In the little chunks of time I had between work, trip preparations, and rest, I started playing Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga from the Game Boy Advance collection I got with the expansion pass to my Nintendo Online account. That has long been one of my favorite Game Boy Advance titles and I was excited to play it again since my GBA hasn’t worked properly for a few years now and my DS, which I used to play GBA games with a backlight, broke a couple summers ago (and my attempts at fixing it fell by the wayside when I couldn’t find a decent 3D printable shell design to use). Having it on the Switch means it is easy to play in fits and starts, and its nature as a somewhat straight-forward RPG means I won’t have any trouble coming back to the game if I wind up not playing it for weeks or months at a time. Plus, I first played this when I was right on the cusp of reclaiming gaming for myself, without interference from my parents or brother, so there’s a decent bit of nostalgia to the game, even if I’ve played it fairly frequently over the years thanks to the slow roll-out of titles in the same general series.
The premise, as far as simple RPGs go, isn’t that exciting. A villain shows up to steal Princess Peach’s voice, Mario is called in to save the problem, he quickly defeats Bowser who just happened to show up for a routine kidnapping, they agree to work together to save Peach, and then they fly off in Bowser’s latest airship. Oh, also, Luigi gets literally dragged along by his brother and then Bowser’s minions in a comedy of errors that slowly proves Luigi’s comedic cowardice is merely the protests of a homebody wishing to avoid too much excitement. From there, the brothers must navigate a neighboring kingdom as they try to track down the villain who stole Peach’s voice by following the trail of misdeeds and destruction the villain left in her wake.
Generally speaking, the whole game is pretty fun since the core gameplay is built around the fact that Mario and Luigi are going on an adventure together and are largely inseparable except in very specific circumstances (most of which are cutscenes, so they don’t really count, or specific uses of a power that doesn’t let them get much further from each other than the same game screen). It’s fun to see how far the game’s developers ran with this idea, because they not only built a bunch of combat and world traversal ideas around this, but also developed a lot of paired characters who mirror Mario and Luigi in a fun way. It certainly feels like the developers had just as much fun creating the game as I have playing it, thanks to the constant humor of the game’s writing and the way the game rewards you with sometimes unexpected results when you try to use the traversal mechanics in novel or incorrect ways.
As much as I’d love to say the game is a treat to look at and listen to, I’m pretty sure I only appreciate the game as much as much as I do thanks to nostalgia. I don’t remember the music being quite as rough as it sounds now, but I also used to play this game hidden under my blankets at night, with the sound turned down, for ninety percent of the game and with it barely audible the other ten percent, so I honestly don’t know what I’m comparing it to. I mean, it’s not bad, but it kind of lacks the pleasant quality I associate with most Mario game music and it sounds incredibly rough compared to the sonic bliss that was Chained Echoes‘ soundtrack. I enjoy it, sure, but I definitely don’t try to hear it over whatever podcast I’m listening to.
For a game that’s almost twenty years old, though, it’s doing pretty well. I’m enjoying it, it is providing an excellent diversion, and I’m completely ready to abandon it the instant something new and interesting comes along (now that I’m pretty much out of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land: Deluxe to play). Like that Star Wars game in a few weeks and then Tears of the Kingdom just two or three weeks after that! Honestly, though, if you’ve got access to the Game Boy Advance games via Nintendo Online and are looking for a low-effort but still fun RPG to play, I suggest giving Mario & Luigi: Superstar Sage a try. It’ll be pretty fun and the game isn’t super long unless you get really grindy with it or are terrible at action commands.