Top 100 Games of All-Time: #59

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

Release Date: November 17, 2003

Platform Played On: GBA

2018 Placement: #45 (-14)

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What It Is:

After the wild success of Super Mario RPG on the SNES, Nintendo followed it up by going down two split paths, neither of which were anything like SMRPG. The first was the Paper Mario path, which debuted on the N64. The second was the Mario & Luigi path, done by the now defunct AlphaDream studio, for the Game Boy Advance. In the Mario & Luigi series, instead of a full RPG party you just play as the titular brothers. And while the combat is turn-based it requires your full attention as you’ve got to get timing down on both the attacks you use as well as defending from the enemies. The result is a unique and very fun battle system that keeps you engaged with the battles as you level up and progress through the story.

Superstar Saga is the first of the Mario & Luigi RPG series and it is still, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. It has Nintendo-brand humor and capitalizes on now-established tropes like Luigi is a fraidy-cat to deliver some great laughs. Bowser gets amnesia, there’s a new villain and a new land called Beanbean Kingdom, and it’s all one big fun romp that is executed very well in both the writing and the gameplay department.

Why It’s Important To Me:

So I kinda stole this game. I borrowed the Superstar Saga cartridge for my GBA to play it from a friend, towards the end of a semester of college. My intention was to give it back after the summer break once I’d beaten the game. And I just sort of…never did. It wasn’t an intentional stealing, I just forgot to give it back because time passed and my friend never asked for it back and suddenly it’s 20 years later and I still have that GBA cartridge somewhere because I still really love replaying this game.

Oops.

But it’s so much fun, and after not really liking the Paper Mario aesthetic I was jazzed to get another Mario RPG that felt more like my jam. The music is fantastic (as usual for games I love) and the combination of abilities in battles AND abilities that help you navigate the overworld really scratched the itch of what I was looking for in a Mario RPG. And while the remake has very nice 3D models, the original has some gorgeous sprite work that I still enjoy.

My Strongest Memory:

Rookie & Popple. Popple’s theme still rocks the house and is probably up there in my top 10 favorite RPG battle themes of all time (no joke). Popple’s theme also led me to one of my favorite video game remixers because I was searching for remixes of the theme (and there were very few) but DJ The S’s remix is top-tier (as are many of his others). Rookie is, of course, amnesiac Bowser and the dynamic between the incompetent thief Popple bossing around a heavyweight like Bowser is hilarious.

I also love this game because it was the first game to bring back the Koopalings since Super Mario World. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Koopalings and they’re probably my favorite Mario characters (hearken back to my number villain love I explained in Kingdom Hearts 2 – it’s kinda based on that) so seeing them show up again here was a delight, as I didn’t yet know that Nintendo would be dropping the Koopalings in everything once the Wii generation came around.

Why It’s #59:

It’s Mario. And Luigi. And they’re in an RPG. With great music, great humor and great battles. What more could you ask for?

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