Ever since the release of 1996's Super Mario RPG satisfied gamers have been clamoring for "another Mario RPG". 2001's Paper Mario, a graphically unique semi-sequel, was a well-done game in its own way, but it failed to live up to the hype and potential of the original game in the series. Thankfully Nintendo (teaming with Alphadream) has brought us the third RPG adventure for Mario, this time for the Game Boy Advance in 2003's Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, which brings our hero back to his RPG roots. This time he's (finally) paired up with this brother, Luigi, in their first new adventure together since 1991's Super Mario World. The trouble begins when a dignitary from the Beanbean Kingdom visits Princess Peach. The dignitary suddenly reveals herself as the evil witch Cackletta and her sidekick Fawful, and using a vaccuum device they steal the princess's voice and replace it with high-yield explosives, making the Peach's words into very literal dynamite. After Cackletta escapes, Bowser shows up to kidnap the princess yet again, but thinks better of it when he learns that one word from her would blow up his entire castle. Instead he enlists the help of Mario and (a reluctant) Luigi to join with him to save the day, but there's more going on here than meets the eye...

What makes this game so unique that you control both Mario and Luigi simultaneously. One brother follows behind the other and you can change who leads whenever you like. As a rule the A button controls Mario and the B button controls Luigi. Depending on what items and skills they learn, the brothers can jump, swing hammers, or use magics. For more advanced moves they can actually make use of one another; Luigi can flatten Mario with a hammer in order to reach small spaces, or Mario and jump on Luigi's shoulders for a super jump. There are multiple combinations to choose from and the L & R buttons cycle through which item/move is triggered with the A/B button. From time to time the brothers will be seperated as the plot demands, and while a brother is missing in action, his moves are naturally unavailable.

The game plays much like Super Mario RPG: Mario and Luigi travel across the land in an isometric perspective, occassionally battling the enemies they encounter during their travels. Battle scenes are standard issue RPG battles, with our heros on the left side of the screen and the opposition at the right. By using the now-famed timed hits and timed defenses, Mario and Luigi can inflict extra damage on the baddies. In addition to standard weapons the brothers can also team up for attacks in which one brother hurls the other at the enemy. These moves are the game's special attacks and each instance of such a move consumes Bros. Points. Other actions during battle include using an item and running away from danger. And speaking of danger, keep your eyes open for a slew of seldom seen Koopa Troop baddies including Rex from Super Mario World, the Koopalings from Super Mario Brothers 3, the viruses from Dr. Mario, and many others. Several classic sound effects also make a triumphant return.

This game looks, sounds, and feels like Nintendo's loveletter to Mario. There's a number of classic tunes from past Mario games that have been remixed (such as the castle theme from Super Mario 64), mentions of past games (Elvin Gadd appears and mentions Luigi's adventure in Luigi's Mansion), and there's plenty of wink-wink-nudge-nudge humor to be found in the Beanbean Kingdom. The storyline also teases you into believing that it's over when, in fact, by ending one storyline you've opened up another. There's plenty to do on your quest and a number of places to seek out hints if you're stuck (and you're willing to pay for help). Items and armor provide some ease if you're inexperienced, while pros can easily skip powerups and boosts for an added challenge. A built-in battery saves your progress as well. Great games that harken back to the classic 16-bit era don't come along very often, but Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga certainly belongs in any gamer's library, particularly if you feel that video games just haven't been the same since 1996. Don't delay; Princess Peach is counting on you!


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