If you have fond memories of Super Mario RPG and the wondrous spin-off series it birthed in the years afterwards, you’re likely to recall Superstar Saga. The Mario and Luigi title on the Game Boy Advance was one of the earliest entries into a series that would spawn multiple fantastic portable RPG games, which have continued to this day on 3DS. But to revisit the splendour of the original, Nintendo has reworked Superstar Saga from the ground up for the 3DS. And even with years to age, it hasn’t missed a beat.
Superstar Saga might seem like a familiar formula, again giving players both Mario and Luigi to control in a segmented by a large world to explore. You’ll use the red and green plumbers (they’re still plumbers ok) to navigate the world and interact with the numerous NPCs around you, engaging in small fights or taking on even smaller fetch quests that put your platforming to work. There’s a peppering of elements from a number of genres here, all wrapped into a humourous and charming tale that fits right in with the Mushroom Kingdom and its strange politics.
In this adventure, Princess Peach’s speech has been stolen by some new dastardly villains from the neighbouring BeanBean Kingdom, replacing all her expressions with explosive representations of themselves instead. It’s not hard to imagine how problematic that is, and soon even Bowser is realising that he needs to help Mario reclaim Peach’s voice if he ever hopes to kidnap her again and keep his castle standing in the process. Mario, Luigi and Bowser set off to the Beanbean Kingdom to reclaim the illustrious Princesses voice, opening up the game to an entirely new world to explore that differs slightly from the Mario setting you might be accustomed to.
Despite that, Superstar Saga plays like any Mario RPG you might have dabbled with before. The combat is still as ingenious as ever, melding together both traditional platforming attacks with the turn-based sensibilities of a modern RPG. You’ll engage in attacks in a pre-defined order, but have to physically use jumps and dodges to both increase your damage output and avoid enemy retaliations respectively. It gives combat a more active feel, and keeps its otherwise simplistic nature from revealing itself.
Each battle allows you to increases both Mario and Luigi’s stats, affecting affect, defence, special moves and more. While it’s always satisfying to pump up a numerical value and see real progress, these figures might not relate to real-world advancements as much as you might expect. increasing an attack value allows you to dole out more damage, for example, but the nature of combat negates some of these effects entirely. A defensive stat, for example, seems somewhat trivial when you’re able to dodge most attacks with ease anyway. Making these upgrades feel more vital is something a more serious RPG might have done, but Superstar Sage doesn’t really want you to rely on them entirely.
This ease of use mantra flows to the game’s actions outside of combat too, which are just as plentiful. Around the many open areas you’ll get to explore, both Mario and Luigi will have to tackle numerous platforming puzzles to access new areas and hidden items. The thrill of figuring out a puzzle often trumps the reward at the end of the tunnel, but the sheer volume of them is at times staggering. Superstar Saga is every bit about getting around as it is about fighting the foes in front of you, letting it ebb and flow to a pace that is nailed down to near perfection.
It’s a visual treat too, although the larger changes to the art style (which bring it up to more modern 3D art on a 2D plane) might be divisive for those of you looking for a pure recreation of the Gameboy Advance classic. There’s no option to swap between old and new either, meaning you’re stuck with Nintendo’s new interpretation of the Beanbean Kingdom. It’s entirely subjective, but the new art style works in a way that both acknowledges its heritage while also looking fresh in a modern respect. It’s not the clean, rounded edges of the New Super Mario Bros. you might expect, but it’s a neat homage to the visuals of the past with the bursting colours you’d want on a 3DS.
The jump to 3DS has also brought with it an entirely new section to the game: Bowser’s Minions. Although it might seem like you’re getting two games in one, Bowser’s Minions is more a delightful distraction from the main attraction rather than an entirely new adventure. Early on into the game you’ll have the chance to hop over to a lonely Goomba, who fell from Bowser’s ship the moment it entered the Beanbean Kingdom. You’ll rally other Bowser minions in a fight to save your large master, in a tale that takes place parallel to that of Mario and Luigi’s.
The gameplay is slightly different too. You’ll shuffle from one encounter to the next, which take on more real-time strategy elements as opposed to the turn-based nature of Superstar Saga. Each new encounter will let you add more minions to your roster, each with their own stats that increase your overall effectiveness in a fight. Swapping out newer minions for weaker older ones is the meta duty you’ll have to engage with between fights, to ensure that your progress isn’t impeded on your way.
It’s neat to be able to switch between the core Superstar Saga title and Bowser’s Minions at will, but there’s certainly a lot less meat on the bones of this new addition as opposed to the star attraction. And with the great pace of the main game, there’s little incentive to want to take a break. If you’re content with not really engaging with a new side of the story, Bowser’s Minions might be a part of the game that you never really touch, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Still, it’s staggering to see just how well Superstar Saga has aged over the years. Even with a new, fresh coat of paint, it’s the gameplay and its slight tweaks that make this a Mario and Luigi adventure that remains timeless. It’s ease of play and sense of discovery keep you engaged from the start to finish, while it’s clever combat eschews modern turn-based mechanics into something more tactile and real-time. It’s a homage to a game that really set the tone for the series going forward, and a reminder of why they are still so very good.
Last Updated: October 4, 2017