Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Review
Posted by Corbie Dillard
One of Nintendo's most enjoyable games of all time
With the success of Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo console, most people knew it was only a matter of time before Nintendo or one of its many developers revisited the idea of combining the Super Mario universe with a RPG gameplay system. Instead of simply rehashing many of the same ideas as those found in Super Mario RPG, the developers at AlphaDream instead built upon them, adding an almost completely new gameplay system that placed an emphasis on using the two Mario Bros. in a more cooperative fashion. The end result was one of the most wildly playable games you're ever likely to encounter and yet another amazing release in the Mario RPG series of titles. So how exactly has this Game Boy Advance RPG held up, and is it still as amazing a gameplay experience as when it burst onto the scene in 2003?
The gameplay idea of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is fairly basic in its design and execution. You'll spend the majority of your time in the game doing one of two things: traversing the many areas of the game or doing battle with the game's many enemies and bosses. As far as moving around goes, you'll have to learn to control both of the Mario Bros. in conjunction with one another in order to move around. You'll also have to learn to use their special cooperative abilities in order to progress through some of the game's trickier sections. While the game does a great job of showing you the ropes, you will have to put in the time to learn how to make use of the many gameplay moves in order to navigate your way successfully through the game. And on top of everything else, the game throws tons of enemies your way to make things even more challenging.
Since you can see your enemies before you engage them in battle, it is possible in many cases to avoid them if necessary. But if you want to earn coins and valuable experience points, you're going to have to take part in many of the game's battles. Once either of the Bros. touches an enemy, a fight breaks out, but you can gain an early advantage but stomping on or hitting an enemy with one of your hammers whilst on the map. This will not only do damage to the enemy before the battle even commences, but it will also generally give you the first turn despite your opponent's speed.
The battles in the game are turn-based, but there is also a lot of action involved as well. Not only do attacks require various button presses, but defending and counter-attacking require them as well. Much like the platforming moves, the game also eases you into the various battle commands and special moves as well. You'll learn one move at a time and then be given plenty of opportunities to perfect the move before the game tosses you a new one. Much like other Mario RPG releases, timing the various button presses plays a key role in how successful you are in battle. And since you'll be using both Mario Bros. cooperatively, you'll have to come to grips with the game's unique combat system if you're going to be effective in battle. It's this unique gameplay system that makes the game so much fun to play and so difficult to put down.
The careful balance of platforming and enemy battles gives the game a smooth flow. The game does a great job of showing you the ropes a little at a time without ever making you feel overwhelmed. The game's pattern-based boss fights also do a nice job of adding challenge to the progression of the game without making it too frustrating for the player. As long as you take part in battles and level your characters up evenly, you'll find the difficulty curve quite manageable. Couple all of this with some fantastic cooperative-style playability and an engaging storyline, and what you have is one of the most playable Mario titles ever made and a game that you'll definitely keep coming back to time and time again.
Visually, the game is quite impressive, especially for a Game Boy Advance release. While the shiny rendered visuals of Super Mario RPG are long gone, the sprite-based visuals the game makes use of are extremely rich and detailed. As if this weren't enough, the game also features a staggering amount of variety between the different areas of the game with each new area exuding it's own distinctive look and feel. Even the characters and enemies you'll encounter throughout the game all show a surprising amount of detail in not only their design, but also their many animations. Some of the bosses in the game are absolutely incredible sights to behold. Portable games got a nice step up with the release of the Game Boy Advance hardware and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a shining example of a developer making the most of the system's graphical capabilities.
As if the dynamic visual presentation wasn't enough, the developers still managed to find time to squeeze in an impressive musical score. Not only are there plenty of classic Super Mario musical tracks to enjoy, but there are also a plethora of new tunes as well. While some songs are more quirky than others, each one does an outstanding job of bringing out the mood and theme of the area it's featured in. Even many of the sound effects themselves get the nostalgic treatment and sound like they were plucked straight out of another classic Super Mario title. The combination of old and new audio elements gives the game a great balance and ends up being one of the better Mario soundtrack efforts.
Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga is ultimately one of those games that no matter how hard you might try, you just can't really find anything at all to complain about. It's got an enthralling quest, a great sense of humor, an extremely playable gameplay system, and a host of some of the greatest characters in video gaming history to interact with. Super Mario RPG might have originated the idea of tossing Mario and friends into a role-playing game universe, but Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga definitely perfects it with a nearly-flawless gaming experience that should appeal to anyone who's even the slightest fan of Mario or the RPG genre. A game of this caliber doesn't come around very often, but when it does it reminds us just how great video gaming can be when a developer takes the time to get it right.