Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions Review
The original Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is a game that’s very near and dear to my heart. When I was younger, as funny as it is to think about now, I didn’t understand the appeal of the Mario series. They came off to me as aesthetically bland and just a little too simple for my liking. On the other hand, I loved RPGs. Games like Final Fantasy, Golden Sun and Kingdom Hearts consumed all my thoughts and were all I wanted to ever play. So, when I discovered there was a crazy-looking Mario RPG on the Game Boy Advance, I leapt at the chance to give it a go. Every aspect of the game, such as the bouncy cast of characters, the eccentric world, the interactive combat system and the gut-bustingly funny writing all deeply struck a chord with me and before I knew it – I was obsessed with Mario.
Unfortunately, over the years, the Mario and Luigi series has lost the spark that once made it shine so brightly. It’s been really tough seeing each new release miss the point, a little more each time. However, all of a sudden, Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions was announced in the year 2017. Even if it was just a remake of the original game, I was really excited. I was thrilled to have another chance to revisit the game that influenced me so heavily as a child, and I was thrilled to care about another Mario and Luigi title. This game had a lot riding on it for me. Did it wind up holding up after all these years? Absolutely. However, that’s not accounting for all the attempts made to freshen up this near-14 year old release.
New to the 3DS release is a brand new mode called the Minion Quest. In this mode, you control a Goomba who is on a mission to round up all of Bowser’s baddies in order to pull off a rescue mission of the big guy himself. The gameplay is akin to something you would likely find on a mobile app. It involves micromanaging troops, occasionally executing action commands, and using points to pull off special abilities in a limited quantity. Heck, the majority of the time you’ll be spending here is just staring at the screen while the troops just do their own thing. It’s not particularly engaging, but hey, at least it doesn’t have any microtransactions. If for any reason this is what’s drawing you in to purchase this game, it might be best to reconsider. There’s no complexity here. It tries to employ a rock-paper-scissors system, where Flying enemies have an advantage over Melee enemies, and Melee enemies have one over Ranged enemies – but honestly, in the end, none of it matters. If you find yourself having any trouble, it takes no effort to grind a few levels to simply overpower anything that stands your way. No thought required.
The core campaign found in Superstar Star Saga + Bowser’s Minions has been totally unchanged. Every puzzle, area, enemy and every line of dialogue is intact. Even the music has been safely arranged to replicate the original soundtrack beat-by-beat. Some might be worried that aspects of the original title might feel dated in this day and age, but keeping everything the same turned out to be a surprisingly smart move. The mechanics the game presents are simple, easy and fun to learn. The foundation is introduced pretty clearly to you right from the start, and any new elements they introduce throughout your adventure are never over-explained. This is a stark contrast to the bogged down, patronising tone that the other newer entries in the series have adopted, and demonstrates very clearly that sometimes less is more.
On the other hand, AlphaDream seems to have had worries that the game would still be difficult for players and have made attempts at streamlining and simplifying the experience. Rather than control Mario and Luigi’s overworld actions individually like in the original game, Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions gets rid of that and just gives you a moveset list you can cycle through. In the past you would be able to choose whether you’d want Mario or Luigi in front at any time, and press the L or R buttons to change Luigi and Mario’s actions respectively (such as Jump, Hammer or Hand). There are special abilities you would learn along the way that would allow you surpass obstacles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to cross. This would require switching a certain brother to the back or front, and proceeding to use one of your action commands on the other. For example, if you had Mario following Luigi, you could use his hammer to force Luigi into the ground – which sounds violent, but he’s safe. I promise. (Luigi deserves better.)
This is one of the things that the remake has streamlined. Instead of L and R controlling each brother, it simply cycles through all the moves you’ve learned collectively, allowing the game to worry about the brothers’ formation instead. This might not seem like a big deal, but it surprisingly adds tedium to something that was already pretty simple. Accessing the special ability I described earlier would’ve taken three button taps at most, but here in the remake, it could take anywhere up to mashing the L or R button six to seven times. The worst part is, since all your actions are lumped together, even pulling out your hammer to start a battle with one of the many enemies roaming around the map can feel like a hassle, leading to your foes landing a pre-emptive pounce on you. It’s a change that was deeply unnecessary, and while it’s possible to bring up all your moves on the touch screen (which you trade for the convenience of having a mini-map instead), being able to toggle to the original control scheme in the settings would have been a nice option to have.
It should be noted that there were some very deliberate attempts to make the game easier, too. You’re constantly and consistently thrown fantastic equipment, badges and items right from the get-go. This tends to break things quite a bit when it comes to the in-game economy and the overall difficulty itself. Money no longer has any weight, because there’s no real reason to spend it. Why buy more mushrooms when you already have dozens? Why spend money on worse equipment when the game literally just threw the best thing you can find at the time? This seeps its way into stakes and tension of every battle and spoils it all. By the end of my 20 hour run, I had only died twice. On top of that, those two deaths were exclusively in the final area of the game. It’s all too unbalanced.
Aesthetically, the game is gorgeous. The original game was gorgeous too. These are two very different styles that have charm in their own way. Beautiful lighting effects and an incredibly pleasing use of rich colours makes this game a delight to play through. While characters don’t appear quite as bold or physically expressive as they did previously, they’re still emotive enough to be just as memorable as they once were. It really all depends on personal taste. Admittedly, it was something I was really concerned about before experiencing the game for myself, but as soon as I started playing it all just clicked – until I noticed that they removed the Geno cameo. Unforgivable.
Please play Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions if you never had the chance to play the original. Despite some questionable adjustments, having the opportunity to re-experience this game was an absolute pleasure and has only reminded me of why I love it so much. The characters and writing are as charming as ever, and the memories I had exploring the quirky BeanBean Kingdom are ones I’ll never forget. I only wish I could say the same for the Bowser’s Minions side of the package.
- Currently the best Mario and Luigi on 3DS
- Writing that will make you chuckle and chortle
- Interesting and unique locales
- The Minion Quest
- Frustrating attempts at streamlining
- A little too easy