For better or for worse, the calling card of the Mario & Luigi series has been its consistency: Every entry features solid RPG action, a dash of platforming and puzzling, and some of the sharpest writing in gaming, but also generic environments, mediocre minigames, and gimmicky hardware-based battle types that detract from the overall experience. You could argue that all five are the same game, but it’s an unfair reduction of what’s proven to be a high-quality (and profitable) series. Much like with recent Kirby games, you might not be surprised by what you play, but you will be amused and entertained.
I’ve had enough fun with the series that I’d recommend trying out every entry if you get the chance (yes, even given my recent rant about Bowser’s Inside Story). This, however, is an expensive proposition—which entry offers the best combination of fun and value? After an exhaustive-but-unscientific survey, we here at Kyle’s Korner have ranked each game in terms of its quality and availability. Where did your favorite end up?
#5: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
- Gameplay Rank: 5th out of 5
- Availability: Scarce (until 2019)
Again, this probably isn’t a surprise given my earlier rant. Simply put, Bowser’s Inside Story just didn’t hook me: Its story wasn’t compelling, playing as Bowser wasn’t novel, and the “giant Bowser” touchscreen battles were so frustrating that I put the game down and didn’t pick it back up for several years. While I’m in the minority on this one (it seems like most people regard Bowser’s Inside Story as one of the series’s best, not its worst), the fact that a) it’s relatively hard to find, b) it’s selling for a small fortune on Amazon, and c) a shiny new remake is due next year means that buying this game today is a terrible idea. If you’re going to subject yourself to this one, at least wait until 2019 to do so.
#4: Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time
- Gameplay Rank: 4th out of 5
- Availability: Scarce
Partners In Time deserves a lot of credit for being the only game in history to make baby Mario characters useful and kinda-sorta sympathetic, but to be honest, this one didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. The fact that it was a GBA port was painfully obvious (the DS touchscreen was used exactly once, in the least interesting way possible), and the whole ‘alien invasion’ angle felt a bit generic (the Shroobs were a far cry from the Smithy Gang)
#3: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
- Gameplay Rank: 2nd out of 5
- Availability: Reasonable
There’s a lot to like about Paper Jam: Adding Paper Mario and battle cards brought a new level of strategy to the fight scenes, the annoying giant Bowser/Luigi fights were replaced with flawed-but-enjoyable papercraft battles, and the interactions between flat and three-dimensional characters were loaded with charm. Someone has to sit in the middle seat, however, and Paper Jam wound up being overshadowed by not standing out in either quality or value.
#2: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
- Gameplay Rank: 3rd out of 5
- Availability: Abundant
Dream Team certainly has its strengths (lot of cameos from old friends and enemies, Dream World battles that mix up the combat, strong use of the 3DS’s 3D feature), but it’s squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to gameplay. As a Nintendo Select that seems to be in every store I frequent, however, Dream Team is a cheap and easy way to introduce yourself to the M&L franchise. It isn’t the best game in the series, but as of right now, it’s the most cost-effective.
#1: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
- Gameplay Rank: 1st out of 5
- Availability: Abundant
Once again, it seems that nothing beats the original: Superstar Saga was a straightforward RPG experience that featured memorable characters (and quotes), challenging battles, and none of the frustrating gimmicks that appeared in later entries. As useless as Bowser’s Minions is, the remake put the game back on store shelves in large quantities last year, and while it’s twice the price of Dream Team, the jump in quality is worth the added cost. If you didn’t get to experience this classic on the Game Boy Advance, now’s your chance to do so.
Of course, this is just one man’s opinion on the subject, and ranking these games is like trying to rank Pokémon generations: You’re going to enjoy yourself no matter which one you play, so what are you waiting for? Try one out already!