Both these Mario themed RPGs are some of my favorite RPGs of all time but, one shall stand and one shall fall. I have heard gamers often argue about which one is the true successor to Super Mario RPG and which is better. While I think both of these games are better than Super Mario RPG (I know many of you will disagree with that) I did find it harder to say one is better than the other. Nevertheless I have critiqued each game and have come to a decision.
Now both Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga don't have a really deep story with strong emotional moments but, the story of each is a spin on the Mario universe which is most appreciated by fans. Both games start with business as usual as Bowser is attempting to capture Princess Peach. However, Bowser was actually able to defeat Mario with the stolen Star Rod while in Mario & Luigi Bowser loses to Mario while trying to kidnap a Princess Peach that has had her voice stolen by the true villain in this game Cacaletta. I think these are both great starts to a story because each of them is unexpected. In Paper Mario you must rescue all the Star Spirits from the clutches of Bowser's henchmen in order to defeat Bowser. In Mario & Luigi you pursue Cacaletta to the Beanbean Kingdom in order to recover Princess Peach's voice. This category is a tie as both games might not have a deep story but, they both have a sense of humor and charm that makes the story very enjoyable.
Paper Mario has very unique visuals with all the characters being flat like paper while the backgrounds are 3D. The visuals of Paper make you feel like your playing a pop-up book. Mario & Luigi on the other hand has very charming 2D sprites. Nothing too original like Paper Mario but, very good looking sprites nonetheless. Both soundtracks for these games are awesome and very catchy. The attacks in both games look cool and are rewarding to pull off. I really like how the enemy types in each game are new or homages of enemies from other Mario games. All in all this category is also a tie as both games are very good aesthetically and I feel one doesn't trump the other completely.
Inside battle: Both these exhibit active turn based battles where you cannot just wait your turn and press A. In both games every move requires specific button combinations and precise timing. However, they do differ in a couple of ways. In Paper Mario you can have up to 8 partners but, you can only use one at a time. In Mario & Luigi your only partner is Luigi. In Paper Mario there is a badge system where Mario can't equip different powers depending on how much badge power he has. In Mario & Luigi there are also badges but, there is a one badge limit and they function more as armor like in more traditional RPGs. In Paper Mario you make your moves stronger by getting super blocks that power up your partners while in Mario & Luigi you can learn advances on your existing special moves. In Mario & Luigi you are always allowed to do actions during an enemies turn while in Paper Mario you can only block. In Paper Mario you also have Star Power that allow you to use some special moves courtesy of the Star Spirits you have to rescue during your journey.
Outside battle: You solve puzzles in each game by using Mario and his partners special abilities. Mario & Luigi also had mini-games throughout the game that broke up the action every now and then. In both games there are no random battles and enemies are visible in the overworld and depending on how you encounter an enemy you could either gain an advantage or disadvantage in battle.
I give the win here to Paper Mario as I feel the battle system is deeper in this game. While playing Mario & Luigi I never felt that I could change my play style while in Paper Mario you could use new badges or a different partner.
Victory belongs to Paper Mario as its very original visual style and deep battle system propel it ahead of Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga.