Mario & Luigi 2

Baby come back!

There's a joke that runs throughout Mario & Luigi. It crops up whenever the head-bopping brothers encounter anybody new.

In Mario & Luigi, exploration sections play out like any average role-playing game - the action's shot from a raised third-person vantage point, and the graphics are slightly rudimentary - except the brothers can also jump around and perform other actions familiar to fans of the Mario Bros. games.

Understated and self-deprecating to the last, whenever Mario & Luigi introduces our muted heroes to a new group, a rather insignificant jump straight up in the air is all they need to identify the red-capped of the two as the famous Mario of the Mushroom Kingdom. Cue gasps and sycophancy. The funniest bit however is their total inability to identify Luigi.

Although the brothers both find themselves in the title, Mario & Luigi developer Alphadream must have felt the game ended up more of a Luigi than a Mario when it superglued itself into our GBA cartridge slots 18 months ago. For all the critical adoration - and the game was almost universally declared the best new Mario game in years - it sold in pathetic quantities. This made us cry.

That Nintendo's seen fit to keep the series going on the DS, with Alphadream still at the reins, has us reaching for the tissues once more. But for joy, not despair.

Mario & Luigi 2 looks set to continue in its predecessor's footsteps. Like M&L, it's going to take us on a cheerful tour of some of the various worlds on the fringes of the existing Mario universe, lampooning series convention and making a gentle mockery of the hand that feeds it - in-keeping with a tradition set out by the likes of Super Mario RPG (SNES), Paper Mario (N64) and of course Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Cube).

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Unsurprisingly, he looks a bit confused.

It will continue to mix real-time adventuring and puzzles (with Mario and Luigi each given various abilities bound to their respective buttons, A and B, so you can control them both at the same time) and turn-based RPG battling - the latter infused, as it was before, with a few real-time ideas like timed button presses for improving attack and defence.

Not exactly a massively exciting premise for the sequel to something so inventive, perhaps, but arguably one that fits quite well in a literary sense. Ya see, when noting that it follows in its predecessor's footsteps, "predecessors" ought to be the operative word. Juuuust in case you hadn't guessed already, this one features Baby Mario and Baby Luigi.

Having been sent back to the past to rescue Princess Peach - for reasons as-yet unexplained - present day Mario and Luigi encounter the familiar baby versions of themselves, and, quicker than you can start reciting some nonsense you heard about time paradoxes on Star Trek, they've teamed up.

Now, so far the Babies haven't really justified their existence (the only reason we give them a free pass, we suppose, is that without Baby Mario there'd be no Yoshi's Island), but knowing Alphadream's past work they could be in for something of a growth spurt.

The babies in M&L2 can be thrown into areas that Mario and Luigi can't reach, and act as a second team. When they split up, each pairing gets the run of its own screen, and players are free to switch control between the groups. Baby Mario and Luigi are given control of the X and Y buttons respectively, to which their jumps and other bits and bobs are bound. So, in the same way that Mario and Luigi can jump up stairs one by one as you press A and then B, the babies require X and then Y.

Naturally, this division will allow Alphadream to create puzzles that involve co-operation between the two age groups. In the bits we've played, the babies have had to solve a rudimentary puzzle to set something off in one area, which has then enabled the grown-ups to clear the way in another.

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But aren't the babies meant to be below the grown-ups? Now we're confused.

The addition of the babies is also felt on the battle screen, or rather screens. Looking intensely cute as they toddle around waving fists and appearing close to collapse, the babies should allow for much more complicated battles and combinations. And like the grown-ups they can dodge attacks by pressing the corresponding baby-button at the critical moment - leaping out of the way of fireballs and spinning shells at the like - as well as maximising offensive strikes by hitting it at the crunch point of any landed blow.

Literally overshadowing their battle antics however is the use of both screens. Although our demo hasn't given us much to get excited about just yet, there's evidence in the literature and screenshots of double-screen-filling boss enemies, and it's likely that airborne Koopas will be taking advantage, with Piranha Plants already extending their stalks up over the screen-divide to spit fire from above.

Mario & Luigi 2 has certainly shown us what we wanted to see so far. As with Paper Mario's sequel, however, it's likely to prove a lot more exotic than it has done over time. We're certainly confident of its quality; all we're worried about is the repetition that became an issue toward the end of the first game, and the potential for the controls to become jumbled and counterintuitive with so many combinations to consider.

After all, the first thing we'd like to recognise when M&L2 winds up in our DS slots is the red-capped fun we had last time, not the green-capped plumbing problems. Here's hoping it's another Superstar Saga.

Mario & Luigi 2 has yet to be dated, but will be a DS exclusive. And it will come out in Europe or we'll go round there and beat them up.

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