I find it odd that despite really liking the Mario and Luigi RPG saga, I never grew up with them; my first entry into the series being Mario and Luigi: Dream Team. I had always been sort-of aware of them, but they just seemed to pass me by. I’ve been slowly trying to work my way back since, completing Bowser’s Inside Story last year, and I started Partners in Time immediately after. Now Nintendo has rolled out Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, a revamped re-release of the original Superstar Saga for the 3DS, so that I can finally experience the first game on a modern console.
For those who haven’t played the original, Superstar Saga finds the Super Mario Bros. in the BeanBean Kingdom, after the evil Cakletta and her minion Fawful stole Princess Peach’s voice and replaced it with explosive text. However, Cakletta is up to something far more foul, and the Bros. must combine their strengths in order to thwart her evil plans and save both the BeanBean and Mushroom Kingdoms. While it’s not the most original story, it works at being a fun, simplistic children’s tale that, much like its predecessors Mario RPG and Paper Mario, is big on humour as well as drama.
For fans of the franchise, both new and old, describing the gameplay may be a bit redundant given there have been two of these games on the 3DS already. Players traverse a 3D overworld using a combination of jumping, hammering, and Bro Moves to explore and solve puzzles. During the combat, players also use a combination of jumping, hammering, and Bro Moves to defeat their enemies. However, unlike the original game which has a very traditional form of turn-based combat, the “Timed Hits” from other games has been added to this re-release to add a little extra dimensionality to the combat. That’s pretty much the only change.
While many “HD re-releases” are content to slap a coat of HD paint onto an old game and call it a day, this is rarely the case with Nintendo, if this and Metroid: Samus Returns are any indication. Graphics and sound have been completely redesigned to resemble the newer Mario and Luigi RPG games on the 3DS. Levels are colorful and more richly detailed while still maintaining their cartoon aesthetic, and character/enemy models look great and are excellently animated. Oddly, the game omits the use of 3D, which is really a shame because the added perception of depth really did work in the previous 3DS entries especially with some of the more intricate Bro Moves and boss attacks.
Then there’s the Bowser’s Minions side game, a meaningless waste of time that offers no challenge and no real reward. Following a handful of Bowser’s minions as they search for their lost master, it’s basically an idle game where you watch various Mario baddies smash into each other until you win. There is the illusion of strategy since it adopts a rock-paper-scissors style of combat (melee enemies are stronger than ranged enemies, which are stronger than aerial enemies, which are stronger than melee) and you get a few “commands” that you can employ while watching your team smash into one and other, but at the end of the day, you have little agency in the gameplay, participating in it does nothing to affect the main game, and it feels like pointless padding.
While Superstar Saga is definitely a great game, and it earned its status as a classic, I wasn’t very impressed with it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with it, so there was no nostalgia hook, and maybe it’s because I had started by playing entries in the franchise that were much more complex, but I just found there was no real WOW factor and I wonder if any newcomers to this game might feel the same.
The game is just too simplistic; an unfortunate downside of being a pitch-perfect recreation of a Gameboy Advance game. I can’t help but wonder, if they took the time to recreate the game, rather than just coat it in HD, why not add more? Maybe less time could’ve been spent on the worthless Bowser’s Minions thing, and dedicated to adding more Bro Moves, in and out of combat? Maybe redesign some areas to accommodate them? I’m not saying it needed to be a completely different game, but just a few minor updates would add more value to it.
However, I reiterate, Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga is by no means a bad game. If you have a nostalgic attachment to it, you’ll definitely want to pick it up for a modern-day update to a classic GBA game, and perhaps younger players new to the 3DS might enjoy its more simplistic design. While it left me wanting to play Dream Team again (or wishing they had remade Bowser’s Inside Story instead) there’s definitely a lot to enjoy here, regardless.