As an avid fan of Super Mario RPG, I was elated to hear a sequel of sorts was in the works by Nintendo. Having missed Paper Mario for the N64 (I'm so sad now...) I finally got a chance to see what Nintendo can do with the Mario Bros. in an RPG setting. How does it turn out? Rather well, but your thumbs might hate you for it.
An impressive array of graphical effects, though it's obvious Nintendo knows their own hardware best. Many sprite effects are used throughout, and while the brothers seemed to have lost weight (Mario especially) it's great to see them together at last.
The battle music reminds me of SMRPG, though I don't know why...anyway, the music is quite pleasant, and Mario and Luigi both have a lot to say. It's mostly nonsensical mumbling, but Mario's voice from SM64 makes a return, and I'm guessing Luigi is the same voice actor, but making his voice higher. To that end, Luigi sounds really, really weird. The rest of the sound effects are what you might expect from a Mario game, from the sound of a koopa shell being stomped to the ''boing!'' of the Bros.' leaps.
Things sure have changed since Super Mario RPG, yet there are definite similarities. The beginning of the game has an emissary from the Bean Kingdom (Get it? Mushroom, bean?) gassing Princess Peach with...damned if I know what, but it gives her a case of explosive Tourette's. I know what you're thinking, and yes, this is a Nintendo game. Mario (and Luigi) rush to the rescue to fight off Bowser, who is just as mystified as to the cause of Peach's dilemma. There's a little more to it than that, but you can find out for yourself.
The most prominent and incredible aspect of this game is the humor. Nintendo has a lot of quips in this game, some even poking fun at themselves and the fact that Luigi hasn't had nearly as much face time as his brother. Even the villains are fun to laugh at, as they scream lines like ''I HAVE FURY!'' and ''MUSTARD OF DOOM!'' It's just plain silly, and it fits like a glove.
As for the gameplay itself, it really, REALLY emphasizes the 'Mario and Luigi' shtick. The game plays out in a top-down perspective ala A Link to the Past, as opposed to Mario RPG's 3/4 perspective. You control both brothers simultaneously. When one jumps, the other won't, even if it leaves him trapped on a lower level of the map (and you can't proceed without the other brother). The A button makes the brother in front jump (you can switch who leads by pressing Start) and B makes the bro in back take a leap. This may seem rather pointless at first, but it's the control you have over both brothers that makes this game interesting.
Various aspects of the game demand that control, from leaping over a rope moved about by a pair of border guards (don't ask) from moving across pits by way of little yellow blocks (those ones with the eyes...creepy). The dual control system operates even in battle. Fighting takes place similar to SMRPG. Making a return from SMRPG, if you press the A or B button (depending on the brother) at the right moment when you attack, you'll do extra damage. The brothers only jump at first, so mastering the timing takes little more than a few tries. One aspect I really like is the fact that you can dodge attacks at your whim. When an enemy attacks, they'll target one brother. Using A for Mario and B for Luigi, you can make either one jump in place to dodge an enemy's attack. While at first glance this might seem to make things too easy, rest assured, you'll be hit at least once figuring out the timing of each enemy's attack (and some have two or more attacks). Mastering the timing is crucial, since the enemies can make a dent in your tiny amount of HP quickly if you don't learn to dodge.
Bringing even more complexities are the Bros. special attacks. Nintendo included something quite interesting: the ability to choose how complex you want it. Basically, each special attack has a level from 1 to 3. Level 1 special attacks go in slow motion and have button cues for you to press in order to increase the damage to enemies. Level 2 removes the slow motion, and level 3 removes the button queues, but at level 3, the MP requirement is lowered, so you're rewarded for learning the timing.
As for outside of battle, you can actually jump on the enemy's head, which will send you into battle and damage every enemy on the screen by a small amount (giving you quite an edge). Beware, though, because if the enemy happens to touch the brother in back while you're in the air (or just by coincidence) then that brother will be out of commission for one turn, unable to attack or dodge. It's these kinds of details that make me really eager to try my luck against the enemy.
Finally, you're able to perform special moves outside of battle. Once you learn the moves, you're able to press L to switch jumping modes. Whoever's in front determines the special move you'll perform. Luigi's able to make a high jump, so if Mario's in front, Luigi will leap onto his head, then you're able to jump onto high ledges in a single bound. When Luigi's in front, Mario will jump on his head and do a tornado spin, letting the Bros. float a short distance to cover gaps and pits. There's quite a lot more you can do than that, but it's best to discover it for yourself.
The amount of detail put into the game screams Nintendo all over. From the wacky poses you're able to put on your passports to the seemingly Looney Tunes' inspired humor, Superstar Saga is a worthy sequel to Mario RPG in almost every respect. The one aspect it doesn't measure up in, though, is...
For all its vaunted RPG-ness, this game is shorter than SMRPG. It's not terribly hard to find everything, either, but even in its shortness, it's worth a second play-through just for the humor.