If there is one genre that I absolutely love it has got to be RPGs. Western RPGs, JRPGs, Strategy RPGs, I just love a good story with some fun mechanics. So, what happens when you take former JRPGs makers at what was then Square Soft and give them the Super Mario license? You get Alpha Dreams Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Gameboy Advance released originally in 2003. Superstar Saga was a game that always fascinated me as a child when it came out in the early 2000s and would elude my grasp well until 2012-2013. I had always seen the commercials on television advertising Superstar Saga, and since this was well before I had a GameCube as well as way before I had an N64 or SNES Superstar Saga naturally would seem like the perfect entry Mario RPG game for me. Problem was, it was always sold out at stores when I would try to get it and thus, I would go back to the likes of Pokémon Ruby for my handheld RPG needs. Time would pass and many times I’d forget that Superstar Saga existed only to be reminded after seeing a commercial every now and then; it wasn’t until 2009 that I experienced my first Mario RPG and my first Mario & Luigi game, and that was Bowser’s Inside Story. I feel in love with that game and decided it was time to track down and play the rest of the series. Surely enough, by 2012-2013 I had acquired Partners in Time and Superstar Saga, along with the soon to be released Dream Team.
Flashforward to 2017 and a remake of the game that started it all is announced: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions for the Nintendo 3DS. The 3D feature of the 3DS had been taken out instead to maintain a stable framerate of 60 just like the GBA original. Naturally, I grabbed this game at launch but did not play it initially, as during that time I was well focused into my channel and was starting to feel RPG burnout from the likes of Pokémon HeartGold. I would not fully play through Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions until the LP on my YouTube channel which recently ended about a month ago.
So, as someone who did not grow up with Mario & Luigi as much as others what is my take on Superstar Saga and how does this remake stack up to the original? Is it a terrible remake or does it satisfy what Mario & Luigi RPG fans had been wanting for a while? Let’s get into it first by running down the story of Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions.
The story for Superstar Saga begins with a visit from the Beanbean Kingdom’s goodwill ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom. After things go horribly wrong thanks to the game’s main villain Cackletta and her assistant Fawful Princess Peach is left without a voice prompting the Toad’s to get Mario to come to the princess’ aid. After arriving at the castle Mario, and his brother Luigi who got literally dragged along, confront Bowser who has also come rushing to the Peach’s Castle to see what can be done. After trouncing Bowser, Mario, Luigi, and Bowser all decide to travel to the neighboring kingdom of Beanbean to track down Cackletta and get Peach her voice back.
Like most plans this one goes horribly wrong for the trio as Mario, Luigi, and Bowser are all shot down by Cackletta and Fawful resulting in Mario & Luigi having to fend for themselves in the Beanbean Kingdom. From this point after arriving near Beanbean Castle Town the second part of the remake’s name, Bowser’s Minions, begins to play out. Seeking to get their captured and amnesiac leader back a lone Goomba recruits multiple minions and characters in his quest to get his master back. As for Mario and Luigi after arriving in Beanbean Castle and saving Queen Bean from Cackletta’s control it becomes aware to the heroes what exactly Cackletta and Fawful want: to awaken the Legendary Beanstar with Princess Peach’s voice to make their dream of conquering the world a reality. So, it’s up to Mario & Luigi to stop this troublesome duo from achieving their goals, save Princess Peach, and save not only the Mushroom Kingdom but the Beanbean Kingdom as well from utter destruction.
That’s just a super quick synopsis on the plot with many twists, turns, and characters introduced throughout the story. Nothing new was added in plot wise for Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions except for the addition of the Bowser’s Minions plotline side game in the pause screen. You can easily ignore Bowser’s Minions and just focus on the main plot of Superstar Saga if that is what you are interested in more, which I will say I was highly invested in Superstar Saga’s story, setting, and especially characters. With being in a new location the Beanbean Kingdom is fleshed out more so than the Mushroom Kingdom ever has been which is nice given that you spend a good 95 percent of the game within Beanbean and its variety of locations. Cackletta and Fawful make for great villains that are very expressive and emotional, while the side antagonist of Popple the Shadow Thief and his Rookie partner are great obstacles when the bros aren’t dealing with the likes of Cackletta which believe it or not happens a lot in the game. Despite being the main villains Cackletta and Fawful are barely present in the story, but when they are it is a treat to be sure and their dialogue as well as story significance cannot be understated. The threat they pose is always within the background of the story and most plot events are connected in some way to the two. It really is telling when a villain isn’t present through most of the story, but their threat can still be felt throughout. The characters met in Beanbean as well have very distinct personalities for the most part, although the same cannot be stated for the designs within the remake. In the original, characters had unique sprites and animations as well as designs, and while most transferred over rather well the Mushroom Kingdom natives unfortunately look generic and aren’t stylized at all. This upset many fans of the original game with this change and is something I don’t think is as much of a problem in Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions when compared to Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey. Overall, the story even after all these years from the original is engaging and will keep the player interested as they discover more in Beanbean and help its citizens out when they can, proving just the kind of superstars the Mario Bros are. But for an RPG story is just one aspect of a bigger package, so let’s get into the real meat of Superstar Saga and highlight what the remake does and doesn’t get right in the gameplay department.
For many handhled RPGs turn-based was often the way to go for gameplay and Superstar Saga is not exception to that rule. Made by former Squaresoft employees the people of AlphaDream created a simple and easy RPG for newcomers and veterans to enjoy. As per simple RPG mechanics we have equipment that can boost stats, secondary equipment that can give special abilities or attributes, and a leveling system with a fun twist on bonus stat allocations. Min-maxing is not the name of the Mario & Luigi game, and this is especially true for Superstar Saga. The Mario & Luigi series is a series that much like the Paper Mario series at that point does not need grinding to be necessary, as you can generally get by with just attacking most enemies and by the end of the game will be around the level needed to take out the final boss. Part of this is due to the ability for Mario & Luigi to dodge attacks based on the player’s button presses when enemies attack resulting in either no damage being taken by the Bro in question or even in some cases dealing extra damage to the enemy themselves. This would be the basis for all Mario & Luigi games going forward and will be the same in basically every entry in the series.
The bros have multiple methods of attacks ranging from jumping, hammer swings, and the hardly ever useful electric or fire hand attacks. Each method of attacking can be used against any enemy and depending on the enemy can sometimes do critical hits or change how that enemy behaves. But the regular moves aren’t the only way of attacking as by using a little bit of Bro Points Mario and Luigi can combine their attacks into a devastating Bros. Attack. Bros Attacks are basically special moves within the game that not only can be used in battle but also have applications outside of battle by hitting the L or R buttons on the 3DS or by touching the bottom screen of the 3DS for a quick selection. Bros Attacks also can get more powerful after using them a certain number of times and for slightly more Bro Points a different style of attack can be done. In the original game the player themselves can find these “Advanced” techniques through experimentation with the A and B button but in the remake the “Super” versions of moves are separate entirely and will be separated on the Bros Attack menu. Personally, I like this change as while the original was fine, remembering all the different combos and Advanced button prompts was always difficult for me. The Bros Attacks also have an option to have an easier button prompt for them brought up, which is something that can help new players but can be ignored by veterans of the series.
Minigames are also present within Mario & Luigi’s journeys through Beanbean and they are the weakest aspect of the game for me. Most minigames are timed and want the player to reach a certain goal within saod time limit and can be replayed to get special beans to make stat boosting coffee blends at the Starbean Café run by Professor E. Gadd; personally I never found myself going back to the minigames to get the special Teehee Beans since I managed to acquire many by the end of the game through boxes and the added Amiibo prizes that are given to you for scanning Amiibos into the game. Since the requirements to make the blends have been lowered significantly in the remake, the need to really play the mini games again is not needed unless the player really wants to max out certain stats. Amiibo support is very limited to the game, with only 10 Amiibos being supported which can give different prizes such as gear, badges, or beans to the player. They can only be scanned once which is a shame, but I guess scanning them more than once would result in even less incentive to play minigames, so it makes sense. Amiibo are utilized more within the Minion’s Quest storyline where multiple different prizes are given to the player rather than just beans to be used by the Mario Bros. For a starting RPG Superstar Saga nails the gameplay department well, and the remake basically takes that and besides some balancing tweaks, leaves it intact making for an enjoyable playtime.
But what about the Minion’s Questline? Well let me answer that question with another question: do you like mook rushes? Basically, the gameplay of Minion’s Quest is you build a squad to deal with battles to beat the captain of the opposing side. Your team composition varies depending on the different members in your party. Simply put, I do not like Minion’s Quest because it’s too easy to get lost in the chaos of the battles and moreover the battles themselves tend to not be that fun or engaging to me. There’s a reason why my LP didn’t cover Minion’s Quest while I was doing the main Superstar Saga game. So, Superstar Saga is great in the gameplay department, while Minion’s Quest leaves a lot to be desired. But even while Minion’s Quest bores me I will say that the music is something that not only Superstar Saga nails but even Minion’s Quest nails as well.
The Mario games have always had a stellar soundtrack thanks to composer Koji Kondo, but the Mario & Luigi games have amazing music as well thanks to Mario & Luigi RPG series composer and video game veteran composer Yoko Shimomura. Yoko Shimomura is a person I feel I don’t need to go into too much detail on given how popular of a composer she is, but for the two that don’t know Yoko Shimomura is famous for composing the tracks of many different game series from a wide variety of companies; in the past two decades she has provided the soundtracks not only to the Mario & Luigi series but also to series such as Kingdom Hearts as one of the main composers, Street Fighter II, Parasite Eve, Legends of Mana, Xenoblade Chronicles, and many more RPGs and series. Simply put Yoko Shimomura is one of my favorite video game composers, and what I like about the Mario & Luigi series is that with Superstar Saga and its remake the music translated from midi chiptune to full instrumental rather well in most instances. Sound design in the Mario & Luigi series has always been simplistic, but the effects and sounds are used for great comedic effect and timing and with Superstar Saga DX they sound crisper and cleaner than ever. If I had to pick a favorite track it would have to be Popple & Rookie’s theme that plays during battles against them. For all the varied tracks and styles within Superstar Saga and its remake none of the tracks ever really bore me, and it shows how much love and care were put into the franchise based on its first entry alone.
Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga and Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions are great games to play; from both a story and gameplay perspective they are very well put together and the sound design of the game elevates it to a game I feel many people must at least try and play. While it’s not my favorite of the series, at this point it ranks third in the series for me, I will say that as a starting off point AlphaDream really nailed it. It’s really a shame that AlphaDream sadly have gone defunct at this point and the chances of seeing as Partners in Time remake like that of Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story are possibly forever dashed. AlphaDream managed to create a long lasting and fun series using well known characters and just had fun. You could tell a lot of love and care were put into both products and hopefully one day a port of Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions can be done for the Switch. As for the original game, besides tracking down an original cartridge the game is available on the Wii U eShop and is relatively cheap. So, grab you striped socks and brush that ‘stache for a good RPG that I think many of you would enjoy even to this day. But anyway, I’m goning end it off right here. This has been Neronium, and I thank you all for reading my review of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and its remake Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. Check out the video below for a video portion of this review if you are interested and I’ll see you all for my next review.