First released: Game Boy Advance (2003) Now available on: N/A
Mario isn't a stranger to RPGs; Nintendo's flagship mascot made the daring leap from platformers to the stat-crunching genre with Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars on SNES in 1996. Since then he hasn't looked back, with Paper Mario making a regular appearance on consoles and the excellent Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga debuting on Game Boy Advance.
While Super Mario RPG most certainly takes its cues from Final Fantasy, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is closer to Mario's platforming heritage, with isometric, layered environments that would regularly split the duo apart to throw switches and explore different paths.
Combat is similarly action-focused. While it's turn-based like the majority of role-playing games, and had a timing-based element like other Mario RPGs to create more powerful attacks, players would continue to control Mario and Luigi throughout the battle to dodge enemy attacks, keeping combat consistently engaging. Elsewhere, stats and abilities could be augmented with a simple but experimental badge system.
While combat and exploration were enjoyable and refreshing for their action-based approach, perhaps the game's biggest attraction was its writing, which was consistently referential and always humorous.
Set within Mushroom Kingdom's neighboring Beanbean Kingdom, a silent Mario and Luigi were joined by a vocal and bizarre cast of characters, notably enemy side-kick Fawful ("I HAVE FURY!"), while series-staple Bowser sees a fine turn as the bad-guy turned uneasy ally who continues to mock the duo as they try as they take down the evil Cackletta together.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was successful enough to see two sequels on DS which evolved the exploration formula further. Thanks to the system's additional two face buttons and additional screen, Partners in Time added Baby Mario and Baby Luigi to the mix for more complex puzzles, while in Bowser's Inside Story, the brothers find themselves shrunk and inside Bowser's innards, and attempt to aid him as he fights Fawful once again.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga emerged at a time when Nintendo started to become increasingly self-referential to its previous works and more clever with its writing, producing one of the Game Boy Advance's most enjoyable releases. With the 3DS now offering Virtual Console releases for the GBA, fingers crossed we'll able to play this once more before too long.
Do you have many fond memories of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga? Add a comment to the space below!