Mario & Luigi Updated Impressions

We take an updated look at the spiritual successor to Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG.

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Mario & Luigi is the upcoming RPG for the Game Boy Advance starring Mario and his brother Luigi. The title is being developed by Japanese studio Alpha Dream, whose recent claims to fame include Tomato Adventure and the upcoming Hamtaro game for the Game Boy Advance. The game is the third RPG-style game featuring Mario, and it combines elements of its predecessors, the classic Super Mario RPG for the SNES and Paper Mario for the Nintendo 64, with original gameplay mechanics. We spent some time with an early version of the game and are quite pleased by the direction in which it's headed.

Like most every RPG, Mario & Luigi features a dramatic story of loss, revenge, and redemption. The game opens with the Mushroom Kingdom's perennial hostage, Princess Peach, being assaulted by an envoy from the neighboring Bean Bean kingdom. It seems that the evil witch Cackletta and her underling, Falful, have attacked the princess from out of the blue. The villains steal her voice, replacing it with, of all things, explosives. They then race back to their home turf as Peach's subjects scramble to protect their ruler. In the confusion, Toad races off to fetch Mario in a scene that shows the beloved video game icon in an entirely new light: partially nude. Toad's frenzied rush to find Mario sends him running to the shower, where the world-famous plumber is humming a happy tune. The resulting drama as Mario races out wearing only a towel is definitely a first for a Mario game. Following the unfortunate encounter, Mario heads out to the castle with his brother Luigi in tow. While this all seems fairly routine for a crisis in the Mushroom Kingdom, the story is turned on its head when Bowser, who has appeared for his regularly scheduled kidnapping of Princess Peach, refuses to nab her because of her explosive voice. In fact, Bowser eventually tags along on the adventure when it becomes obvious that he won't be able to enact a proper kidnapping until Peach is set right. The resulting adventure sends Mario and company on a quest to the neighboring Bean Bean kingdom.

The quirky story will be supported by gameplay that draws on elements from Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG. The game has a unique control mechanic in that you can actively control both brothers independently by using the A and B buttons. The combat is turn-based and similar to that of both Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG, though it does introduce an original element--a team-attack system that lets the brothers use each other to attack their foes. In addition, each brother has unique abilities that come into play during exploration, and they can sometimes use the abilities on each other. For example, Luigi can use a hammer attack to shrink Mario down to a smaller, squashed form so he can access new areas. The presentation in the game seems very good, with some great visuals and a wealth of sound. Mario, Luigi, and the rest of the cast are made up of large, detailed sprites that are animated nicely. Part of the game's humor comes from the funny animations of Mario and Luigi during combat and story sequences. The environments are bright, colorful, and more than a little odd. The visuals are complemented by a wonderfully catchy soundtrack, which, as you'd expect by now from a Mario game, features brief references and homages to classic Super Mario tunes. The game's battle music in particular seems catchy, though the game also has lots of clear-sounding voice samples that seem to help lend personality to its characters.

Mario & Luigi is shaping up to be a really promising RPG. The game looks good and seems to play well, and it features some genuinely funny humor that gives it quite a bit of personality. The game is scheduled for release this November.

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