Mario + RPGs. If that were a new idea today, I think most people would think it was ludicrous. After all, Mario doesn’t shoot guns, and it’d be awkward if one of the main characters had to “unexpectedly” die near the end of the game. Thankfully for us, Mario RPGs are actually a fairly old idea with its first incarnation, Super Mario RPG, appearing back in 1996 during the SNES JRPG heyday. Over the years, the game has had many spiritual sequels with the Paper Mario series and more importantly (for the sake of this article, anyway) the Mario & Luigi series.
What is now a continually growing series began with one game on the GBA known as Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, released in 2003. Interestingly, it was released in North America four days before any other region, even Japan. For fans of both Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, I imagine this game was a must-buy. I vividly remember playing this game at my local Target and developing a might need for it, just because of how much I loved Paper Mario. I somehow managed to beg my parents to buy it, and the rest is Beanbean history.
As many similarities as Superstar Saga has with its two spiritual successors, the main difference between the games is that the GBA title actually takes place, not in the Mushroom Kingdom, but in a new realm known as the Beanbean Kingdom. Where everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom were Toads (more or less), residents of the Beanbean Kingdom are (surprise surprise) beans. This completely new setting creates a fresh experience for fans of the Mario RPG franchise, as well as a fun and wacky foray for people new to the wild concept.
The Mario RPG franchise is reknown for its self-aware humor, and Superstar Saga is no exception. In the first moments of the game, we have Bowser trying to kidnap Princess Peach once again. However, his attempts are foiled, not really by Mario, by instead by the witch Cackletta who steals Peach’s voice. With this unexpected revelation, Mario and Bowser actually join forces for a shared cause, not unlike what they did in Super Mario RPG. Oh yeah, and Luigi is kind of conscripted against his will.
As the title suggests, the game is all about controlling both Mario and Luigi simultaneously. This makes for some very unique gameplay both in and out of battles. The battles retain their original mechanics, relying on action commands to deal damage and dodge attacks. Something new about the battles, however, is the ability to dodge every single attack in the game. So if you know the timing, you could theoretically have a no damage run of the game. Out of battle, Mario and Luigi learn different abilities over time that allow them to platform with great expertise. These include jumping on Mario for a super jump or roasting Luigi’s ass for super running.
As expected, the game has some seriously good music, most of it is very upbeat to keep with the cheery atmosphere of the game. I say “as expected” because the game’s composer is Yoko Shimomura, who worked on Super Mario RPG, continues to compose for the Mario & Luigi games, and did the soundtrack for a little game series called Kingdom Hearts. Yeah, she’s definitely one of my favorite video game composers of all time.
Despite being in a foreign country, fans of the Mario series will love all of the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, nods to the franchise’s history that game manages to sneak in. There’s something so surreal about having a Goomba give a tutorial about the game’s battle system. We also can’t forget some of the cameos in game, like Professor E. Gadd who invents machines in exchange for rare coffee beans and even Geno who’s in charge of a mini-game. There are a ton in the game and many have very good rewards, like playing jump rope, designing clothes, and even surfing. No impending crisis in a JRPG is ever more important than mini-games, after all.
The Mario & Luigi continues to go on strong, with its 4th game Mario & Luigi: Dream Team recently released in Europe and Japan. Meanwhile, North America patiently waits until August 11 for new installments to this ridiculous series.
- Big fans of the Mushroom Kingdom may feel a bit of a culture shock when traveling to the Beanbean Kingdom.
- The GBA’s soundcard does a disservice to Yoko Shimomura’s musical work.
- All of the fun action-timed battles that we loved are back, as well as new brothers-themed puzzles.
- The humor in the game make the story feel more like a comedy show than a RPG story.