Review by Rango
Back to the roots.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions is the remake of the 2003 GBA RPG, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. The original Mario & Luigi was succeeded by four sequels before coming full-circle with this remake. Utilizing the 3DS' hardware and the art style of Dream Team and Paper Jam, Superstar Saga attempts to recapture the success that made the original game one of the most popular titles of its era.
The story involves a kidnapping, no surprise! Only instead of Peach herself, it's her voice. The envoy of the Beanbean Kingdom comes to Peach's Castle to give her a gift - a mysterious gas that steals her voice. The culprits are revealed to be Fawful and the evil witch, Cackletta, villains from the neighboring kingdom. Their goal is to use a beautiful voice - such as that of Peach's - to awaken the Beanstar, an artifact which can grant any wish. Mario and Luigi must pursue Cackletta to the Beanbean Kingdom.
The game starts with said opening, and ends up with the Bros. teaming up with Bowser. Together, they hop aboard the Koopa Cruiser and fly to the Beanbean Kingdom, only to be attacked by Fawful and crash land in Stardust Fields, the border between two kingdoms. From there on, Mario & Luigi enter a new world. The denizens are green, the worlds are named after various types of laughs, and despite saving years of coins, Mushroom Kingdom currency amounts to nothing in this kingdom.
The aesthetic of this game comes from the world design of Superstar Saga and the updated visuals of the 3DS titles. Basing it off these, everything in the game is redone. Mario, Luigi, and others share their character models from the previous games, while the entire Beanbean Kingdom has been completely renewed in the art style. This means all kinds of new animations never before seen in the sprite-based version on GBA. It's still a beautiful, colorful world, but reimagined in a new way.
Some of the noteworthy differences include the animation for water and the caves. These were done with a cartoonish look, almost reminiscent of Yoshi's Island. The water now flows and is clear instead of just blue. Bowser is also much larger in this game, showcasing his size from recent entries. Stardust Fields isn't a plain covered in purple anymore, but the ground is made of shards. And one of the most impressive effects is the lighting in this game. For instance, if you're in a cave, getting close to a luminous source will reflect on Mario and Luigi, making them grow brighter as you approach it.
Sound effects in this game include both original sounds, such as Mario and Luigi's voices, as well many of the classic Mario sound effects. The entire soundtrack has been redone by Yoko Shimomura, composer for the original Mario & Luigi and every game in the series! You may know her as the composer from Kingdom Hearts. Before that, she also did the soundtrack for Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the very first Mario RPG!
The music is upbeat and lively, much of what you'd expect from a Mario game. Caves radiate with a mysterious aura, which is why I've always loved Yoko's versions of the underground theme. Some areas, such as Joke's End, have a bit more of a sinister, eerie feel to them. They're quieter and more mysterious. Moreover, you'll be hearing many of classic Mario renditions, such as the classic Mario theme when you enter Little Fungitown, or the feeling of despair when you enter Beanbean Castle Town for the first time. But perhaps what stands out most is the final boss theme. If you're familiar with Yoshi's Island or some of the other Mario RPGs, all I will say is it's one of those types of songs that usually doesn't belong in Mario. It's quite dark and sinister, and if you want to know more without hearing it on another website, I strongly recommend playing the game. It captures the feel of the final fight perfectly.
Thanks to the 3DS' hardware, there are far less limitations to work with. Every faithful rendition from the GBA title has returned in this game, completely reworked with new instrumentals. Some of the interesting changes include the underground stages. The classic rendition of the Mario Underground theme now includes some vibes. For me, it reminds me of metal hitting against a pipe. Some of the audio has also been reworked. For instance, all of Bowser's voice cries are sampled from Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story and onwards.
If this is your first Mario RPG or first game in the series, Mario & Luigi follows a traditional JRPG format. Much of it involves exploring the world, the dungeons, talking to NPCs, going to town, and buying equipment. The twist here is that your party members are Mario & Luigi and you rely on Action Commands to deal damage. These are timed inputs that can build damage on your enemies, as well as be used to dodge attacks. See a Sharpea coming? Get your Hammer out and whack it! Beanie coming your way? Get ready to jump and dodge. If you time it right, you can jump on its head! When it's your turn, use a Bros. Attack and get both Bros. to attack your enemies and inflict heavy damage!
Exploring in Mario & Luigi also takes a twist. It's more than wandering around a dungeon. You're jumping on platforms, using a Hammer to smash blocks and hit switches, and utilizing Bros. Actions to travel under gaps, spit up water to hit a switch, or even use the High Jump and Propeller Jump actions to reach new heights and cross far gaps, respectively. Each world has its own puzzles and secrets to offer. No two worlds are remotely the same. You'll be entering castle sewers, mountains, a beach, a desert, an ice castle, and more. And when you need a boost, you can equip Armor to increase your Defense and a Badge that makes a special effect. These include resistance to status effects, such as Poison, extra damage, the ability to float while jumping, more Coins and EXP, or even doubling your damage while halving your defense. Customization is simple, and there's many options to choose from. If you're familiar with Paper Mario, the format is quite similar. Use your Hammer to smash things, jump on platforms, and use partner abilities to help you explore the area. Superstar Saga's foundation is heavily rooted in its predecessors, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars for SNES, and Paper Mario, for the N64.
The gameplay in Superstar Saga remains mostly the same from the GBA version. However, the most noteworthy changes include the ability to Emergency Guard, the Super Bros. Attacks can now be accessed much quicker, the Bros. Actions can be utilized on the touch screen, and a crosshair indicates when to use a Bros. Attack input.
Besides the main story, there's not much else to do in Superstar Saga. You can collect music or hidden boxes for items, if you want. You can also continue getting the Beanbean coffee at Starbeans Cafe, which unlocks the Accessories that will help you tremendously. It's not heavy on side-quests by any means, and can be finished in roughly 15-20 hours. It's a straightforward game that cuts out the filler and has very few fetch quests. There's one noteworthy one, which involves hunting Yoshi eggs. However, this takes place in the main overworld, and can be finished in roughly 15 minutes. It's perhaps the only part of the game that paces itself a little slower. Yet it still progresses the story, as you'll be fighting a boss and saving one of the many noteworthy NPCs in the game. Note that you'll be meeting many interesting characters, some who are dashing, and some who are flat-out strange and hard to deal with!
But what about that other part of the game? Bowser's Minions?
This is the Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser. It stars an ordinary Goomba with unquestionable loyalty to Bowser. During this story, you'll guide him and many other familiar Mario enemies on the journey to rescue Bowser from his fate. The gameplay is based on a real-time strategy system. Build an army and fight against another army. Utilize the rock-paper-scissors triangle to determine who to bring in, between your Melee, Flying, and Ranged units. Just like in the game's main mode, Action Commands play a major part in this mode. Some of these will completely turn the tide of battle. Otherwise, you'll be using your Captain Commands to shift the tide in your favor, which may include Rallying teammates or even dueling the Captain of the opposing side.
This quest is roughly 10 hours long, but includes a great deal of dialogue. These are conversations largely including Captain Goomba proclaiming where to go next and what to do, while his fellow Captains question his abilities. He is a Goomba, after all. What can he do that a Shy Guy, Koopa Troopa, or Boo can't? The story goes into this, and you would be surprised what he can do with his courage and might. Captain Goomba turns out to be a strong leader, and his quest to rescue Bowser and the Koopalings will be one of earning their respect and trust, as well as joining his army.
Some of the dialogue is flat-out cheese, though. It's not always laughs, and sometimes you're going to want to just skip right through it. The character Fawful is one particular example. He's the charming, noteworthy villain and genius behind the witch Cackletta's evil plan. His chants of "I have fury" and scattered grammar will either be hilarious, or you're going to want to flatten him immediately and shut his mouth permanently. But the gameplay is worth it as it's quite enjoyable, and the building of character development and building your army makes it quite fun. Also, one particular instance of dialogue grew on me. At one point, Cackletta demands the Mario Bros. be destroyed. Bowser's Minions actually begin questioning the severity of that comment, comparing it to Bowser's own antagonistic feelings towards Mario versus Cackletta's violent command. Isn't Bowser trying to end Mario? Or is Cackletta that much more evil?
One of the most important things about Minion Quest is the holes the storyline fills in. It completely runs parallel with Superstar Saga, explaining mysteries, like the Invincishroom, how Bowser winds up in his predicament, and what happens after the game's ending. In addition to being a fun mode, you'll uncover the depths of a story that were unseen in the original game. This completely changed my view on the game and compelled me to finish it. What I initially thought was going to be a throwaway "side mode" to the game ended up complimenting it far more than I'd ever imagined in its previews.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is the complete package. A nice, 15-20 hour RPG that doesn't overstay its welcome and an RTS mode that tells a separate story, while filling in the gaps of the main storyline. The game's challenge will be easy for a veteran, yet challenging near the end. A novice player is heavily recommended to experience with Armor, Badge, and Accessories, as this will be your defense when confronting tougher bosses. It's a nice balance of fun, humor, charming visuals, and good music while testing your reflexes in a turn-based RPG with Mario elements!
Also note that, with the exception of Bowser's Inside Story, Superstar Saga has always been my favorite game in the series. I feel there are questionable design choices in Partners in Time, Dream Team, and Paper Jam, and they never quite captured the magic of the original. This remake is loyal to veterans and is an excellent choice for any newcomer. I hope you enjoy this game as much as I did!
Product Release: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (US, 10/06/17)
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