Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions 3DS Review
The Mario & Luigi titles are a group of games that I never got round to playing. I had heard good things about the light-hearted RPG series, but never took the step to pick one of the many releases that are currently available across multiple Nintendo handheld systems. Now Nintendo wants to correct that, because what seems totally out of the blue, the house of Mario announced at E3 2017 a remake of the first game, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, for Nintendo 3DS, which makes it 14 years since the original game came out for the Game Boy Advance back at the end of 2003.
Going by the title Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions hints that there is more to this game than simply being a remake. The Superstar Saga section remains similar, but now comes with new visuals, sounds and controls that add small tweaks from the newer games to freshen the first game’s experience. It also adds a whole new story that is accessed through the main game after about 3-4 hours of play, which deals with Captain Goomba and his difficult journey tracking down Lord Bowser, but unlike the main game, Bowser’s Minions (called Minion’s Quest in the game) is a little more on the strategy side than the main game.
Story remains intact in the remake, which begins with Princess Peach in her castle speaking to a good-will ambassador, but then it turns for the worse when Peach has her voice removed by Cackletta, a witch who wickedly replaces the Princess’ voice with explosives words before flying off back to the comfort of the Beanbean Kingdom, a neighbour to the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s up to the moustache duo to put a stop to Cackletta and get back the priceless voice. Bowser even offers to help get Mario and Luigi to the kingdom with the use of his airship, as he feels Princess Peach won’t be helpful in her current state; with the dangers of Peach’s explosive speech bombs coming at him, he would rather do the kind thing and help before acting out his next potential kidnapping.
As a newcomer to the series, I have to mention how fantastic the writing is in Superstar Saga. It goes full in on the bizarre, with everyone in the world, important or not to the story, having dialogue that is charming, humorous and often witty. This is a game that likes to display its comedy, but with such great writing, it manages to mostly pull off both its visual and written comedic moments without trying too hard. It’s the little things that add to the overall enjoyment. Luigi finally gets to share a spotlight with Mario, but everyone in Beanbean Kingdom acts as if he’s the sidekick with a forgettable name, often related to as “that green one” or “the greenie.” The game even begins with the whole Luigi gag – who is joked about many times throughout the game – that he is only on this adventure because he was dragged into it, wanting to avoid going with Mario until Bowser hooks him onto his airship before departure. Superstar Saga is packed with many references in its story, with some jokes about past Mario titles, while others take the mickey out of video game tropes, but they all manage to come across as genuinely funny digs, and overall, gave me many smiles, and a handful of moments that made me physically laugh out (been a while since a game did that) during my 20 hours + with it.
I also have to praise the battle system for how it constantly involves the player. It’s fully turn-based, but unlike the norm, which often boils down to clicking a move and watching the animation, in Superstar Saga, you have to use buttons assigned to Mario and Luigi (this is used throughout the game when exploring as well) to time attacks to deal more damage by pressing the button at the right time. Each move has its own animation and timing, and when on the defence, you also need to learn enemy attack patterns to avoid damage by using the same buttons to perform either a jump or a hit to repel or dodge the enemy.
Good examples to demonstrate fun fights would be the Laser Snifit enemies. These dudes move specific distances that signal the height of their laser ring shot. If they are close to either Mario or Luigi, it means the ring will be ground level and doesn’t require a jump to dodge, but if it’s further away, it signals that a jump is required to make it through the laser hoop. The virus enemies, who come in groups of two or three, need their colours matching to make them die quicker than normal damage. Since this is done by hitting them, it can often be the case that the default block, which means damage is still taken, but not as much as normal, and clearly not as good as doing the manual button press to avoid damage all together, becomes handy when trying to avoid hitting an enemy. The developers have smartly made use of existing Mario enemies and put a twist on them to make them interesting. Wiggler, the happy yellow catapiller is known to go red when angry, has to have each of its body segments hit to turn it from red to yellow before the head will flip yellow and he can take damage. The game isn’t a lengthy adventure, but I feel the mechanics capture the essence of Mario’s move set and crafts it into an RPG battle system very well, and above all, it remains enjoyable until the game is over.
Exploring the colourful land of Beanbean Kingdom is a joy, thanks to the use of small puzzle solving based around the abilities of Mario and Luigi. With each hero assigned to a button that causes them to jump individually, or together with the press of X, to reach ledges, hit boxes that drop items or coins, or solve jumping puzzles that require both characters to jump in sync. The brothers have more skills in their arsenal, since the hammer can squish Luigi into the ground, allowing him to go under gates or under barrels to pop into them, while Mario shrinks himself to fit into small holes. Other abilities include a super jump and a whirlwind spin that are used to travel longer distances off the ground or reach higher places, and other environmental puzzles can be added to this, like when Mario sucks in a belly full of water and Luigi smacks him with the hammer to splurt it out. With all these extras that are not normally seen in this type of game, it’s easy to forget that it is an RPG, but all the stereotypical RPG things are here, like talking to NPCs, buying new gear, getting new skills and levelling up the two characters (you never gain party members), but with the fusion of Mario, as the developers try to include what key things Mario is known for, adds smart player engagement to every aspect of this RPG.
After a few hours into the adventure, the new content added in this remake, Minion’s Quest, will unlock, with key story moments in the main game unlocking more chapters in it. Accessible at any point in Superstar Saga with the touch screen on the 3DS, Minion’s Quest follows the story of General Goomba, as he tries to find out where Bowser is through a series of dialogue scenes and scripted battles that is concurrent to Mario and Luigi’s adventure. The quality of the story is close to the main game in terms of its minute to minute banter and humour, but do not expect the overall plot to to be as memorable as Superstar Saga‘s story.
Battles form up all the gameplay for Minion’s Quest, but no longer turn-based, as this is more of a baby’s first strategy game, where General Goomba’s small collection of troops form a gang to fight whoever stands in his way. It’s based around rock-paper-scissors gameplay; range beats air, air beats ground and ground beats range, so the focus on a balance team that can be effective against the AI’s squad is key. Minion’s Quest’s gameplay is mostly automatic, with battle interactions happening when red circles appear when a unit is either defending or performing a special attack, with the right timing giving more damage or defending incoming threats. Skills are learnt throughout levelling up, which are then used in battle at the cost of captain points to perform them. It’s usually something that can stop enemies performing their high damage attacks or buff your army to last longer. Overall, Minion’s Quest makes for a complementary side mission while taking a break from the main story, but some might find the grind a bit much in the later stages, due to limited accessibility to units that comes through quest rules.
Visuals received a completely overhaul from models to backgrounds all coming with improvement in lighting. Sprites are no longer used from the GBA game, now replaced with updated ones that lose some of the exaggerated cartoon appeal for something more similar to current Mario and Luigi dimensions, with a sort of pseudo 3D effect in place, (although the game doesn’t support 3D). Everything is vibrant, colourful and springs to life, and with the improved animations, it’s a better presented game, but I can see why some wouldn’t like the change of aesthetics over the GBA game. Music has been redone as well, but it seems more of a subtle enhancement than the huge difference that the visuals received, but that does mean better quality audio. There is now Amiibo functionality that enables some of the Mario ammibos to offer items to help early on in the game (health items and early gear), but nothing all that exciting that you would be upset missing it.
As a first timer to the Mario & Luigi RPGs, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions makes a great impression for the series. I couldn’t tell it was an old game, holding up well with today’s current handheld games, thanks to the enhancements stemming from its sequels. I found being constantly active in battles a change from a lot of mainstream RPGs I’ve played, and the ageless dialogue stands the test of time, due to how well written the adventure is – it truly delights with its humorous, friendly comedy that can generate some real laughter. Unlike Metroid: Samus Returns, I feel Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is more for newcomers to the series rather than existing fans. I’m sure some fans will enjoy the new side content or replaying a better looking Superstar Saga that they haven’t touched for a few years, but for people who have never experienced Superstar Saga, then I whole heartily recommend grabbing your 3DS and picking up this delightfully charming, creative role-playing game.