maanantai 6. syyskuuta 2010

REVIEW - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (2003)

Genre(s): RPG
Released: 2003
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): AlphaDream
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

Mario's run in the role-playing genre began with the 1996 SNES cult classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Four years later, it was followed by its spiritual successor Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. Another three years later, AlphaDream and Nintendo presented Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, a humorous follow-up to these two popular games for their 32-bit handheld wonder Game Boy Advance. Once again, Nintendo managed to produce one of the most unique and unorthodox RPG's around, and was showered with critical acclaim. However, one of the very basic elements of the game - timing - is likely to turn many traditional role-playing enthusiasts down.

Spillin' the beans

Charles Martinet : Mario / Luigi
Jen Taylor : Princess Peach
Scott Burns : Bowser
Kazumi Totaka : Yoshi

A good will ambassador from the Beanbean Kingdom turns out to be a fiendish witch named Cackletta. She steals Princess Peach's voice and replaces it with explosives. Mario is called in for the rescue and surprisingly, Bowser offers him his sincere help because he can't stand Peach the way she is, and refuses to kidnap her until her voice is restored. Luigi, who's planning to stay at home as per usual, accidentally gets taken along for the ride. After Cackletta's henchman Fawful interferes with their flight to Beanbean, the brothers are left in the middle of a strange land to fend for themselves, and each other.

The graphics are great, however AlphaDream could've worked on the dimensional design a tad better. Sometimes it's very difficult to make out general depth, and height of some platforms. Also, the sprites generally look great, especially in battles; the new bosses look like fine leftovers from Yoshi's Island. Bowser, though, looks fat and formless, his sprite's like a quick last minute job, seemingly influenced by old, crappy promotional art for Super Mario Bros. 3. The music's surprisingly good; I was expecting something along the lines of the annoying soundtrack of Super Mario RPG, especially since Yoko Shimomura is once again at work. There are some very annoying bits, but mostly the music's quite good and there's once again a wide array of nicely remixed Mario tunes which we all know to accompany all the in-jokes this game produces. The game is like an unofficial part of the Super Mario Advance series, even though it's a whole new exclusive title, and that means the voiceover samples are here once again. This time, they're merely sound effects, to spice up the brothers' different reactions in different situations, and they're funny as hell. The clever use of these effects supports the game's humorous agenda excellently. I don't know what the hell they're saying, probably nothing in real Italian - but every time Mario and Luigi speak, it cracks me up.

"Ohhhhh yeahhhhh! La frutti di maro! BYE-
BYEEEE!!!" A potential comment from the
First off, I'd like to make it clear to you that I haven't beaten the game yet, I'm only about 50% done with it, but I had to start this review to fully remember what it was like when I couldn't play the game. The first thing I'd like to mention, in fact, is that Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has an incredible learning curve. From the ones I've played, it's the most difficult Mario game to learn to play proficiently, ever. I still remember December 1996, when I first played Super Mario 64 and I was convinced that I could never learn to use the Nintendo 64 controller. Thanks to all the in-game tutorials, I learned to use it like a pro in no time. Having that many buttons was actually for the controller's, and the game's, benefit. Well, there are many functions in the surprisingly dynamic Mario & Luigi, and you will simply have to learn to manage with the four action buttons of the Game Boy Advance, both in the field and battle. There are quite a bit of action-oriented puzzles in the game to go with the platformer-meets-RPG type of gameplay already introduced by the game's spiritual predecessors, and these, at the very least, force you to learn each new ability as it comes along.

The humour in this game is phenomenal. Before taking my chances with the game, I was convinced that I'd just skip the conversations, because I just finished Super Mario RPG and I couldn't have taken any more of that somewhat entertaining but ultimately inane, childish humour. Mario & Luigi pays back with sharp, clever dialogue and graphical elements that mock the whole Mario series' clichés from the very beginning, from that 1981 gorilla hassle to the present day. The main in-joke of the game is Luigi's "coming of age". For decades, gamers have kicked and mauled poor Luigi, including me, and chronologically the first reason for that is that no one ever wanted to be the second player. The second reason is that for the last decade before Mario & Luigi's release, Mario didn't even need Luigi. The "green one", as he's called by many NPC's in the game, has starred in a couple of games on his own, both of which sucked. I'm surprised that Nintendo actually admits that they sucked - even if they had virtually nothing to do with that appalling educational title Mario Is Missing! - and I'm very proud of Nintendo because of that, they haven't been known to admit their mistakes, just cover them up with new ones. Anyway, in this game, Luigi starts off actually with better stats than Mario, and while his puffier brother takes all the credit and acclaim from NPC's, it's Luigi who consistently is a naturally better character to use. Even if he doesn't quite understand that himself, having lived in his bro's shadow for so long.

My favourite singled-out character from the game has to be Fawful, main antagonist Cackletta's henchman, who's clearly been influenced by the bad English grammar in dozens of infamous 8- and 16-bit games. I sincerely never thought to laugh out loud at a Nintendo game... due to its humour at least, but whenever this guy yells out "I'M WITH FURY!", I can't help but burst out in uncontrollable laughter. Even if the gameplay is frustratingly difficult at times, the humour and atmosphere of the game savour even the worst moments. The new characters in general are very entertaining additions to the family.

The Beanbean Kingdom's full of some very
strangely named places...
The one key theme of the gameplay is teamwork. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is kind of like what I'd call a single player co-op game. It would be an interesting co-op game in its own way, I reckon, yet not very good, since timing is very important and even those situations in which timing is irrelevant, it's much better to have just one set of brains involved. Mario and Luigi start off by just being able to jump, and each time you jump to a higher level, you need to tap both A and B to get both brothers moving. The A button always controls the brother in the front, while the B button dictates the movement and functions of the brother in the back. This basic element already will prove difficult for a lot of people to sink in, but I can assure you it gets much, much harder. You see, quite early on you will learn Bro Action, a set of special moves for field and battle. On the field, Bro Actions enable you to explore places you didn't have access to before, and they're executed by switching between Mario and Luigi and choosing the correct icons for both brothers with the L and R buttons. Both have a different Bro Action jump; while Luigi's in the front, Mario can do a Spin Jump, which enables the brothers to fly for a short time, and while Mario's in the front, Luigi can do a High Jump. When you've finally learned all there is to the basic Bro Actions, the game hits you with the Hammers.

The Hammers are weapons you can't equip off or sell. You absolutely need the Hammers in the field, as well as in battle. They have their own Bro Action functions, tutored to you a while after you initially get the weapons, and you also need them to break blocks and rocks on your path. In an indirect Legend of Zelda style, the Hammer is later upgraded to Super Hammer, which breaks different coloured rocks. I have to admit I personally did fine without the Hammers, a lot better in fact, but on the other hand, I didn't expect to just jump on every enemy in a game that would surely feature some sort of spiked enemies. The Hammers are extremely hard to put to efficient use in battle. Don't laugh, they really are at least for someone who has had better reflexes during his past life. Weapons are indeed mandatory, you can't switch them or anything like that, but you can buy armor (called fashions), and accessories (called badges) as in any role-playing game.

Timing's a very important part of the game and it becomes evident in many sorts of situations: in the minigame type of challenges that await you on many different quests, puzzles, and especially battle situations. In this game, it's possible to dodge every single attack from an enemy. Possible, yet unlikely. This is one RPG in which you have to stay on your toes the whole time. It's strictly turn-based, just like the previous Mario RPG's, but whenever enemies get their turn, each of them gives everything they've got. Even if it might first look like they're not actually doing much damage at all, you have to take into account that damage can very quickly cluster up in this game and knock out one of your bros. Defense and counterattacks, as well as special Bro Action battle commands (enabled by BP, Bro Points), and the Timed Hits already introduced in Super Mario RPG, are executed in quick time. If you're not good with QTE's, this game might prove harder for you on a personal level than it really is. Top that with the fact that you need to control two different characters, at the same time. Like I said, I'm halfway through the game, and I still haven't quite learned to control Mario and Luigi simultaneously. I have seen many Game Over screens; most of my troubles have been caused by bosses, who all have some particular strategy hard to figure out and attacks that are extraordinarily hard to dodge or counter.

This boss fight against Wiggler is a good
one to practice multiple targeting with.
You level up in this game quite fast, but enemies of your caliber are occasionally really hard to find. Also, the Beanbean Kingdom is a little too open right away, you can easily wander into places that you have no chance of surviving in. If you're quick in learning enemies' strategies, and how to dodge their attacks, I guess you could just go anywhere you possibly can in the game in the very beginning, but personally I don't recommend it. When you level up, you can manually grant Mario and Luigi an additional perk to some stat of your choosing, however constantly perking up a single stat gives you less bonus points for your disposal.

I can't emphasize Mario & Luigi's exceptional learning curve enough. It's not just that you have a lot to learn and sink in, you have to be consistently proficient in timing and the parallel control of two characters throughout the whole game to be able to beat it. I really, really didn't see this coming: a truly challenging RPG, after all general difficulty level isn't exactly the genre's thing, and on top of all it's a freakin' Mario game.

Like all Super Mario Advance titles, Mario & Luigi comes bundled with Mario Bros. Classic, which brings in the multiplayer feature (luckily) not available in the main game.

Despite being a little too stuffed with constant function toggling with not just one, but two characters, and the importance of reflexes and timing which makes it frustratingly difficult at times, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a fun, unique role-playing experience that is worth a try for anyone into the genre even the slightest bit. And, finally Nintendo produced a humorous family oriented game that even makes adults laugh out loud. Even moreso than those who weren't there to watch how Luigi gradually became "Mario's maid".

Graphics : 9.1
Sound : 8.8
Playability : 8.7
Challenge : 9.3
Overall : 8.8


a.k.a. Mario & Luigi RPG (JAP)

GameRankings: 90.35%

One of the few Japanese games, especially those produced by Nintendo, that was released in the U.S. first - four days before the international release.

In late 2003, Nintendo organized a competition that challenged players to come up with the best "knock-knock" joke with the main prize being a Game Boy Advance SP, bundled with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Comedienne Kathy Griffin was the judge.

Area 64 was named after Area 51 and Nintendo 64. In the Japanese version, the area is known simply as Area 51.

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