Nintendo has always been one to make odd choices regarding their characters. Once upon a time, that practice resulted in a game called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. With wildly different gameplay than your standard plumber adventure, it came off as a bit of a one-time-only affair, and while it gained a significant following, the series seemed to get the bump in favour of other main series Mario titles. Then boom, almost out of nowhere, we got Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga a few years later for Gameboy Advance. While not a sequel so to speak, it borrowed, improved on and introduced a host of new features and gameplay elements as well as an entirely different style, gained critical acclaim, and went on to spawn four sequels of its own! Now we’ve come full circle with Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, a remake no one saw coming. So, all these years later, how does it fare? Have the years been kind? Well, lets-a go find out!
I had the pleasure of playing Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga when it first came out, being one of the first games I bought for myself on my original indigo Gameboy Advance. While I initially wanted it to be like the 2D sidescrollers I was accustomed to, I grew to love this new and livelier portrayal of the Mario Bros., Bowser, Peach, and the whole gang along for the ride. There’s a real charm to the game, and something I’m incredibly glad the remake has retained in every way and even improved on here and there.
“Your voice might cause explosions, your highness, but at least your tears don’t flood the place like in Super Princess Peach, so that’s good, right?”
Looking at this new game purely as the remake it is, there’s very little that has changed since it’s original Gameboy Advance release. Aside from the gorgeous visual makeover that brings it up to par with later sequels like Dream Team or Paper Jam, the core gameplay remains the same, and yet, the whole game still comes off feeling fresh and new. Something about shifting from the lower quality GBA sprites and sounds to the more expressive and detailed 3DS range has given Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions an entirely new feel. I even busted out my old GBA copy (still got it, box and all!) and played it side by side with my 3DS, running through a bunch of different story moments and got that impression just the same. I’d say it’s a credit to the team who remade it that they found the perfect sweet spot between old and new and came out with this gem.
There’s more to it than just artistic design or level building, though. The way the game flows is very intuitive and engaging, and the timing of everything seems just that teeny bit better. I think the odd conversation box might have been reworded to indicate progression better, but nothing outrageous. World design is a lot neater too with the shift to a higher level of detail. Where previously the colour palettes of some regions made it a bit difficult to know what you could or couldn’t step on or move through, now it’s a lot clearer. Movement is also way smoother than it was, while still retaining a lot of the original GBA control quirks. I raged just as hard when I missed a jump by a fraction of a second in the Border Bros. jump rope challenge in the remake as I did all those years ago in the original. Nothing ever comes at you too heavy, though, and the game always leaves you room to breathe, time to explore a bit, and the freedom to tackle new situations and the plot at your own pace.
“Oh you do, do you? Well so do I for all the times you called me a finkrat!”
Speaking of the plot, without going into too much detail on a fourteen-year-old story (at the time of writing), it’s a load of fun and entirely worth the entry price all on its own. In a peculiar shake-up to the standard Mario formula, a villain named Cackletta has made off with Princess Peach’s voice for reasons most dastardly, replacing it with explosive exclamations that shake the walls whenever she tries to speak. Taking particular offence to someone else interfering with his number one kidnapee, Bowser teams up with a resolute Mario and a reluctant Luigi, and they take off in hot pursuit. After some shenanigans with Fawful, Cackletta’s minion, Bowser’s Koopa Cruiser crashes from the sky into the nearby Beanbean Kingdom, and your real adventure begins.
After learning the moves of your Bros. and wandering about this new world for a bit, the game treats you to a flashback of the events of the Koopa Cruiser crash, but from the perspective of a lowly Goomba. This scene is the starting point of the all-new Bowser’s Minions part of the game, which is unlocked in segments as you progress through the main Bros. story. Certain parts of this story show up in the main adventure, but don’t detract from the original narrative, backing it up instead, adding a little extra and often humorous context to why things happened or what the Bros. discover on their way through the Beanbean Kingdom.
“Okay, I know you want out, but… but… what if… wait for it… we fired the cannon instead?”
The gameplay of this new mode is rather simple and satisfying, if perhaps a tad repetitive. It all boils down to team based encounters between your minions and possessed minions under the thrall of Cackletta. Winning in a fight usually brings some of those you defeated over to your side for use in future battles. The battles themselves are nothing exceptional, working out to be a Bowser-flavoured version of rock, paper, scissors. For example, Goombas are your foot soldiers and charge in doing melee damage, while the Hammer Bros. would be your pick for long range and Parakoopas are your aerial units. There are other classes, all represented by familiar Mushroom Kingdom enemies, and they all have an effectiveness against and weakness to another type. You can field troops in a variety of engagements and based on who you select and how you deploy them as well as their level and their ability, you will either win or get whupped. There is no penalty for losing, aside from having to try again. Success rewards you with minion stamps which unlock beans and enhanced abilities in your main adventure. As I said before, though, the best part about this new mode is how it impacts the main story. Seeing the interactions between your noble, eager (but stupid) Captain Goomba and all the other minions he encounters and how they mess around behind the scenes was quite entertaining. Apart from that, it’s a charming addition to an already fun romp and a handy diversion when you want to try something a little different.
The only other thing worth mentioning I suppose would be the new amiibo support. Tapping any of the various Mario range figures, such as Mario, Bowser, Peach or any of the minions like Boo, Koopa Troopa or Goomba will unlock beans and other upgrades in-game. Beans can be used to purchase further stat improvements for your Bros. or badges to enhance their abilities even more, while stamps do a little of both. Different figures unlock various rewards, so the more amiibo you have, the more you can power up your adventure. Some of these bonuses cross over into the Bowser’s Minions story, but the effects are mostly the same. I was kinda hoping rarer amiibo, like the Gold Mario, for example, would unlock exclusive content, but unfortunately not. I mean, if one of them made a New Game Plus mode available, I’d be super happy, as this is a game that would be well suited to a second, much harder playthrough. Alas, that wasn’t in the original, and it isn’t in the remake either. Improved abilities, equipment and battle bonuses are all you get, so I guess if you don’t have the amiibo, you’re not missing out on much.
“To battle, brothers! We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and boots… and hammers… and people jumping on our heads, I guess…”
All in all, I am impressed with Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. For a remake that no-one asked for, it did everything a good remake ought to do. The updated visuals are a treat, and the expanded Bowser’s Minions content is good for a laugh if not much else. This was a good game for its time, and it’s a lot better now. Even in the shadow of it’s bigger brother currently killing it on the Switch, it’s still a solid Mario adventure to take around with you. Most of all, I’m encouraged by how quickly this remake came to life, and I hope Partners in Time and Bowser’s Inside Story will one day get the same treatment. For now, though, this superstar of a game that kicked off the Superstar Saga is a fun, lively and highly amusing adventure worth playing, for new and returning Bros. fans alike.