Mario&Luigi: The Superstar Saga (GBA)
In a nutshell: It is to GBA RPG's what Disgaea was to strategy games. That is to say, 'totally awesome and funny instead of painfully boring.'
Nintendo. Why don't I make fun of them more often? Maybe it's because of how easily I get turned off to buying every game that has an absolutely enraptured-looking fat cartoon guy on the cover, or the otherwise abundance of pastels and nonviolent violence that surrounds them. Or maybe it's because they're batshit insane and have an above-average success rate with their stupid experiments. Sure there was Virtual Boy, which not only attempted 3-D gaming but attempted to invent the non-portable portable gaming system. Then there was the N64, which according to the clerk at EB Games, is good for about a dollar of store credit. But the GameBoy... that's Nintendo's frickin' gold mine. The 8-bit handheld outlived three consoles and was usurped only by the Advance, which was not only a huge difference in hardware, but was back compatible with the original's carts. And even the inevitable diarrhetic tidal wave of ADVANCE+(classic title) and (classic title)+ADVANCE ports and liscensed crap (There's a "That's so Raven 2." TWO, DAMMIT), there's still been plenty of good games to offset that.
Which brings me to Mario&Luigi, about the only game where the Bros. share billing instead of shoving Luigi into the background to mingle with the "And the rest" from Gilligan's Island with a BROS. title. In fact, if you look at the promo art at right (Is it just me, or does the inking evoke some of the more recent SNK titles?) Luigi is just barely in front of Mario. This game is basically an RPG. You do indeed 'level.' Your life is measured out in digits rather than hearts or so on. And combat is... basically turn-based. It does have a lot of reflex-dependent elements, which unlike the other Mario RPG (hint: not Paper Mario) you WILL need to master to live unless you want to keep healing yourself every turn forever. You'll get a chance to hop over incoming attacks or deflect them with your hammers. And naturally, if you time a second button press while on the offense, you'll inflict extra hurtage.
The whole gimmick of the game, aside from OMFG RPG ELEMENTS is that you control both Bros. at once. One's linked to A, the other the B button. You can swap who's in the lead, which changes your options as to what special 'teamwork' moves you can use to get around in the overworld. In battle, the A-B dynamic is used to control all you dodges and attacks, which can be annoying starting out since there's no 'cancel' button like a lot of RPGs, and you're only making the living epitath in the background hop up and down.
Yes, both of the brothers speak in this game, in incredibly goofy high pitched Italian accents. They are pretty much limited to saying each others names, the overworld commands (Luigi rolls the 'R' in 'thunder' like a bowling ball) and one 'gibberish' sound effect each which tends to 'fill in the blank' when it's their turn to speak. It's an interesting turn on the 'mute hero' bit, vocal heroes who speak gibberish. Though it's better than the "C-4 Wingdings" speech that the "Princess" gets when Cackletta steals her voice at the beginning.
OMG QUOTE MARKS= SPOILERZ. BANNED 4 LYFE.
A turn based battle system that doesn't involve snoozing waiting for your turn, usual pleasant bouncy music (duh, it isn't a Mario spinoff/sequel unless they remix and recycle the 1-1 and Underworld themes) are all fine and good, but the pleasant surprise of this game is the sense of humor. It's in-jokey and self mocking on levels past what Wario Ware established. A running gag is that nobody knows who Luigi is. To the denizens of both the Mushroom and Beanbean Kingdoms, he's just Mr. Green. Mr. Green Mario Guy. What's his face. And for the most part, "Weegee" seems okay with that. He wouldn't even have been on the adventure with Mario in the first place if Bowser didn't misinterpret his waving bye to Mario as volunteering to join his army. Enemies you run into naturally look suspiciously familiar, as usual, but there are also tons of amusing variants on them like Tanoombas, Tanuki-Suit clad Goombas, and AIBO-like Mecha Chain Chomps. For me, this peaked at about the halfway point when you find a Super Metroid-like cloning and research facility that works on ? Blocks, barrels, and other Mushroom Kingdom ubiquities. The ? Lab features item blocks from throughout the series which you can bop for a brief description of each. Hell, there's even a segment where you spoof Donkey Kong by racing up ramps to save a nabbed Luigi.
What can I say. It's the little things I like, for example being able to actually move your idiot pixel puppet out of the way of a slow moving lunk of an enemy, instead of sitting there and taking it as per Final Fantasy rules. Every enemy gives you some indicator, however subtle of which Bro they're going to hit, and how you should react. This alone required a lot of extra animations that they could have skimped on. But they didn't. Because they're Nintendo. They're cool that way.
I should address the low points of course, typical to any role-playing game. There's a mine cart level, which never fails to amuse whatever surviving prospectors are still alive today. The 'escort the princess' sub-stage was pretty painful since you had to both clear a path for her as she wanders uselessly around in a hoop skirt in the desert ALL BUT BEGGING TO BE CAPTURED. Cripes, the twelve-year-old from Princess Maker 2 could fend for herself. Granted, it messed her up a little, but it isn't like Peach couldn't use some edge, right?
In conclusion, Mario&Luigi is recommended to RPG fans who still have twitch skills, Mario enthusiasts who probably look like Mario, and anyone who doesn't hate video games. Also recommended if you like watching cartoonish versions of ethnic siblings flatten each other with hammers and going to Olive Garden.