While Nintendo has had a stellar software lineup this year (especially when it comes to the newly launched Nintendo Switch), I was (admittedly) excited when I heard that Mario and Luigi’s RPG debut was going to be receiving an enhanced remake. While many would prefer a brand-new entry in developer AlphaDream’s spin-off series, I was glad to hear that a new generation of gamers would have the chance to experience the game for itself.
Truth be told, I never got to finish the original when it released back in 2003, but Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions serves up the right mix of exploration, action, and story; a sharp contrast from the Paper Mario series, which has undergone some drastic changes over the last five years (and not necessarily to its benefit). And in traditional Nintendo fashion, this remake features a couple of new additions, with the most notable being the brand new “Bowser’s Minions” side story.
Jumping back to the core game, longtime fans will be glad to know that the moment-to-moment action has remained largely the same, and the same goes for the story. Shifting the focus away from Mario’s never-ending battle against Bowser, the game introduces the evil witch Cackletta (and her speaking impaired sidekick, Fawful), as they attempt to take over both the Mushroom and Beanbean Kingdoms. Their first act of ill will is to replace Princess Peach’s voice with explosives, rendering her unable to speak. This immediately attracts the attention of Mario, Luigi, and Bowser, who all decide to ban together in order to defeat Cackletta and restore Peach’s regular voice.
As (bad) luck would have it, the newly-formed trio are shortly separated, with Mario and Luigi landing near the border of both kingdoms. From here, the player is able to control both brothers in order to navigate around the game’s many environments. Superstar Saga has little emphasis on traditional platforming, instead tasking the player with using both brothers (and their respective skills) to solve puzzles and move from one area to the next. The game’s main mechanic comes from being able to control each brother independently. While you can move both of them in tandem, you are also able to control actions of each brother using the 3DS’ face buttons. Aside from being able to jump independently, you’ll have to use a handful of skills and tricks to make your way through both kingdoms. For example, Luigi can shrink Mario to a smaller size using his hammer, allowing Mario to fit into small gaps. Mario can also use Luigi as a makeshift helicopter in order for both to hover across gaps.
This control scheme paves the way for some memorable moments; aside from puzzle-solving, there are unique one-off moments and mini-games that keep players on their toes. One of my favorites comes early on in the game, where Mario and Luigi must win a game of “Border Jump” by successfully avoiding a jump rope which is twirled and moved around by the aptly named Border Bros. Combat is also a treat. Battle sequences allow you to control Mario and Luigi independently, with properly timed button presses allowing you to deal more damage and defend against incoming attacks. Some quality of life improvements from later games are also thrown in for good measure, including an “Emergency Block”, a defensive move that doesn’t require split-second reaction times or on-the-nose timing.
Despite releasing nearly 15 years ago, the core content holds up surprisingly well, though it’s made all the better thanks to a revamped presentation. The same humorous dialogue and memorable side characters keep things interesting, but the new visuals take center stage. The art has been remade from scratch, while character animations have been tweaked and fleshed out. The game’s soundtrack has seen a similar overhaul, and is a noticeable step up from the rather low-fi sound that the Gameboy Advance was capable of. Oddly enough, there is no support for any amount of 3D, meaning that you won’t miss out on anything should you choose to play on a New Nintendo 2DS.
If you were most looking forward to the package’s brand-new content, you might walk away disappointed. “Minion Quest” is unlocked after progressing a couple of hours in the main campaign, and is a departure from the RPG mechanics seen throughout the rest of the game. This standalone/separate adventure follows Captain Goomba, in his quest to track down Bowser by recruiting others to his cause.
This mode plays out more like a real-time strategy, though the amount of control you wield is fairly limited. For the most part, you’ll watch Captain Goomba and his forces as they automatically fight enemy armies. Other than grinding previous stages in order to unlock enough of one unit type (this mode features a rock-paper-scissors system not unlike the one used in Fire Emblem), there’s not much to do here. As a result, Minion Quest often feels like a chore, as opposed to a new piece of fully-fleshed out content.
Still, while Minion Quest fails to hit its mark, newcomers and series fans alike should not be dismayed from giving Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions a go. Despite its age, the core game (and it’s delightfully funny story) have held up amazingly well, and the revamped audio and visuals are a welcome addition to Mario and Luigi’s debut RPG.