge. The baddies and bosses are easy to defeat once you figure out their patterns, and the plot is practically spelled out for you, so you never have any questions as to where you go next. Any real challenges you’ll find come in the form of solving the various puzzles. There are a few tough ones you may get stuck on, especially towards the end, but other than that, the game’s rather easy.

Balance: 6/10

ORIGINALITY

I still don’t know how Nintendo comes up with brand new stuff for their mascots to do while incorporating the classical things that make them endearing to the fans. And yet they keep doing it nearly every single time. What we have here is an EXCELLENT fusion of the platforming elements found in most Mario games, and the RPG elements made famous by Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. Not only that, but they have been expanded on considerably with the fact that you’re playing both as Mario and Luigi. A rehash this ain’t.

Originality: 8/10

ADDICTIVENESS

I found this one of those RPGs that I just couldn’t put down after I had started. The way everything is mixed together kept me coming back for more. I HAD to solve the next puzzle. I HAD to grasp the next part of the story. I HAD to see the next gag that the Mario Brothers would do. Believe me, it’s the gags that keep you playing. As an example, the brothers get told they had to do a dangerous mission, and are asked if they’ll do it. Mario says yes, while Luigi shakes his head no. Mario sees this, POUNDS LUIGI INTO THE GROUND, and accepts for the both of them. I don’t know why that struck me as funny, but there are dozens of other such comedic moments that will keep you playing, just so you can see what’s next.

Addictiveness: 9/10

APPEAL FACTOR

To put it bluntly, Mario is Nintendo’s main cash cow right now. They would be fools if they did not promote the hell out of one of his games. The commercials they are airing for it are pretty funny, showing two guys with mustaches fighting over the period of 20 years in home movies, and then commenting on how their “sibling rivalry” is heating up. That definitely gets the word out.

And even if you never saw the commercial (which is still airing), your local game retailer probably has a few advertisements up for it on display. That coupled with the fact that there are tons of Mario fans in America already, there’s no WAY that the game will have a low appeal factor.

Appeal Factor: 9/10

MISCELLANEOUS

If there’s one final thing positive I can say about this game, it’s this: cameos, cameos, CAMEOS! Nintendo has pulled out practically ALL the stops to bring in as many characters from the Mario universe as they possibly can. The obligatory Toads and Yoshis make an appearance, yes, but they also included plenty more where that came from. You’ll see faces like Birdo, Toadsworth, Professor E. Gad from Luigi’s Mansion, the Viruses from Dr. Mario, and a group of baddies that haven’t been seen since Super Mario World. (That would be a spoiler, and that’s the ONLY hint you’re getting.) Plus, if you can find him and point him out…there’s GENO! The wooden doll from Super Mario RPG is IN THE FRIGGIN’ GAME SOMEWHERE! I won’t tell you where, but MAN, it was cool just to see him again.

Miscellaneous: 10/10

THE SCORES

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 9.5/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 10/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 6/10
Originality: 8/10
Addictiveness: 9/10
Appeal Factor: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 10/10

TOTAL: 86.5/100 (8.7)

REVIEWER’S TILT: 9.0 (EXCELLENT)