The boys are back in town to rescue Princess Peach and her lovely voice from the evil witch Cackletta. 14 years have passed since its original release so how does it hold up in this brand new 3DS remake?
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was one of the very first Game Boy Advance games that I've ever played. Needless to say, I have fond memories of it including being surprised by the silly humour and absorbed into the addictive gameplay. This remake takes all of those memories, adds a new colourful coat of paint, some usability improvements, and a new mini-game (in the form of Bowser's Minions) to deliver a delightful cartridge full of fun.
In Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, you play as both Mario and Luigi on a quest to save Princess Peach. It's something quite unique for the Mario franchise with Paper Mario being the closest thing gameplay-wise. The world is made up of stages that you navigate by pressing A for Mario and B for Luigi. You can also press X to move them both at the same time and you quickly unlock additional abilities that mix up the gameplay such as jumping on a bro's head then spin-jumping across a chasm or using a hammer to destroy blocks in your path.
Teamwork is essential and you'll need these two to get along if you want to make it to the princess. Other than the cool tricks Mario and Luigi perform together, the scenery itself plays a big part in the gameplay. There are many interactive elements that you'll have to master in order to progress such as combining your spin move with a whirlwind or filling Mario's belly with water to put out a fire across the screen. However, traversing the land isn't a challenge as it's more of a matter of figuring out what move to use and where.
Along your journey, you face enemies in the field and upon touching one; you initiate an RPG-style battle. The battles are fun and can get quite tough at times until you learn a specific enemy's pattern and figure out how to dodge their attacks at the right moment. Being in control of the battle at every second keeps the fights engaging throughout which is quite an accomplishment for a turn-based RPG battle system. When you see an enemy is going to attack, you have to pay attention to what they say, the colour of their words, and who they may glance at to see which bro is going to be attacked. Then, you have to pay closer attention to how the enemy approaches the bro so that you can time a dodge which can be tricky because they may walk up to you then take a step back, fall on their feet, decide to jump, or attack from behind.
When it's your turn to attack, you must press the button at the right time in order to do the most damage. Other than typical jump or hammer attacks, you also have abilities that use both bros at once. These require some expert timing in order to pull off with maximum impact. Overall, this adds up to a very satisfying gameplay experience that keeps you engrossed throughout each battle. If you ever struggle with timing in battle, this version includes an assist option that shows a marker for which bro will be attacked in a battle. This allows you to plan your timing for perfect dodges.
The graphics are the first obvious improvement from the original release. Every screen is full of colour and personality featuring Mario, Luigi, and all of the friends and foes that they meet along their journey to save the princess. The GBA version often met complaints from players not being able to decipher the depth of the levels and pick out parts of the foreground from the background. You definitely won't have that problem here. I had no issues navigating the levels and interacting with them. The sound is equally as impressive as is to be expected from a top-notch Mario title. The only complaint that I have about the presentation is that there's no 3D support. The visuals lend themselves to it and it would have been great if it was implemented.
Other improvements from the GBA version include having the map available on the bottom screen while traversing the world. Games that rely on maps are simply better on 3DS and thankfully the second screen was utilized well in this regard. You can also set pins to remind you of certain places on the map, zoom in, and zoom out to see a yellow arrow pointing to your next destination (usually off the map as it gets uncovered each time you reach a new area). The touch screen also houses buttons to trigger your different abilities in the field. This can be controlled with the regular buttons if you want to keep the map up as much as possible. Unfortunately, the touch screen isn't very handy when it comes to the battles themselves. It displays statistical information about the bros which is pretty useless in the heat of battle. It would have been nice to see stats on the enemies themselves or some helpful tips.
Along with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, you also get an extra game called Bowser's Minions. In this, you play as Bowser's buddies trying to rescue him from his enemies. It's a unique spin on a Mario adventure and has its merits. You don't play as a Goomba traversing the world in chase of Cackletta, however. Instead, it takes place on a stage with Yoshis watching and clapping cutely in the foreground. It's stage-based and you pick your minions to include in each stage before it begins. You have a choice of minions that specialize in melee (Goombas), flight (Paragoombas), and ranged attacks (Koopa Troopas with hammers).
The battles are way less involving than Mario and Luigi's. When the stage starts, you watch your group of minions battle against minions sent by the bad guys and see what unfolds. If you have the right selection of abilities and have leveled up enough, you'll succeed. You also gradually earn the choice to interact a little more by pressing a button at the right time to do extra damage or make use of special abilities such as blocking an enemy's attacks. When the battle is over, some of the enemies may join your party. There's quite a varied selection of them, too. It's fun as a distraction and watching the silly conversations between Bowser's subservient minions is a hoot but I'm glad that they included it as an extra to this instead of releasing it as its own game.
It's great to see Nintendo bringing new life to their classics, especially after such a long time since the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was released. The graphics are dramatically improved, the map is more accessible than ever, and everything that you loved from the original is still here along with some bells and whistles and a brand new untold story.
- + Colourful completely remastered graphics
- + Engaging battle system
- + Bowser's Minions game is a fun distraction from the main story
- - Second screen is underutilized in battles
- - No 3D support
- - Bowser's Minions could do with more interactive gameplay