Mario and Luigi are the greatest duo in all of gaming. Yet before the Year of Luigi craze, the brothers' adventures were separate from one another with very little overlap, from the ghostbusting shenanigans of Luigi's Mansion to the goopy clean-up effort of Super Mario Sunshine. It's also notable during this time that Brother No. 2 was still very much in the shadow of his big brother. To stem this, Nintendo and developer Alphadream decided to take a page from the RPG playbook and partner the Bros. up once again for Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.
The plot opens up in the Mushroom Kingdom. The evil witch Cackletta, posing as an ambassador from the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom, steals Princess Peach's voice and replaces it with explosive, incomprehensible vocabulary. After a failed kidnapping attempt (as if the Princess' day couldn't get worse), Bowser urges Mario to help him retrieve her voice, and much to his chagrin, Luigi is dragged along with them. However, the trio is soon separated after an attack by Cackletta's speech-impeded assistant Fawful. Traveling together in the strange Beanbean Kingdom, it now falls to Mario and Luigi to track down Cackletta and Fawful and save the princess' voice!
Mario RPG titles aren't known for dramatic and epic plots. Mario & Luigi is no exception; in fact, if you wanna be really technical, it's probably one of the most lighthearted Mario RPGs. It also takes a note from Intelligent System's Paper Mario and delivers the comedy in droves, mainly from the zany cast of characters peppered throughout the Beanbean Kingdom to the slapstick pantomime between the Bros.
Gameplay is focused on the bros. as you move throughout the field and take on foes in battle. In the field, you'll control both Mario and Luigi across a top-down landscape not unlike something you'd find in a Zelda title; the Beanbean Kingdom is even littered with hidden caves and labyrinthine levels, making the comparison a little more affectionate. Past that, you'll talk to NPCs, collect items from the recurring '?' Blocks and visit shops for additional items and even overalls, shoes and badges for varying stat boosts.
Battles follow normal RPG conventions: each bro takes a turn separately, and each bro has an HP meter. If one of them falls in battle, then the other one has to pick up the extra weight, literally. Once both bros' HP reaches 0, it's Game Over. Battling requires timing, as the tried-and-true Action Command returns; press the button at the right time, and you can dish out extra damage to enemies.
In both battle and on the field, Mario and Luigi can use Bros. Moves to progress farther. On the field, these range from Luigi jumping onto Mario and using him as a springboard for a higher jump, to Mario pounding Luigi into the earth with his hammer to move underneath obstacles and find buried items. In battle, these flashy, multi-Action Command moves are called Bros. Attacks, and require BP, or Bros. Points, to use, and require the two bros to work together and defeat their foes with a large amount of power. The Bros. Moves really help make the gameplay stand out, because otherwise this would make for a rather lackluster and watered-down Mario RPG experience.
M&L is one of the best looking GBA games. The art style and setting stays true to the series' roots, and the sprite animation is top notch. One gripe, however, is that the graphics do tend to play with top-down perspective, and occassionally this presents itself as an extra difficulty in progressing.
The soundtrack is helmed by Yoko Shimomura, famed composer for Super Mario RPG and the Kingdom Hearts series, and she does a really good job for capturing the essence of the game with catchy, unforgettable tunes. You know you're listening to a great soundtrack when you spend the first couple minutes of the game listening to the upbeat battle music.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is an incredibly fun RPG that takes the best of a couple different games like The Legend of Zelda and RPG cousin Paper Mario and blends it with the rich heritage of the Mario series to come up with a comedic title that feels truly original. The game was recently rereleased on the Wii U, and for a few dollars, you'd have to be as crazy as Fawful not to give it a go.