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How's Your Aim?
By: Michael Beckett
In the eyes of marketing executives, the modern gamer must seem a positively bizarre creature, being as there seems to be no way to predict our buying habits. We seem to be just as likely to play Diablo as we are to play Disgaea. Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, with it's bright colors and simple design, seems made for a younger group of gamers, and yet the people who grew up with Mario seem unwilling to leave him for other, more "adult" titles. It may simply be that gamers are willing to shell out for games that are well designed and fun to play, which Mario and Luigi most certainly is.
Combat is based on the familiar turn-based frame - characters and monsters take turns at beating the crap out of each other, with turn order being determined by a Speed stat. The system is by no means revolutionary, but it does introduce the interesting aspect of Platformer-style tests of timing to combat, demanding timed button-presses not only to maximize the amount of damage a character deals, but also to evade enemy attacks. This system also enters into special moves which require a sequence of timed button presses to not only determine damage, but what sort of attack is made. It should be noted that, with the correct sense of timing, a player could quite literally never get hit. Every single enemy attack is avoidable.
Because of this, the difficulty of Mario and Luigi can vary quite a bit depending on the skill and sense of timing possessed by the player, particularly during the closing chapters of the game. The difficulty curve is a little odd, too, staying nearly flat for the first two-thirds of the game before jumping unexpectedly near the end. Still, with abundant healing items and money, not even the clumsiest of gamers stands much of a chance of dying from sheer lack of timing. Mario and Luigi; Superstar Saga takes around 15 hours to complete.
Controlling both Mario and Luigi, whether in combat or on the field, requires a great deal of concentration. Mario and Luigi isn't the sort of game you can split your attention while playing - if you aren't attentive, you're in pain. However, control itself is well done and fairly intuitive, and serves its purpose well.
The lighthearted story of Mario and Luigi is both refreshingly original and surprisingly funny for a Japanese import. Normally Japanese-style humor does not translate well into English, so a great deal of credit should be given Nintendo's translators. In plotting the story is a little strange - the heroes are variously called upon to defeat evil mages, design dresses, recover lost pieces of a legendary artifact, surf the high seas, and perform a multitude of absurd minigames in order to proceed. Of course, the sheer absurdity of it all is part of Mario and Luigi's appeal. The only real problem to be found in the story has to do with its length - I could happily have had another ten hours of Mario and Luigi.
Given the overall style of the game, absurdity should come as no surprise. The visual style is very colorful, possessing an almost crayoned appearance which helps keep the atmosphere appropriately light. Character design is good, as is the overall quality of the visuals. Unlike some recent visual-heavy Game Boy Advance games, Mario and Luigi manages to proceed apace without any major visual problems.
The soundtrack provides a perfect counterpoint to the graphic style of the game - catchy and upbeat. Compositionally, the music is of extremely high quality and shows a complexity not often present in Nintendo soundtracks. The inclusion of limited voice acting for most of the main characters adds a lot to the game, giving personality to the characters beyond what just bare text can offer.
Mario and Luigi; Superstar Saga is a somewhat unusual bird for this day and age - a game which takes an old character and shows him in an entirely new light. While still remaining true to the heart of the characters, Mario and Luigi has a unique simple complexity that allows it to be entertaining to players of all ages. I would recommend Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga to any gamer willing to listen to their inner child.
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