[info]guido_jacobs did me a great service by getting me this game, and I am still indebted to him for that one.

I’ve been busy with other games for awhile, there’ve just been so many good ones, I’ve fortunately had a good stockpile since before Christmas that I’m still working through. Strangely enough, I have a tendency to play, and drop off to something else, just to come back later. No real rhyme or reason to it, just a habit that’s formed. I think the only one I’ve played straight through beginning to end was New Super Mario Bros.

So anyway, I’ve written about Mario & Luigi once before, and even though I’ve may have sounded a bit negative about it before… well, I spent at least five hours on it straight through yesterday, so that ought to be some kind of testament right there that I do like the game and enjoy it. In fact, I think I may have to get Partners in Time at some point, despite reluctance before.

So anyway, the game isn’t quite what I’d call perfect. But, with a bit of playing, the game tends to compensate for itself.

I find the story to be pretty addicitive, such as it is, for Mario fare. I’ve not completed the game, so I can’t fully compare it to Super Mario RPG, I’ve not gotten under way in Paper Mario 2 yet, and I’ll have to wait for Wii Virtual Console for the first. So sadly, I don’t have the greatest frame of reference to place this in.

I will say, though, that I’m not big into RPGs as a genre, and only play the odd piece. I enjoyed Mega Man X Command Mission, but I think overall Mario & Luigi has a richer story, in an ironic sort of twist.

The game focuses around another kingdom called BeanBean. At the start of the game, they send a representative to the Mushroom Kingdom to meet with Princess Peach, but in a twist, BeanBean’s top villain steals Peach’s voice for reasons unknown. As a result, Mario & Luigi give chase. There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist. Why spoil it, after all?

The way the story carries out is rather amusing as well. Mario and Luigi are very animated characters here, and wind up in a lot of cartoonish situations. It’s good fun.

So the bulk of the adventure takes place in the BeanBean Kingdom, which is a neat concept, and one I’m sure will feed any number of fanfics or characters. The place is almost like a bizarro Mushroom Kingdom, existing as a seperate nation of sorts, where instead of mushrooms, the theme is based on… eh, you figure it out.

So it leads to some wild stuff. There are a lot of familiar enemies and things, but with a twist. They have their own parallels of Goombas that are like evil beans instead of evil mushrooms, for example. They have their own equivalents of Spinies and Troopas and other things as well. And the citizens are basically these humanoid beans instead of humanoid mushrooms.

It’s an interesting twist on the familiar, though there are some classic elements as well, such as Piranha Plants, and a breed of Goomba that may thrill fans of Mario 3‘s Tanooki suit.

There are some neat nods to Mario’s history, too. At a university in BeanBean, they have a room dedicated to studying blocks of different kinds, and they show blocks from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, and Paper Mario, with details on each when you hit them.

In the same area is a rather clever sort of enemy. Remember the viruses from Dr. Mario? They’re back as enemies here, with a twist. When you attack them, they change color in a cycle. And while they can be dispatched through ordinary means, if you can make all the viruses attacking you match colors, they fall over and die. A brilliant nod to the classic puzzler.

There are other cameos, too, and I’ve heard there are a certain 7 that would thrill some people.

The music in the game is quite catchy, with some nods to the oldschool games, specifically the underground and Mario themes, and plenty of mildly catchy new beats as well.

Graphically, it’s a very nice piece, and has some nice animation, visual cues, and gags. Wonderfully cartoony and expressive, it exists in a unique way that’s not as stylized as say, Paper Mario, but remains unique unto itself.

Finally, there’s the gameplay itself, and that’s what sort of turned me off a bit at first. BUT, before you write it off as bad, it’s not quite so cut and dry.

The game is put together in a strange, strange sort of way. The A and B buttons each control a Bro, and it varies between the map screen and the battle screens.

On the map, you can switch which order they’re in with Start, and as a result, which button controls who, A controlling the front, B for the back. With this, you can pull off various moves depending on who is where. For example, if Luigi stands in back, he can bounce off of Mario’s head for a high jump with Mario grabbing on. If Mario is behind, Mario bounces off of Luigi with Luigi grabbing ahold for a spin jump that can carry them over gaps and pits. There are other moves involving hammers, fire and thunder attacks, and more.

The downside to that, however, is that there are some parts where it felt like the flow was being broken because you had to switch to high-jump formation just to move around some parts of the map that there was otherwise nothing really special to.

In battle, though, Mario and Luigi are always positioned the same, no matter what order you keep them in. There, A is always Mario, B is always Luigi. This becomes slighty problematic in one part of the game where the Bros. are briefly seperated(c’mon, you knew it’d happen). They leave you in control of Luigi, so on the map, A is controlling him, and in battle, you have to switch to B.

It’s no game-breaker, but it is a little irritating and can lead to the odd slip-up now and again.

On a related note, one visual I like during these parts is the Bros. stats screen. With both together, they have that pic you might have seen of the two elbowing each other, and the bro you’re looking at is the focus of the pic as you check his stats. If one is missing, though, you’re met with a different pic of the active bro looking at you. Switch to the missing bro, and the one you have holds up his picture and points at him, almost in a “have you seen my brother?” kind of way. It’s a cute touch.

Back to controls, you have to be vigilant in battle. You can get the jump on some enemies by attacking them on the map, as in other Mario RPGs, but during battle, you have to actively dodge or counter enemy attacks, and unfortunately, it can be tough to tell how your bro might react to an attack they’ve not encountered before; you might expect a jump, but instead they pull out a hammer, which is a trick unto itself.

There are icons that tell you what they’ll do, but sometimes it can be tricky to keep track of.

As noted, a different button controls each brother, and that is what has frightened me of Partners in Time, the thought of controlling FOUR Bros. at once, though I’ve heard that’s not so much the case.

Countering attacks unfortunately can be a bit too precise; it’ll seem like you should have hit the enemy with a counter or dodged, and it’ll even look like you have, but the contact won’t have been made. It can be quite frustrating.

There are also the equivalent of “magic” attacks in this game, called “Bros. Attacks.” This is basically a sort of tag-team move that depends on which bro initiates it. I find it’s handy sometimes, but I stick to my individual moves more often. I heard they were removed from Partners in Time, but I don’t think I’ll miss them.

To compound the frustration with that, there’s what I call a sort of “hill” in the game. Early on, most battles are easy enough, but then not too far in, after you’re off the mountain, when the enemies are a lot tougher. Even the Nintendo Power guide tells you to avoid the enemies as you make your way to the next goal. And unless you’re REALLY good, you’d best heed the advice, otherwise, it’s your ass.

Worse, it’s hard if not impossible to find smaller enemies to level up on at this point, at least for me.

You can run from battles, but it comes at a cost. Literally. Each brother drops a shitload of coins as they try to escape from a battle. I don’t know what happens if you run out of coins while trying to escape, but I doubt it’s good.

Other than a mission at the castle, as I said, enemies are tough. I found that it wasn’t until you’re at the soda place that you find some enemies that are higher in experience points, but easy enough to fight. That’s when you come off of the difficulty “hill.”

I’ve managed to power my bros up enough to get them fighting the afore-mentioned enemies without much trouble. And while I won’t say the game is “easy” at this point, in so much as going about carefree, I still take hits and get beaten a little bit, it’s not like before where I felt like I was walking on eggshells, having to pick and choose my battles. With Mushrooms and sufficient life, it’s easier to get through. Would be nice if they had “inns” where you can recharge, though, rather than using power-ups solely.

Also, around this point is when enemies start to regenerate, so you can build your levels and get coins and items with enemies you’re more comfortable with, something that would have been handy earlier in the game.

It’s at this point the game really shines, as you can just PLAY without having to worry too much. You can’t be careless, of course, but it’s not as bad as earlier where each encounter could be your last.

And all the while, I found that while the gameplay, mainly controls, may have been lacking in some aspects, the rest of the game itself was interesting enough to keep me playing in spite of the lacking parts.

I don’t think there’s much more I can say until I beat the game. But I will say that if you like Mario, and are at least a fairweather RPG fan like me(Mario, Mega Man, etc.), then this is definitely a good investment, especially now that it’s re-released as a Player’s Choice title for just $20($25 Canadian). Just keep in mind the above things, such as the “hill” and you should get the most out of it.

Oh, on a side-note. In this game, Mario gets a fire attack, natch, but Luigi instead gets an electric attack. I think it’d be neat if they used that to further differentiate the two in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

LBD “Nytetrayn”