Mario & Luigi:
Mario & Luigi is a real gem of a series. First started way back in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance, it’s a series that has been a personal favourite of mine for on-the-go RPG goodness. If you’ve somehow missed this game and its excellent sequels, you should rectify that mistake immediately – luckily Nintendo has you covered. Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions packages a remake of the original title, plus a bonus sidestory, into one delightful package, and it’s one no RPG fan should miss out on.
The best thing about Superstar Saga, and the Mario & Luigi series as a whole, is just how playful it’s willing to get with standard Mario tropes and formula. This is wildly apparent in Superstar Saga’s goofy, genuinely funny story. Princess Peach is, once again, in trouble, but instead of a standard Bowser kidnapping it’s a mean bean from the Beanbean Kingdom who has stolen Peach’s sweet voice and left her instead with some explosive vocabulary.
Watching Peach literally wreck her castle with incendiary expletives is a riot, as is Bowser’s own sense of twisted logic that follows. He posits to Mario and, as he puts it, Green-Mario, that if he’s ever going to start kidnapping her again without destroying his own Kingdom with her foul mouth, they’ll all have to team up and get her voice back.
Throughout the game the dialogue is constantly poking for laughs, and more often than not it found my funny bone. It works because of how well we all know the Mario formula, and it’s constant twisting of it is an easy but enjoyable laugh to get.
Whilst you’re out questing for Peach’s vocal chords you won’t get up to much classic Mario action, either. Again, the familiar is twisted to give us something unique and fresh. Engaging in enemies will result in a turn-based battle, but a much more active one than we’re used to from the genre.
Instead of passively selecting attacks and then taking your lumps as they’re dealt out to you, you can directly control your team to deal more damage or avoid incoming hits altogether. Simple button presses at the right time, usually at the moment of impact, allow you to deal out massive bonus damage or leap over aggressive baddies. Whilst this might not seem like much, it makes a grind-fest genre such as the JRPG a lot more skill based, and the activation of these bonuses feels satisfying and fun in the same way a rhythm game does. Besides alleviating a need to grind, this system makes sure you’re always paying attention and, as a result, having fun.
Pre-existing fans might be wondering whether there’s much reason to return – luckily, Nintendo must have foresaw this and planted the reason right there in the title of the game. Bowser’s Minions is an all new sidestory that can be played in full once it’s unlocked early on in the main game. It’s a different beast from the main game, with its own story (of a Goomba amassing a force of bad guys) and gameplay mechanics. It’s a more hands-off type of game, enlisting you as a strategist to villainous troops of Goombas, Koopa Troopers and Shy Guys. I’m glad the team didn’t just add an extra chunk of similar gameplay to the original title – it would be unnecessary, considering how fully Superstar Saga explores that medium – but that said I wasn’t nearly as engaged with Bowser’s Minions as I was at replaying the main game. The story, however, is as much fun Superstar Saga’s, thanks to consistently excellent writing.
Going back to the original Superstar Saga to compare the two looks of the game, I was struck by just how well the 2D pixel art had held up. It’s full of character, colour, and compliments the silly feel of the story through and through. That said, the team on the 3DS remake have done an excellent job revamping the look and feel of the game for modern audiences, bringing everything to contemporary standards whilst keeping that charm that made the original so special.
I think a lot of people are going to rail against the new look simply because of how perfectly it was rendered back in 2003, but I’m personally really pleased with the new aesthetics. Maybe it would have been smart to include an option to choose your visual poison, but that would detract from all the great work this game has had put into it. Sprites are livelier, everything’s far more colourful and, when comparing any screenshot from two games, the 3DS version looks so full and vibrant compared to the GBA’s limited palette. I think both games are an absolute work of art – and having a different take is nothing but a good thing.
The music, unsurprisingly, is fantastic, with remixes of traditional Mario tunes we’re all expecting from these spin-off titles. Even Mario humming his own tunes in the shower is a stroke of genius, and I really can’t fault this game from an aural standpoint.
“Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowsers Minions” demands your attention, whether you’re a returning fan or you missed the original. It’s still a breath of fresh air now, nearly fifteen years later, and that speaks volumes to how great this game was when it first came out. I can only hope we’ll also get Partners in Time and – most importantly – Bowser’s Inside Story with this fresh coat of paint. It’s a wonderful series that really, everyone needs to check out. Your funny bone will thank you.