I have to confess, growing up I was never a big fan of RPG games, with the sole exception of Pokémon. But, everyone loved Pokémon. Other than that game it was just never a genre I could ever see myself enjoy playing despite the fact that I used to love watching my brother play things like Final Fantasy 7 all the time. It just simply wasn’t my thing. Fast forward twenty-plus years and I now play them all the time. From Fire Emblem to Disgaea and everything else in between, you name it, I play it. The reason for the change in heart… Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.
First released in 2003, it was a game that when announced, I immediately wanted it. I’d never played Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario, but something about this game just looked so enjoyable to me. When I got it for that Christmas, I absolutely adored it. The subsequent Mario & Luigi games never quite got to the same standard as the first game in the series, maybe with the exception of Bowser’s Inside Story. So when the announcement of a remake of Superstar Saga came about for the 3DS, of course, I was excited, but also a bit confused as I do not think a remake was even needed, but alas.
For those that have never played the original, the story is a fairly basic affair but has the distinctiveness that Bowser isn’t the bad guy here, he’s actually on your side to a certain degree. Instead, the main villain is the Beanish Witch Cackletta and her assistant, Fawful. The quest begins when Cackletta steals Princess Peach’s voice and replaces it with explosives (no, seriously) after masquerading as somebody else. Cackletta flees to the Beanbean Kingdom and our heroes Mario and Luigi travel over with Bowser on his airship, only to be shot out of the sky. This is where the game properly starts.
With the aforementioned Beanbean Kingdom serving as our backdrop, Superstar Saga is different in that the Mushroom Kingdom doesn’t really play a part in the game. This means that there are brand new enemies that you would have never seen before (at the time at least). Having said that, traditional enemies such as Goombas are also present too, because what’s a Mario game without the essential bad guys.
If you have never played a single Mario & Luigi game before, first of all, you’re in for a treat. They are a series of role-playing games developed by the very talented people over at AlphaDream. They are always full of really comical and clever dialogue and it never takes itself seriously. The constant bashing of Luigi is a particular highlight for me. Poor Luigi. One thing worth noting if you are not a fan of a lot of much dialogue in games is that you are able to make cutscenes go faster by pressing and holding the R button. I personally prefer to watch them, but it is a nice touch for others nonetheless.
Both brothers are controlled by different button presses with Mario being allocated to the A button and Luigi allocated to the B button. This comes into effect for both the turn-based battles and the overworld. The turn-based battles work a little different here than they do in a more traditional turn-based RPG like Paper Mario. During battles, Mario and Luigi can attack by either stomping on an enemy or using a hammer. Stomping on enemies allow you to get a couple of hits in if you can time your jumps, whereby hammer attacks you have to press the button at just the right time in order to deal maximum damage. You also have to determine which attack you should use, as there is no point in trying to use the jump attack on an enemy like a Spiny, because you are just going to hurt yourself rather than the enemy. Likewise, it is pointless using a hammer attack on a foe that hovers because the hammer will not reach them, so you always have to think about which attack you need to use when fighting certain enemies.
You are also able to use special Bros. Attacks. These are your more fancy looking attacks that see Mario and Luigi teaming up to generally deal more damage (as you’d expect). You are able to watch videos of the attacks being used or practice them yourself as some of them are a little intricate as you need to time your button presses just right in order to get the maximum effect you’re looking for. Each time you use one of these attacks it uses up BP (Bros. Points), with the more effective ones consuming more.
The dodge and counterattack elements during battles are what makes the encounters more different from the norm. Every single attack aimed at you from an enemy can be avoided in some way or another. For example, if an enemy uses a ranged attack, there will be a way to either jump over the projectile they have launched at you or whack it away with the hammer. Some attacks can be turned around and will damage them instead of you. If, for example, they charge at you and you jump at just the right time you will land on their head. More often than not, enemy attacks will only target one brother and you have to work out and react quickly to which one the attack is coming for. The way you know who is being attacked is really clever. You see, enemies often have a small signal or gesture to point out who they will attack. They could move their eyes in the direction of Mario, so you know its Mario that you’re going to want to try and dodge with.
You are able to turn on an assist mode which tells you who the enemy is going to attack, but it is optional, so if you want a sterner test then leave it off. If there is a certain attack you simply cannot work out and always get hurt from, you are able to keep hold of X which acts as an emergency guard button. You will take damage, but it will be significantly lower, so it’s a very useful thing to take advantage of now and then. The Mario & Luigi battle system has always been one of my favourites, it just adds a bit more skill than typical RPG battle systems and it involves the player a bit more.
So that’s the Battle system, now onto the overworld. During this element of the game, you will find that there are lots of platforming and puzzle elements. You are able to jump, again Mario and Luigi have separate button presses, but if you press X then both brothers jump at the same time, handy for lots of quick jumps in a row. The hammer is also serviceable here too, with it being used for breaking rocks and hitting switches. You also learn various new abilities to enter otherwise inaccessible spots. For instance, the Mario Bros. can team up and use the High Jump ability to reach higher platforms or the Spin jump to float over platforms that are farther apart than a jump would normally reach. The overworld commonly feature various obstacles and platforming challenges that require the player to make use of various techniques to pass them. You will, of course, come across enemies in the overworld, and if you are able to stomp on them or hammer them, you will get an advantage when the battle starts, but likewise, if they attack you in the overworld then they will affect you when the battle starts.
With it being an RPG, stats play an important role. When Mario and Luigi level up by earning enough experience in battles, their stats raise automatically. You can then decide which stat to add a bonus to via a roulette, but be aware that you are not able to spam a certain stat over and over again, in a certain sense anyway as you can always choose the same stat, but the bonuses will decrease. If you do get good at timing then you can always get the highest bonus which certainly helps out a lot. In the game, we have HP, BP (as previously mentioned), POW, DEF, SPEED and STACHE. They are all pretty much self-explanatory with the exception of STACHE, which in basic terms is luck. It is very satisfying when you’re in an area and certain battles against a particular enemy takes a good few turns, but you then level up, increase your POW and fight the same enemy again and it now takes only one or two turns.
Now all of that sounds very positive but it isn’t all great. For example, a lot of areas do get repetitive after a while, as most of the enemy types you come up against will be the same, and if you know exactly how to beat said enemy, then battles do become boring. I found myself wanting to just run past certain enemies but I hate leaving easy experience points behind. You almost want that section to be over so you can just move on and find something a bit different, which isn’t really what you want to feel. You also get given way too many items, after just two hours of gameplay I already had well over 50 mushrooms, and considering mushrooms effectively help you from being defeated, I was never really in any danger of failing. And that isn’t mentioning the amount of 1-Up Mushrooms I have and other very useful items you get given a lot of.
A brand new mode is included with this remake, which you probably could have guessed with the game having + Bowser’s Minions in its title, it’s a bit of a giveaway. You don’t actually get access to this mode until a few hours into the main game. This mode tells the story of the game from the perspective of Bowser’s underlings. You start off as an unlikely hero, a Goomba, as you recruit characters to grow your army as you hope to locate your missing chief. The battles here work very differently than they do in the main game as they automatically play out themselves, with the occasional button press or presses that will land a critical hit. The main objective during the battles is to take out the enemy captain and as long as you defeat the captain then you win, regardless of how many other enemies you eradicate first. Likewise, if your captain falls in battle then it’s game over.
There are Captain Commands you can use to help turn the tide of battle in your favour. One example is the ‘chance’ command which gives you a random bonus such as higher attack or defence. These Captain Commands cost CP so you have to pick and choose when to use them correctly otherwise you will run out and have to play out the rest of the battle without any commands at your disposal. At the end of a battle, if any of the opponent’s allies had survived, they will join the player’s team. When you get over the allotted amount of allies you can send into a battle, you can pick and choose exactly which ones you want to take. It does help to pick the right set to take in as the game has a power triangle whereby ranged fighters beat flying fighters, flying beats melee fighters and melee beats ranged. You can see what type of enemies are coming up in the next battle so if you see lots of flying Goombas, then it will be more beneficial to take characters like Hammer Bros. in there to combat them. Again, your allies can level up and their stats will increase, you can even go back to previous levels and do a bit of grinding if you want.
With the automatic nature of these battles, I never felt all that involved and it was actually a bit dull in truth. I warmed up a little bit as it went on but it was a far cry from the main game. Maybe I expected too much but because this new mode is in the title of the game, I just wanted a bit more. It certainly has a lot of potential and maybe they will expand on it with future games.
At the end of the day, however, I think the majority of people are going to play this game for the main Superstar Saga story, so what you are getting is an extremely good game that if you have never played the original, then I truly envy you. The new style they have gone for is great and it works really well to show off the emotions and charm that all of the characters possess. The improvement in graphics over the original is quite drastic but the original has its own charm and is not bad by any means. The music likewise is top-notch with plenty of great remixes of old songs and originals that will get stuck in your head all day. So all in all, while it isn’t perfect and the new Bowsers Minions mode that has been included is a bit hit and miss, it’s still a very enjoyable experience all-round. If you’re new to RPG’s and want to give one a go, then this is a great place to start. Like it did with me 14 years ago, it may make you a fan.