In 2003, the Super Mario series had had two forays into the world of RPGs. First, there was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and then there was Paper Mario and these two games were both quite different in a lot of ways and had their own distinct tone and style. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga gave us a third, equally distinct interpretation of an RPG for the franchise.
As always with the RPGs, the story is quite interesting. Princess Peach has her voice stolen from her by Cackletta, a visitor from the nearby Beanbean Kingdom and then Mario and Luigi venture there in order to retrieve her voice. Thing get more complicated as they progress. The change in location provides lots of interesting new additions, most significant of all are the Beanish people who live in the Beanbean Kingdom and aid the brothers on their quest. It’s interesting to be introduced to a whole different race and culture in the Mushroom World and there are even Beanish variations on common enemies, which are fun to see.
The story is full of entertaining humour (the game starts with Toad walking in on Mario taking a shower, for example) and I think it really benefits from having Mario and Luigi work as a team. I love Luigi and I always appreciate it when he is given more of a focus, as he is here. The two of them interact with each other quite often (speaking in an incoherent mock-Italian) and these scenes are always delightful. Luigi, especially, is very expressionate. I also really liked Bowser’s characterisation and, honestly, felt sorry for him at times, which was interesting. A new character, Fawful, is also introduced. Fawful speaks in broken English and is supposed to read like his text was poorly translated. A lot of people absolutely adore him, but I’m kind of indifferent.
Something else which I liked quite a lot was the mixture of classic Mario gameplay with more traditional RPG elements. You walk around on the over world map, jumping across bottomless pits and avoiding enemies like you would do in any other game. If you make contact with an enemy, a turn-based battle starts. When you attack, you can time your button presses to do as much damage as possible and when you are attacked, you can jump and counter attack, making it possible to avoid harm entirely if you are very skilled. It makes you feel a lot more involved in battles than you would in other RPG games. There are also a lot of puzzles to solve as you go on: most of them quite clever and some quite hard.
On the whole, it’s a game that I enjoyed. The story is full of fun little references to past games and features cameos from a number of other characters. You encounter a skeletal Kong at one point, there are posters for Wario and Kirby on the wall in one area, Geno (from Super Mario RPG) even makes a small appearance. These are just a few small examples and I won’t mention them all to avoid ruining the surprises, but it’s full of references and connection and it makes the universe of Super Mario games feel a lot more real and coherent.
If I had to fault the game it would be for two things: firstly, I think that the later bosses in the games are ridiculously long and difficult, which spoiled the end of the game for me and, secondly, I feel like things started to feel a but boring as they went on too. The actual finale is all very good (other than the bosses) but before things picked up, I was starting to feel a bit bored of wandering around the Beanbean Kingdom. But those are only two small points and this is still an excellent game. I should also quickly mention that it contains the remake of Mario Bros. from Super Mario Advance which is nice, but I will review that when I review Super Mario Advance.
(Don’t miss today’s Finger Puppet Show!)