It is great to see an original Mario game on GBA. SuperStar Saga is a sequel to Mario RPG (SNES) and Paper Mario (N64). The player now controls Mario and Luigi simultaneously with each button assigned to a different action. This humorous Action RPG will please any type of gamer, even if you hate RPGs.
SuperStar Saga mixes the strategy of Mario RPG and the action of Paper Mario. Controlling two characters at the same time allows the designers to create well thought out levels and battle mechanics. The story is simple but it fits the game perfectly. A new evil villain has stolen Princess Peach’s voice and it is up to the Mario Bros to set things right. Naturally, the story takes twists and turns and our heroes are sent on a wild, but very fun adventure.
Early in the game, the Mario Bros only have the ability to jump. Within time, a hammer and special Hand Powers will be gained. All these abilities can be used at any time on the overhead traveling screen. What makes SuperStar Saga unique is that each character is assigned buttons to perform the desired action. For example, if Mario is in the front, pressing the “A” button will cause him to jump, while the “B” button makes Luigi jump. If a small gap is in the heroes’ way, then they can jump over it by pressing “A” then “B” quickly. It takes a few jumps to remember that you are controlling two characters instead of one. After the Hammer and Hand Powers have been found, the player can switch these abilities by tapping the shoulder buttons. Along with the “A” button, the character in the front used the “R” button to cycle through his abilities. Needless to say, the “L” button does the same but to the character in the rear. Pressing Start switches the positions of the characters.
The position and ability chosen will affect what task the Bros will perform. The jump ability is self-explanatory but the Hammer and Hand Powers have more than one use. If the character in the front uses his hammer, he can crush rocks and hit switches. However, if the character in the rear uses the hammer, a different action will occur, affecting the player in the front. If Mario (rear character) hits Luigi (front character) with the hammer, Luigi can walk underground. This allows Luigi to bypass gates and he can dig up buried goodies. If Luigi (rear character) hits Mario (front character) with the mallet, Mario will shrink as if hit by an enemy in the first Mario Bros game on NES. Being small allows Mario to enter tiny spaces and he can detect if anything is hidden underground. Each weapon has a different use according to the character and position they are in. Clever puzzles and different strategies are a result of the simple but deep interface.
Using those weapons and abilities also carry over into battle. Enemies are seen on the overhead map so battles could be avoided if desired. To keep the game full of action, entering battle can begin with a bonus or penalty. For example, suppose a goomba is about to attack the Brothers. If either one jumps on the critter while in the overhead map, then they start the battle with an advantage because the jump is a preemptive attack. Or, if the player in the front attacks the goomba with the hammer, then the enemies will start the battle paralyzed. This way of entering battle has its downside too. If an enemy manages to attack the character in the rear, then that character will start the battle paralyzed. Also, players shouldn’t jump on spiny-topped creatures because that will wind up hurting the attacker.
Battles are menu driven but combine a ton of real time action. When an attack is made, it can deliver greater damage if a button is hit at the right time. Besides from attacking with a bonus, dodging or counterattacking is possible when an enemy is attacking the Brothers. For example, if that goomba is rushing in for a head butt attack, it can be avoided if the player jumps at the right time. Not only can he dodge this attack, but he can counterattack as well. The jump can dodge the attack but finish by landing on top of the goomba. The enemy will then receive damage from his own attack as you receive none. Every attack, either by friend or foe, can be increased, dodged, or counterattacked. As a result, battles are fast paced fun as the player works on his hand/eye and response skills. Battles never get dull or boring.
Besides from the deep puzzle system from controlling two players simultaneously, and the menu based combat system that also incorporates real time action, the story and conversations are very humorous. Luigi is constantly referred to as “Green Guy,” “Green thing,” or “Greenie.” Plus, one particular enemy calls the Brothers “Fink-Rats.” Conversations are actually full of jokes and hilarious comments. SuperStar Saga is undoubtedly the funniest game on GBA. The scriptwriters and translators did a wonderful job of bringing this game to life through humor.
The graphics are very detailed even though they have that a cartoony look. Sprites and backgrounds are very well detailed and animated. Each action that a character performs is very smooth. Every enemy and character is original with no palette swapping. Mario and Luigi each have many different sets of animations, all of which are full of emotion. Even if you play this game on the GameBoy Player, the screen remains detailed and full through the entire quest. GameBoy Player players can even use the GC controller rumble feature to feel the bumps of battle and it is an alert that a secret is near. The music is very influential. It sounds somewhat similar to Golden Sun, but that is a good thing. Each tune is epic, well balanced, and fits the mood of the game. There is even a ton of voice work in the game. Mario and Luigi are always saying things, like “Let’s go!” or “Oh Yeah.” Each voice is very clear and adds to the cute humor.
Just like all the other Mario Advance games, this game has the same 2-4 player old school Mario Bros Vs game. This game can be played with multiple people with only one game pak, but it can link up to any other Mario Advance game to eliminate load times. Even though we’ve seen it before, this battle mode is still a welcomed addition because some type of multiplayer is better than none at all.
A romp though this game will probably take most gamers between 20-25 hours to complete. If players grow tired of following the story of the game, they can enjoy many mini games. Players will find themselves playing a surfing game until they break the fastest time and a barrel puzzle game until it is mastered. There is even a game where the player has to deflect octorock (a common enemy in the Zelda series) rocks. As in Mario RPG, other famous Nintendo characters make many cameos. Posters of Kirby and Wario can be found in the Yoshi Theater. Geno from Mario RPG teaches players how to play a mini game, and Professor E. Gadd from Luigi’s Mansion (GC) all appear at some point. Throughout the entire game, players are constantly on the look out for beans. These different kinds of beans can be used to make special drinks that add to your permanent stats. Professor E. Gadd, maker of the Poltergeist 3000, will also reward players by giving Mario and Luigi his newest inventions that will help them along their quest. Needless to say, there are a lot of extras in this game that will increase the playability.
SuperStar Saga can be best summed up by calling it a RPG for non-RPG gamers. Each battle is action packed and offers a lot more than traditional menu based games. RPG fans will love it and so will non-RPG players. Nintendo has successfully reached out to everyone on this game. The combat system, controlling two characters, well animated sprites, and the humorous theme will make any type of gamer appreciate this title. SuperStar Saga is a welcomed edition to the Mario universe and it stands out because it is an original game in a sea of remakes.
(*Note: if you register two Nintendo games and your systems on Nintendo’s website, you will receive a free bonus Zelda disc featuring four classic Zelda games. Mario & Luigi SuperStar Saga is one of the eligible games along with 1080 Avalanche, Mario Kart Double Dash, and Mario Party 5.)