It's hard not to love a game that gives you different superpowers depending on the pants that you wear. (Hermetic trousers, anyone?) I'm not sure if anyone actually plays video games for the story, but this one deserves it. Rarely are games this funny, and it's even more enjoyable considering that the game's stars, Mario and Luigi, are icons to millions of people. As one might expect from the plumber brothers, a rescue of Princess Peach takes place. Her voice has been stolen by the leader of an entirely new Mario world -- the Beanbean Kingdom -- and she speaks only in explosive syllables.
Mario and Luigi may be the best Mario game since Mario 64. That's not to say that Mario Sunshine was bad, but rather that Mario and Luigi better captures the pleasure of level-exploration and slightly loopy humor of the earlier Mario games. There is plenty of jumping to do, but this time it takes a close second place to managing the characters themselves. Battles are similar to those found in many role-playing games: The characters take turns attacking enemies and using items that they've picked up during their adventures. However, timing makes a big difference, since most attacks can be enhanced by -- and some require -- sequences of buttons to be pressed. This may seem like a small addition, and it won't be enough to satisfy those who like Mario games primarily for the tricky jumping puzzles. But incorporating well-timed button-presses into battles makes the game much more engaging than a typical role-playing title.
The game's look is as excellent as you'd expect from Nintendo. The Beanbean kingdom is something akin to a Mario world on mushrooms (you know, the kind that Mario eats). Psychedelic colors pervade, and the cast of enemies range from entirely new creatures to amalgams of past Mario foes. (Tanoomba, anyone?) Many characters talk like their speeches were badly translated from Japanese, "I have fury!" being one great example. But Mario & amp; Luigi is an American-made game that was crafted by fans of the series. Old-school gamers will love it. New players, as long as they enjoy at least a touch of role-playing in their games, may find it has the soul that's lacking in a lot of this season's better games. And even among those -- Manhunt, Ratchet & amp; Clank 2 and Amped 2 -- this is the only game that goes with me everywhere.
Publication date: 12/11/03