Some people may fondly remember Mario RPG
, produced by Square, for the SNES back in the day. It was a lighthearted, easy to play RPG with the characters from the Mario universe and some new stuff Square brought to the table.
At face value, Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga is sort of like a follow up, although Square didn't have anything to do with it and it's not a direct sequel. It's also really funny. It's not really completely an RPG either. Or maybe it is and I just need to reevaluate my perception of what a console RPG is. Lets start over...
Mario and Luigi Super Star Saga is the first original Mario game to be made for the GBA. A number of previously released Mario games have been re-released on the GBA, but none of them have been original creations. The plot starts off simply enough, something bad has happened to the Princess and Mario must help her. We've all seen that before and probably come to expect it from a Mario game, but in the first of many many things M+LSSS does to give us a new direction from the expected Mario game, they turn that tired plot on its head. Instead of the Princess being captured or threatened, her voice has been stolen by a new villain, and replaced with 'an explosive vocabulary.' In quite possibly one of the most surreal moments since someone made an entire game where you fed a small white blob jellybeans to dig holes and make rocket ships, when the Princess speaks, her words (which are displayed in little comic book style word balloons) are replaced with little bombs which fall out of the word balloons and into the plane of the game, which then explode. This upsets Bowser, who can't really be kidnapping the Princess if her speech will blow up his castle, so he takes Mario with him to save her voice so he can later kidnap her and all will be right in the world. Luigi is a damn coward who somehow gets tricked into tagging along, and the game truly begins. Its full of colorful art and characters and some funny dialog and situations that keep the plot entertaining.
In some ways, it plays like a traditional RPG. Mario and Luigi can both equip ‘armor’ (pants) and some accessories (badges, and other things later in the game) which change their stats, and they gain experience points and coins with which to buy items. Fighting is menu driven, with added elements, as you progress through the game you gain new abilities, including a hammer and fire. When you attack a monster, you can do additional damage by hitting the appropriate button for your character at the right time. You can also dodge or counterattack enemy attacks in a similar manner. Learning the timing for dodging each monsters attacks and which method of attacking is best suited for each monster is the key to winning battles. Attempting to play the game as a traditional RPG will result in an average Goomba defeating you. Instead of having ‘spells’ or magic, Mario and Luigi can join together for ‘bros attacks’ which also require timingbutton presses properly for maximum monster hurting. While on the overworld map the game plays differently as well. There is a lot of jumping. Yeah. Jumping in an RPG. You also have to swing your hammer to crush boulders, use special jump moves to go over longer gaps, have Mario and Luigi hit each other on the head with hammers to fit through tiny gaps, ignite things with Mario’s fire, and a bunch of other stuff. All of the monsters you will fight are viewable on the main map. In fact, you can attack them, which will help you when you go into fighting mode to fight them. If you time your hammer or jump attack right the monsters will take damage or be stunned. If you time it poorly, Mario and Luigi might be stunned instead. It's really a complicated system, but it's fun and once you get the hang of the button lay out, there is a lot to do.
In all, it’s a great game, probably one of the best available for the GBA. It's full of traditional expected elements from the Mario universe, as well as new material which only adds to the entertainment the game provides. It has many many hours of playtime. It has enough platforming elements to keep people who dislike RPGs entertained and enough RPG elements to keep people who love that genre coming back for more. If you own a GBA there is no reason for you not to pick this game up. You’ll love it. Go buy it. Go.