What could Nintendo do to bring back RPG gamers to their fold? Start a new spin-off series, naturally.
Many Nintendo fans believed that the company tapped into something amazing with the releases of Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo and Paper Mario on the Nintendo 64. Losing Squaresoft as a valuable third-party in-between the SNES and the N64 was a brutal blow to Nintendo’s RPG lineup. Paper Mario was a worthy successor, but what could Nintendo do to bring back RPG gamers to their fold? Start a new spin-off series, naturally.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was released around the world in November 2003. While it takes many of the trappings and mechanics from both Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, it a wholly original spin-off series in its own right. Starring the titular Mario brothers, your goal is to save the Beanbean Kingdom from a new enemy, Cackletta, who steals Princess Peach’s voice at the beginning of the game. Seems like pretty standard stuff for Mario games at this point.
The Beanbean Kingdom is a beautiful locale enhanced by the colorful graphics the GameBoy Advance was capable of putting out. It is divided into eight different areas, similar to some of the older Mario games, suited with their own individual biomes. You have your standard grassy area, desert area, forest area, mountain area, and so on and so forth. The interesting tidbit about its location is that it is said to border the Mushroom Kingdom, giving you a bit of a bigger picture of the Mario world lore (if that is something that interests you). I do enjoy it when these types of fictional geographical locations are given context, but perhaps that’s just my inner cartographer talking.
The meat and potatoes of this game would have to be its unique combat. Taking cues from both of the previous RPG games in the Mario franchise, the battle mechanics in this game are a bit more complex because you are controlling both brothers simultaneously. Whether you are exploring the world or battling Goombas, the consistent input is that you control Mario with the A button and Luigi with the B button. You will use your standard hammer weapons and joint attacks, but controlling both brothers at the same time felt immensely rewarding to me. It is a bit complex to wrap your head around, but leads to some of the most engaging battles I have had in any JRPG.
Bringing this type of control into the overworld map was also a stroke of genius. Many of the puzzles you have to solve throughout the game are predicated on your ability to understand how each of the brothers’ skills work in tandem with the other. The game does a fairly good job telegraphing what kinds of skills you need and where you are supposed to use them, but even with these tips, you can’t help but feel accomplished when you have solved a particularly tricky section.
Being a game in the Mario franchise, there really isn’t a whole lot of theological or practical takeaway that I can provide. The script is funny, filled to the brim with jokes and puns, and the story itself is predictable yet charming. I do think that it was a smart move to set this adventure in an entirely different kingdom because it really enhances the differences between the cultures, as weird as that may sound. The Beanbean Kingdom is its own nation, with its own currency and culture, and playing this alongside the other Mario RPGs could help to bring some of those differences to light. As a kid, this could be very informative educationally and culturally.
I remember when I first got this game upon release. I had been calling the local game store nonstop that week because I didn’t quite understand release dates yet and wanted to make sure I would be able to obtain my own copy. Having been a massive fan of both Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario, I knew that I was in for a treat. The interesting part of this story, though, is that I was able to share a special memory with my dad when we were going to get it.
The only video game he ever really enjoyed was Galaga in the arcade, and he never showed much interest in games as a hobby; yet, when we got the game, he proceeded to ask me quite a few questions about it. This is one of those few times he took an interest in my hobby, and even if it was just for my sake or just for making conversation, this back-and-forth between us in the car ride home sticks out in my mind as significant. To this day, I still think about it and how supportive he was of me during the tumultuous middle school years, and for that reason, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga will always be a game that makes me think of my dad.