REVIEW / Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions (3DS)

 

When Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga first released back in 2003, it was an oddball in the already-strange Mario series. An RPG taking place in the bizarre Beanbean Kingdom, it featured the titular brothers teaming up to take down a new villain all while delving into some wacky comedy. Fourteen years and four sequels later, though, and it’s hard to deny that the game is a classic. This was surely Nintendo’s thinking when they decided to release the updated remake, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. Aside from a few minor gameplay tweaks and an audio/visual overhaul, the major change is an additional game mode and subplot following Bowser’s minions as they attempt to aid their king. But is this enough to really warrant a remake?

 

 

Well, the good news is that Superstar Saga was a great game to begin with, and the remake follows the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mentality: the basic gameplay elements are virtually untouched. Aside from a few added conveniences and facelifts, it’s the same game you know and love.

For those new to the title, here’s the plot rundown: a green, witchy villain named Cackletta has stolen Princess Peach’s voice and fled to the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom, forcing the Mario brothers to give chase. Confused? Hey, we haven’t even mentioned the living soda or Christmas-themed hermit crabs yet! But really, that’s one of the title’s best qualities— a willingness to be funny and downright weird.

 

 

This is especially apparent in the game’s excellent writing. Though the remake changes very little, the characters are as memorable as ever and the humor is spot-on. It’s on the wacky side but embraces the role. It’s a game filled with chuckles and a few absolute gutbusters.

The gameplay is also great, and though it’s a little simple compared to the more recent Mario & Luigi titles, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a turn-based RPG with button prompts to help you attack (and dodge) with specific buttons for each of the brothers. There’s a little platforming on the overworld and new abilities to unlock, but battles are the bulk of the game. At this point it’s fairly straightforward, but it’s fun.

 

 

The updates to the presentation are a little more divisive. Don’t get me wrong — the visuals are fantastic and the Beanbean Kingdom has been lovingly recreated in a more 3-dimensional fashion. The music, on the other hand, is hit-or-miss. Some tracks have been adapted perfectly. The much-beloved standard battle theme, for instance, is back and it’s as catchy as ever. Other tracks seem to have barely been updated, and a few sound downright muddled. It’s never bad, per se, but it’s a shame coming from a series known for incredible music.

But the real departure from the original release is the new “Minion Quest” mode, a sidestory quite unlike the main adventure. You control (and recruit) a variety of Mario series baddies as you try to rescue Bowser. While not essential to understanding the main plot, it does fill in some details we wouldn’t get otherwise. So how much does it really add to the game? Well, the gameplay is vastly different, but I think that’s for the best. There’d be no sense in cramming another turn-based RPG. Instead, the player selects units to participate in battles, at which point the minions do most of the fighting by themselves. Emphasis is placed instead on picking the right unit types and using special skills.

 

 

It’s a neat system and recruiting new baddies to join your team can be fun, but the experience can get dull a little quick. Fights work on a “rock-paper-scissors” matchup system, and though there are numerous battles they start to feel similar very quickly. Additionally, your units have levels and gain experience, and what should be a fun distraction ends up becoming another time sink to raise your units’ levels.

“Minion Quest” also follows another side of the main story, and it’s actually (surprisingly?) well-written. It’s no great shakes, to be sure, but following the minions as they get into their own misadventures is quite fun. Throw in some much-beloved Mario bosses in supporting roles and suddenly there’s an actual story to play through! It figures that the genius writing of the Mario & Luigi series could make even a B story entertaining.

 

 

I think what makes “Minion Quest” great is also what holds it back: it really pulls away from the main game. On one hand, the fresh gameplay, cool characters, and interesting plot make it a lot of fun. On the other, a lack of depth and repetitive fights can make it feel like a chore. It’s entertaining, but don’t try it all in one sitting.

So where does that leave Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions? Well, the base game is still fantastic, and aside from a few hiccups it’s been updated extremely well. It plays just as you remember and the visual upgrade is pretty dazzling. “Minion Quest” isn’t perfect but it’s got enough going for it to be a valid addition to the package.

 

 

If you’ve never tried a Mario & Luigi game or if you’re looking for a nice dose of nostalgia, look no further: this is the perfect place to kick your feet up and enjoy some zaniness. That said, if you don’t want to shell out on remakes, you aren’t missing too much. It’s a fun package, but a very safe one.

Now if only the Paper Mario series could get such good treatment.

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