Falling somewhere in between Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario in terms of gameplay, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga follows the quest of the digital world’s two most famous plumbers to rescue Peach’s stolen voice from the clutches of Cackletta, new evil baddie to the Mario universe. Or, at least, you think that’s what’s going on. You really don’t find out the true nature of your adventure until several hours into the game, but hey, a quest is a quest, right?
Superstar Saga departs from Paper Mario’s bizarre side-scrolling RPG design and returns to the traditional view featured in Mario RPG—y’know, the one where you can walk in ALL directions, not just right and left. Unlike both prior titles, the party you begin with is the party you end with, meaning that you get no other characters helping you to do battle. This is certainly superior to the generic partners of Paper Mario, which consists of “a good-guy Koopa Troopa” and “a good-guy Goomba,” among others, but it’s a shade below having actual original characters, such as Mario RPG did with Geno and Mallow.
But you do get one thing that neither of those games got to have, which is Luigi as a playable character. Instead of just Mario doing all the mushroom-eating and Koopa-beating, Luigi gets in on the action too. This provides for some tandem moves, both in battle and out of, such as using Luigi to help jump to a high ledge, or whacking Mario like a golf ball towards the nearest Shy Guy. Most of this game’s puzzles require you to use Mario and Luigi as a team, whether it be pounding Luigi into the ground with a hammer so he can tunnel under a fence and hit a button on the other side, or having Mario spin in the air like a helicopter so you can fly the short distance across a gap in the ground.
The game is littered with inside jokes that only the most hardcore of fanboys would get, none of which I’m about to spoil for you right now. Just trust me on this; there’s references to Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, Dr. Mario, Mario RPG, and many others.
Battles in Superstar Saga feature one thing I hate no matter how many times I see it—timed attacks. As in, if you press a button at a certain time, you can deal more damage to your enemy, or dodge an enemy’s attack. It sounds real good in theory, but games tend to make it mandatory that you time your attacks properly, so much that if you don’t hit the button at the exact right second for each one of your attacks, you haven’t a chance of winning the battle. It’d be a lot nicer if the bonus damage were more of a bonus than a requirement, but sadly, this game makes it so that if you don’t dodge an enemy’s attack, you’re done for.
Visuals in this game are in the vein of Yoshi’s Island, being more cartoony than the typical Mario title. They’re a bit above what you could expect from a Super Nintendo title, making them on par with the norm for GBA. The soundtrack of Superstar Saga features several remixed tunes from prior Mario games, and several new tunes that go along just as well. Same with the sound effects—they’re a perfect blend of old sounds and new.
In the grand scheme of all things Mario and all things role-playing, I’d put this above Paper Mario, but below Super Mario RPG. The visuals are a lot less goofy than the former, and the characters more interesting, but the characters aren’t as interesting as they are in the latter, and the latter features less emphasis on timed attacks. But heck, if you like either of those titles, you’re bound to like this one, too. It takes roughly 20-25 hours to beat, more if you’re up to doing all the side-quests and junk, and it’s more-or-less worth the $30 it costs new.