Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions Review (3DS)
Mario and his friends have branched out into all kinds of genres outside of their platforming roots, and this has led to a surprisingly long history with RPGs. One of the most notable Mario RPGs was Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Gameboy Advance. With its unique battle system and showcase of the weird side of Mario it launched to critical acclaim and gave birth to a whole side-series of games. Fast-forward almost 15 years (god, way to make me feel old) and a remake of the game is launching for the 3DS. While it sports a new coat of paint and simplifies the gameplay a little more than is probably necessary, the core of the game is still here and it’s still great. To top things off it also features a brand new side adventure called Minion Quest, which follows the exploits of Captain Goomba and his troops who go in search of Bowser during the events of the main game.
In Superstar Saga Mario and Luigi must venture outside of the Mushroom Kingdom in order to recover Peach’s voice from a new big bad, Cackletta. They find themselves in the Beanbean Kingdom, a world of strange colours and even stranger inhabitants. It’s a weird world that’s far removed from what’s normal for the Mario series, like a bizarro world Mushroom Kingdom. It’s brought to life with some gorgeous spritework and animations that are just brimming with character. The art style didn’t appeal to me in pre-release screenshots but, while I still prefer the iconic style of the original Superstar Saga, it looks much better in motion in the proper resolution. The writing complements the design with a witty and humorous script that takes recognisable Mario characters in hilarious directions – Luigi being a coward and living in Mario’s shadow is played up for big laughs on a number of occasions, and Bowser goes from terrifying main villain to loveable oaf who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a lot of love and respect for Mario’s legacy in this game, with all sorts of callbacks and cameos.
Mario and Luigi roam and explore the world as a duo, and each has actions controlled with a single button. At first they can just jump, but you’ll unlock more over the course of the game like swinging hammers and working together to jump higher which allow you to reach new areas and solve puzzles. Despite looking like an isometric RPG, platforming and puzzles are still big components of the game so between that and the battles there’s a nice variety of gameplay. The isometric perspective does cause issues at a couple of points because it can be difficult to parse parts of the environment and see where to go, but this isn’t a problem most of the time.
Superstar Saga is a turn-based RPG, but rather than selecting moves and watching them play out you’ll be actively involved in their execution. Each move has points where’ll you’ll need to press A (for Mario’s actions) or B (for Luigi’s actions) in order to pull them off properly. You can’t just doze off in enemy turns either, as you’ll need to jump or slam your hammer to counter enemy attacks. So if you’re after a an RPG you can sort of passively play while doing something else then that’s not this game. You’ve got to be paying attention in battles because the game doesn’t straight up tell you what moves enemies will perform and who they’ll target with them. Enemies instead give visual clues as to what they’re going to do, so you have to study their behaviours and react accordingly. Observing enemies also gives clues on which moves to use on them. Hammers won’t reach flying enemies, and jumping on a spiky enemy isn’t a very smart idea.
Unlocking new overworld abilities will enable you to use them as attacks in battle, and will also lead to unlocking new team-up moves where Mario and Luigi work together to deal more damage. These have more involved input methods, requiring you to alternate between pressing different buttons at different times depending on Mario and Luigi’s individual actions. Using them often enough will unlock even more complicated versions that have additional effects, like targeting more opponents or making enemies drop rare items. All these features in the battle system come together to make battles much more engaging than a typical turn-based system, While individual battles can sometimes drag out a little bit, they’re sporadic enough and the game itself is just the right length for this to not become an issue.
Players after a ‘pure’ experience of Superstar Saga just as it was on the GBA will likely be annoyed by some of the simplifications made to it. The way the game has handled these is weird because some are optional while others aren’t, and then there’s a whole Easy Mode that’s separate from all of these which you can toggle on and off as you like. Since they’ve already given you so much choice in customising your difficulty it would have been nice to have the option to leave things as they were in the original. I personally don’t feel the game is too difficult, so I’d recommend that you at least give the base settings a try, and make use of the new Guide feature. It explains each new mechanic and system as you encounter them, and even allows you to practise the timing of each of Mario and Luigi’s special attacks if you’re struggling with them. Then if you’re really having trouble you can toggle most things on and off as you feel comfortable.
Not all of the changes are bad – being able to save anywhere you like is a welcome addition, and having the improved versions of Mario and Luigi’s team-up moves as separate options in the menu means they’ll get a lot more usage. They’re balanced out by the fact that they cost more BP to use and are still trickier to pull off. But then there’s some that trivialise parts of the game, like the fact that there’s now no penalty to attempting Hammer counterattacks too early. In the original game if you held down the counter button too long, the countering plumber would mess it up and leave themselves open to attack. Now you can hold it as long as you like with no penalty, which means there’s less timing to consider. Another change I took issue with was that it’s easier to acquire special bean juice items. Each time you make a new one of these you are granted one of a series of potent equipment pieces. Since these are easier to obtain now you can get really powerful gear quite early on in the game (especially if you’re using amiibo!).
The biggest addition to the game is a new side adventure called Minion Quest. It’s basically the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead of Superstar Saga, showcasing the exploits of Captain Goomba and his army of minions as they try to rescue Bowser during the events of the main game. It’s even framed in a theatre, with an audience eagerly watching on during cutscenes and cheering you on after successful battles. It’s a cute story with the same sense of humour as the main game, and there’s some interesting encounters that occur parallel to the plot. It’s really simple in terms of the gameplay though. There’s no overworld to explore, just a series of battles accessed via a world map. Each type of minion and enemy is a Melee, Ranged or Flying attacker, with each of these interacting in a Rock, Paper, Scissors system. You need to prepare an 8-minion army for each battle that is not only strong enough in stats and levels, but will have a type advantage over the enemy army. Your minions and their enemies will then go head to head and whittle each other down, and your interaction is limited. Occasionally a minion will activate a special move which will require you to press the A button at the right time, like when attacking in the main game, but you have no control over when these occur. Each squad captain also has some special abilities that you can activate a few times during battle to help out, like being able to nullify an enemy’s special move. The writing’s fun and it’s cool building up a collection of classic Mario enemies, but there’s not enough substance here to justify a purchase if you’ve already played Superstar Saga. It feels like one of those tie-in mobile apps of yesteryear that you’d be forced to play in order to unlock bonuses.
There’s amiibo functionality for some of the Mario character figures in both Superstar Saga and Minion Quest. The game treats your amiibo as stamps that you use on virtual stamp sheets. It’s a really cute process which involves you holding your amiibo on the touch screen like you’re pressing it on an ink pad, then lifting it and pressing it on the screen again like you’re stamping a page. It makes the process a bit more Toys to Life-y rather than just tapping a figure to unlock bonuses like regular amiibo usage. Using the stamps earned from compatible amiibo in Superstar Saga will reward you with random equipment (that can also be obtained in-game) or beans that can be used to make special empowering juices. I would honestly recommend not using this functionality because you can get some powerful equipment and stat boosts earlier than you would otherwise and it can make the game a bit easy.
The Boo, Koopa Troopa and Goomba amiibo also unlock a stamp sheet to be used in Minion Quest. Using one of these amiibo in Minion Quest will save your game data to it and unlock a special gold minion from the race of the figure (e.g. Boo amiibo unlocks a Golden Boo) that’s a tiny bit stronger than the in-game captain of the same race. Using the stamps in this mode is a bit more complicated as each slot on the stamp sheet corresponds to a checklist of specific units. When you’ve filled in a checklist by training units to meet the criteria you can stamp one of the amiibo you saved your data to in order to unlock a new quest in Minion Quest. These quests don’t add in any new story, so given how simple the gameplay is they’re pretty much functionally identical to those elsewhere in the game. But if you enjoy Minion Quest’s gameplay then these stamps give you something to aim for and reward you with a new quest to play for your trouble. For more information, check out our Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions amiibo guide.
Superstar Saga was a great game on the GBA in 2003 and it’s a great game on the 3DS now. It’s easy to see how the game was so popular, with its entertaining writing and gameplay. It allows you to explore a side of the Mario world that you don’t get to see very often which makes it stand out. While some will appreciate some of the simplifications available in the game, they might be a bit too much for purists who (presumably) already own the game and the addition of Minion Quest isn’t enough to justify a purchase for those people. If you haven’t played the game before then don’t let that put you off one of Mario’s most enjoyable RPG adventures.
This review was written based off a game or game content provided by the publisher. We don’t assign review scores to game reviews.