Being tasked to make the spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was no mean feat, yet it was up to Nintendo owned AlphaDream to make one a reality in the early 2000s. The result was a game that started the Mario & Luigi series of RPGs, each one including a gimmick to stand out. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions sees AlphaDream not only revisit what made the series special, but also includes new touches and modes to freshen things up for their fans.
Does the main game hold up? You bet it does! The tale of Mario & Luigi’s adventures in the Beanbean Kingdom is still hilarious and in my eyes was well worth playing through once again. At a good 8-10 hours depending on your experience and how much of the side content you wish to partake in, the game is somewhat simpler than its successors, but less gimmicky as a result.
The most obvious difference compared to the original is the shift from purely 2D sprites to more textured visuals found in more recent instalments. These are as appealing as they can be, but the thing that truly impressed me was the use of shadows and lighting in darker areas to make the visuals pop out. It’s a neat effect that to the best of my knowledge isn’t really found in the other games in the series.
There is also now amiibo functionality that, depending on the figures owned, can unlock a few items. They’re most certainly more for convenience than anything else, but the sheer number of compatible amiibo combined with the fact that the most useful ones are the Boo, Goomba, and Koopa Troopa Amiibo makes me think I’m missing out on potential content by not having them.
Bundled in alongside Superstar Saga is Minion’s Quest: The Search for Bowser, which is a separate game in itself. It’s required to play through a small chunk of the main game first before unlocking it, but once you’re to that point, it can be accessed from any point in the game. Here, Bowser’s Minions are trying to rescue Bowser, having been separated from the explosion at the beginning of Superstar Saga. Narratively, it runs in tandem with the main plot, though it can be played independently and progress isn’t tied to the base game once it’s unlocked, though it isn’t a long mode so will take a few hours to complete.
Once up to eight units are selected, the squad must go through gauntlets of up to five waves of foes. Taking inspiration from Fire Emblem and other games of similar ilk, there is a triangle of effectiveness when pitting classes against each other in battle – Melee units trump Ranged ones, Ranged units can snipe Aerial ones out of the sky, and Aerial units have a tactical advantage against Melee ones.
It’s a simple system, but there are exceptions and nuances that make balancing teams a more involved process. Grinding levels is required to progress, but mostly so that new units can be recruited to make things a little easier. One thing I did struggle with was the concept of formations, as the game doesn’t really tell you that units are automatically placed in the right spots. However the use of beans to grant experience points and stats to minions is welcome.
Battles are far from just watching troops run into each other. Much like the base game, there’ll occasionally be red circles that indicate when to press a button to maximise damage. Blue circles also appear which can eventually be negated by the Captain’s ability “Deny” at the cost of a CP (Captain Point). This can be activated with touch screen controls or the D-Pad.
Players and enemy Captains have access to the Captain abilities, the selection of which depend on the Captain’s level and which Captain is selected. CP is also accumulated via level-ups, meaning that more gameplay options open up as the game progresses. On the whole, it’s a fun, light-hearted take on RTS that while it wouldn’t make a compelling experience on its own, is welcome as part of a package alongside a classic GameBoy Advance RPG.
Of course, every remake has the opportunity to introduce quality of life options to make the gameplay experience more streamlined. Since this is running on the 3DS rather than the Game Boy Advance, there are more buttons on the device to take advantage of, as well as a second screen. Not all games go to the lengths that Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions does though and it’s appreciated when this game does.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is somewhat on the wordy side, so having a button dedicated to speeding up cut-scenes is welcome for veterans of the game. Getting lost is also no longer a big problem thanks to a map found on the touch screen that one can set pins for points of interest.
The biggest change is how Nintendo refined swapping abilities. It has been heavily streamlined to the point where the formation of the Mario Bros. is always correct, as well as having the options available via both touch screen and buttons. There is also a dedicated button to allow both Mario Bros. to jump normally without the need to swap back to the standard jump icon. It’s an absolute godsend, eliminating a major gripe I had with the original.
As for new combat features, the timing for pressing buttons for moves has been made demonstrably clearer, even giving the button combinations on the bottom screen before selecting the attack, as well as the ability to practice. These were features present in more modern Mario & Luigi games, but are welcome here.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is a great remake that ticks all the right boxes. Not only does the original game hold up incredibly well, but there are plenty of design and mechanical changes that make the game feel fresh. Bowser’s Minions is a great addition that complements the original game nicely. This is a great starting point for the Mario & Luigi series and is wholeheartedly recommended.