Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions is a faithful remake of the original game that is fun for veterans who just want to relive the experience and ideal for people who are looking to experience Superstar Saga today. The extra storyline featuring Bowser's Minions isn't quite spectacular, but an interesting and entertaining bonus. The remake is still very good like its source material, but maybe also somewhat unnecessary.
We’re used to Mario and Luigi being the stars in classic platform games, but by now the two brothers have been featured in games of a large variety of different genres. And while the idea of our mustachioed heroes being the leads in a Role Playing Game once sounded unbelievable, we have been proven time and time again that the Mario Universe actually lends itself to entertaining RPG’s quite well.
In 1997, Super Mario RPG for SNES gave Mario his RPG starring debut, and the concept has really taken off since. Probably most memorably in Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga on Gameboy Advance. That game started a new subseries within the Mario franchise – the ‘Mario and Luigi’ series – that has been getting new iterations up until today. One of the most recent ones, Mario and Luigi Paper Jam Bros., actually combined the ‘Mario and Luigi’ series with the other prominent Mario RPG line, Paper Mario.
The newest entry in the Mario and Luigi series doesn’t try to spice up things quite as much, but rather stays very true to the core. In fact, Mario and Luigi Super Star Saga + Bowser’s Minions, much like the title suggests, is a remake of the game that started it all in 2003.
And yes, it is an awful and long title, but at least it is clearly telling us what it is.
Chances are you might have already played Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga on Gameboy Advance back in the day. If so, the remake of the game for 3DS adds a few tiny tweaks and updates that change the game a little bit, as well as providing a parallel storyline throughout the game that is entirely new compared to the original game. If you’re completely new to the game, it is a perfect way of experiencing the game on modern systems. In short: Mario and Luigi are alerted of a major new crisis in Mushroom Kingdom: during a supposed friendly visit from the royal entourage of the neighboring Bean Bean Kingdom, Princess Peach’s voice was stolen, causing her to now speak in a dangerously explosive tongue. Mario and Luigi, as well as their archnemesis Bowser – who for once isn’t responsible for the chaos – decide they won’t stand for it and travel to Bean Bean Kingdom to try and win back Peach’s voice as well as restore peace in the Bean Bean Kingdom, both of which have been compromised by the evil witch Cackletta.
Being a remake, the game was updated visually to match the other Mario and Luigi games on 3DS and uses the exact same graphical style and quality as, say, Paper Jam Bros. did. Most of the gameplay features match those of the other 3DS games as well, even if that means that they have been changed from how they were in the original. It’s mostly just quality of life things, like being able to save anywhere you want (even though save points are still in the game) as well as a variety of uses for the 3DS’ second screen such as a map or the ability to select various overworld abilities through the touchscreen.
Mario and Luigi: SS+BM (for short) combines traditional role-playing elements with gameplay typical for Mario games. Mario and Luigi navigate through the world quite like they do in some of the more traditional Mario titles, including jumping around a lot on both their surrounding and on enemies. When you do however, instead of defeating them, you trigger a turn-based battle that pops up in a separate screen and fight very much like a typical Final Fantasy game would have you do. Attacks and maneuvers are done using battle menus as per the default RPG formula, although some active inputs are required to dodge enemy attacks or to give your own some extra oomph. It keeps fights more energetic, entertaining and easier to keep doing over and over. Outside of battle, the game is never a sidescroller like regular Mario titles but the elements and subtle touches of Mario (platform) games are noticeable and well integrated.
The biggest addition compared to the original game is the new title’s namesake, the Bowser’s Minion’s Quest. This is essentially a secondary storyline that takes place at the same time as Mario and Luigi’s journey and focuses on one of Bowser’s Goomba minions that tries to reform Bowser’s army to find and rescue their lost King in the Bean Bean Kingdom. It would have been amazing if the gameplay provided in this storyline would be similar to that of the main quest – imagine controlling a Goomba and Koopa Troopa in RPG battles: that’s pretty awesome. However, the sidequest features easier and quite different gameplay that focuses solely on team battles and teambuilding. There is no overworld exploring, just a series of consecutive battles between which you can swap various members of your fighting team, each of which has one of 3 different battle-types that are strong against one and weak against the third. Using this rock-paper-scissors mechanic you try to form a team best suited to tackle each of the opposing enemy teams. You have very little control over your units during these battles, but you can use special commands and occasionally have to press a button to power up a member’s special attack. The extra storyline is more fun than it initially seems, but ultimately not much more than an occasional distraction from the main game. It is a missed chance to not have Goomba and Bowser’s minions star in their own quest that is not just an add-on, but a full-fledged RPG storyline. Mario will always be the star, so a separate game is unlikely to happen: this would have been the best chance these characters have at a starring role – one they deserve for once.
If you’re unfamiliar with the original GBA game, but have played any of the 3DS Mario & Luigi games, you pretty much know what to expect when you start playing the 3DS version of Superstar Saga. The game may be somewhat shorter than the other games in the series, but the extra storyline makes up for that if you choose to complete it. The game may feel slightly more basic than the others, but that is to be expected since it is a rather faithful remake of the very first game in the series. After 14 years, Superstar Saga is still an amazingly fun game, but this remake does feel slightly redundant. It doesn’t really introduce any new features (other than the Minion Quest) and plays more or less the exact same as the original game. If anything, it’s been made easier by many small gameplay tweaks. If you are a fan of the series but never had a chance to play Superstar Saga, then this 3DS remake is a quite solid way to experience this enjoyable RPG, but for fans of the original game, there isn’t much new to experience. That said, simply experiencing a nostalgic title with updated graphics is quite nice every now and then, and all in all the game is still as good as it was in 2003.