Mario & Luigi original returns
If there’s one genre that has flourished on Nintendo handhelds it’s most certainly Japanese role-playing games. From Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei, to Square Enix’s Dragon Quest remakes, to Nintendo’s Pokémon, Nintendo portables have been JRPG heaven.
As a life-long fan of the genre, all this gaming goodness is truly a dream come true. But as a developer it means the pressure is on to make your RPGs stand out. One such developer that has always risen to the occasion is AlphaDream, makers of the Mario & Luigi RPG series. This immensely popular series began in 2003 on Game Boy Advance, and now you can relieve the original adventure—fully remade—on Nintendo 3DS. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions has arrived!
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
An updated RPG classic
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is often considered a spiritual successor to Super Mario RPG, one of the greatest SNES RPGs. However, aside from the genre and focus on Mario characters, the two series are fundamentally different. Whereas Super Mario RPG drew inspiration from Square’s Final Fantasy series, Mario & Luigi focused on entirely new timing-based gameplay. It worked so well that Mario & Luigi spawned numerous sequels, each one iterating on this core concept.
That brings us to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, a new 3DS remake of this all-time classic. Superstar Saga is no mere slightly enhanced cash grab, but instead a full-on remaster featuring massive updates and new content. The visuals have been completely overhauled and modernized with a look similar to 2016’s smash-hit Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. There are also dozens of quality of life improvements and minor tweaks to make the entire experience better. Most significantly though is the addition of Bowser’s Minions, an entirely new campaign from the perspective of Captain Goomba. Let’s take a closer look at each of the new elements!
Right away the most apparent upgrade, and it’s a big one, are the completely refreshed graphics. Despite the original Game Boy Advance version having aged well, Nintendo transplanted the entire game into its modern-day 3DS engine. That means a much wider palette of colours onscreen at any given time, and vastly improved character and environmental details. Nintendo has focused huge on 3DS remakes this year, from Fire Emblem to Metroid, and this is the latest example. Like the rest, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions looks simply exquisite this time around.
There is one odd omission however, and that’s the complete lack of auto-stereoscopic 3D effects. Previous Mario & Luigi 3DS games, like Dream Team and Paper Jam, featured eye-popping 3D worlds with mesmerizing depth. If you enjoy flicking up the Depth Slider for your games, the absence of 3D effects does sting a bit. This is especially true considering the stellar 3D found in this year’s Fire Emblem Echoes and Metroid Samus Returns. Perhaps this was done to save on costs, or inline with Nintendo’s recent push for their new 2DS XL handheld. Whatever the case may be, being the first 3DS Mario & Luigi with no 3D effects didn’t go unnoticed. Of course, with graphics this good it’s rather easy to altogether forgive this elision.
Quality of life improvements
Another area that’s received significant attention is the game’s overall usability. With the dual-screen nature of the 3DS, the map and menu are now on the bottom touchscreen for easy navigation. Not only can you flip through menus using the stylus, but you can also switch between Mario and Luigi’s special moves on the overworld map with easy taps. Some moves require a specific character to be at the front of your party, and now switching happen automatically. Speaking of moves, in this version you can make Mario and Luigi jump together by simply pressing the X button. All these improvements, and many more I could mention, add significantly to the game’s overall enjoyment.
Same great story
At the heart of every good RPG is a quality story that hooks you in and keeps you interested. This is perhaps where SuperStar Saga excels the most with its utterly whimsical and rib-tickling tale. It begins with the baddies Cackletta and Fawful sneaking their way into the Mushroom Kingdom and stealing Peach’s voice. Mario, Luigi, and Bowser volunteer for the rescue, because you know, the King Koopa can’t kidnap and marry a muted Peach.
This is an RPG adventure where the enemies, supporting cast, and Mario and Luigi themselves are all stand-up comedians. Funny events happen left, right, and centre, much of which made me laugh out loud despite having played the original. Even the names of areas you visit—like Teehee Valley, Hoohoo Village, and Gwarhar Lagoon—reinforce the main comedy theme. Having gotten used to RPG games with gravitas, like Final Fantasy XV, this lighted-hearted fare is a refreshing change of pace.
Same great gameplay
The timing-based gameplay from the original returns here fully intact and it feels better than ever. During battles you have control over both characters’ jumps, with the A button used for Mario and B for Luigi. By paying close attention to enemies’ physical “tells” you can see who they’re planning on attacking next, and when. Timing your jumps correctly lets you avoid taking damage and sometimes dish out a sweet counterattack. It’s a lot of fun and keeps you hyper-engaged during every enemy encounter.
Combat moves can also assist you when wandering the overworld map, helping you overcome obstacles and discover secrets. You can perform high jumps, a spin move, flatten each other with hammers, and use fireball/lightning powers with various effects. These maneuvers are needed to progress through areas, but they’re also used to discover hundreds of secrets everywhere you travel. This makes Superstar Saga a fun and rewarding platforming game-lite on top of being an excellent traditional RPG.
I could easily recommend this game for Superstar Saga alone, but adding icing on the cake is Bowser’s Minions. This all-new adventure puts you in the role of Captain Goomba who’s out searching for Bowser. I’ll let you discover on you own how Bowser goes missing, but suffice to say it’s funny as you’d expect.
As the Captain, your role is to gather allies (i.e. well-known Mario baddies) such as Koopa Troopas, Goombas, and Bob-ombs. Each one belongs to a specific class type, either Flying, Ranged, or Melee. A weapon’s triangle governs battles, with melee besting ranged, range besting flying, and flying besting melee.
For the most part battles play out automatically, and much of your work happens pre-fight. Before going into a combat scenario you’ll see the types of enemies you can expect to battle. Knowing this, your job is to establish the best 8-person army to counteract who you’ll be facing. Unit positioning matters too, as melees are best at the front, ranged in the rear, and flyers in the middle.
Overall, Bowser’s Minions is pretty easy-breezy but I still had a lot of fun with it. The story is quirky and funny, and it was charming to play through an adventure from the bad-guys’ side. I wish you could go more hands-on during the battles though, as the challenge is far less than what you get in Superstar Saga. Still, as a freebie campaign it adds tons of extra hours on top of an already pretty lengthy main game.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions brings back on all-time classic RPG with a gorgeous new look. The visual upgrades are just the beginning though as this game is enhanced in numerous ways. From touchscreen navigation, to remixed music, to an abundance of gameplay improvements, this game has leaped into the modern era. Toss in Bowser’s Minions, a full secondary campaign from the bad guys’ perspective, and you have a game absolutely stuffed with content. RPG fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up.
+ Beautiful new graphics
+ Witty story from start to finish
+ Fun timing-based combat
+ Hundreds of hidden items to find
+ Bowser’s Minions is a nice addition
– No 3D effects
– Bowser’s Minions combat is mostly hands-off
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4.1/5 (82%)