Mario & Luigi Hands-On

We dive right into Nintendo's upcoming GBA role-playing game featuring gaming's most famous siblings.

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To cut straight to the point, we were quite impressed with Mario & Luigi for the Game Boy Advance. Having played it on the E3 show floor, we now think of it as a spiritual successor to the popular Super Mario RPG for the SNES. Featuring top-down action adventure gameplay and RPG-style combat and leveling, Mario & Luigi also has some innovative touches that distinguish it from other games, plus the lighthearted look and feel that's made the Mario series world famous.

The hook of Mario & Luigi is that you control both characters at all times. Both characters move in concert as you press the D pad in different directions, and pressing one button causes Mario to jump, while pressing the other button makes Luigi jump. You can leap up to hit floating bricks to collect coins, and you must navigate some rather treacherous Mario-style environments in your goal to rescue Princess Peach.

Incidentally, the plot of the game is rather unusual. Why are Mario & Luigi putting themselves in harm's way this time around, you ask? Because apparently, Princess Peach's voice has been stolen and replaced with...explosives. Explosives! Pretty weird, but then again, so is the game.

There are no random battles in Mario & Luigi, as you'll spot enemies patrolling about the gameworld. Touch one and you'll switch to the game's keen turn-based combat system, which puts Mario & Luigi on the left and their enemies on the right. Enemies include classic Mario bad guys, and the brothers and their foes will exchange blows until one side or the other wins. The brothers can use special moves based on a limited number of points that are functionally equivalent to magic points in other RPGs. These combo attacks require you to time button presses to successfully deliver some major damage. In one move we saw, the brothers alley-oop and slam dunk one another into their foe.

It's a fun system, featuring the sort of strategic depth expected from RPG combat, but also requiring some timing to keep you engaged. The fighting isn't completely turn-based. We faced off against some bullet bills, and had to leap over their deadly projectiles every now and then.

The graphics in Mario & Luigi are a little odd, since both characters are redrawn and look even cutesier than usual. The appearance of the game is colorful and highly animated, and the game uses remixes of the classic Mario music themes.

We're excited about Mario & Luigi, which we'd seen very little of prior to E3. It seems to be pretty far along in development already, and its innovative dual-character gameplay and RPG stylings--the brothers level up and everything--make this game one that's definitely worth watching.

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