|Platform:||Game Boy Advance|
It is rare to find a game that does as many things right as Mario & Luigi (M&L). Being a fan of the Mario RPG series since its inception for the super NES, I decided to give M&L a try based on past nostalgia alone. Boy, was I blown away. Instead of what I figured would be a fun, well put together diversion, I found myself staring down the barrel of the finest RPG created for the Gameboy Advance.
I could go on all day about the merits of M&L but let's start at the beginning. M&L is, for all intents and purposes, an RPG. You gain levels; you buy/find items which you can equip/use. You fight random battles and traverse dungeons to eventually trounce the evil dungeon boss. It all sounds pretty standard, but it's only when you begin to play that you realize how much you are missing in other RPGs.
First off, all battles are theoretically avoidable. You can see all the critters on the screen and can even go so far as to hit them up with a jumping attack or a hammer blow before they have a chance to attack. However, it is when you actually enter battle that M&L begins to truly shine. First off, it is theoretically possible to never be hit once in the entire game by anything.
Every single attack an enemy can produce can be dodged/counter attacked in some way. It is also possible to add extra damage/more hits to every attack through carefully timed button presses. Now, this sort of system has been done before, but M&L truly refines it. Every enemy attacks in a different manner and sometimes possess multiple moves (i.e. bosses). What this means is you will never be dodging the same way twice.
You will have a hard time getting bored of attacking as well. Each of the brothers possess a variety of moves that all require their own unique button presses to perfect. Tack on a cool combo system and the fact that different buttons correspond to each brother and you have something of an action RPG engine.
On the world map M&L plays a lot like previous Mario RPG incarnations. You can jump around and hit blocks/enemies while scaling cliffs and trouncing goombas. What separates M&L from its predecessors is the cool "brothers" system. Each button (A & B) corresponds to a different brother. Through different combinations you can do combo maneuvers and use the cool abilities to solve all sorts of well thought out puzzles.
Storywise, M&L is excellent if not exactly stellar. Mario fans will love it for all of its guest appearances and throwbacks to previous Nintendo games. I personally loved it as it truly rewards those who have kept up with Nintendo's history by having all sorts of little details that only old-school Nintendo fans would pick out. The story strays a little ways away from the whole "Rescue the princess" affair, but still piles on more action than plot. What do you expect though, this is a Mario game!
Graphically, M&L is pretty good looking. Nicely animated sprites travel through colorful environments in typical Marioesque manner. Enemy battles are brilliantly rendered and once again show off the amazing animation talents of Nintendo's programmers. Gone are the days when an enemy would merely flash to indicate its attack and the days where enemies react in multitudes of ways are here to stay. All in all, if not exactly a GBA showpiece, M&L certainly has nothing to be ashamed of in the graphics department.
If I had to say one thing about the sound in M&L, it would be that the sound effects are amazing. I wasn't even aware that so much speech could fit on a GBA cartridge. Granted, it's mostly "Ohhh, Noooo", and "Mario!" but hey, it still shocked me pretty good. The actual music itself is decent if not particularly memorable. I am having a very hard time remembering a single tune, but on the bright side there are some remixed classical Mario tunes and that always brings a smile to my face.
Overall M&L is a joy to behold. It belongs in every GBA owner's "Must Own" list and will not disappoint. RPG'ers will love it because of its RPG elements while non-RPG'ers will love it because it breaks from the norm and adds in heavy action elements. A decent, not too long playtime combined with minigames and hidden stuff galore help to make a purchase of this game a no-brainer. All in all a pleasant surprise that has me waiting on baited breath for the sequel.