When Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions was first announced, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It has a weird title, the new 'Minion Quest' mode seemed strange, and I'm not sure Superstar Saga needed a remake in the first place.
I think the original Superstar Saga for Gameboy Advance is a gem of a game. It doesn’t quite reach the level of excellence exhibited in Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but it still offered a quirky take on the Mario franchise with energetic gameplay and charming writing. Sure it wasn't a very deep or intricate RPG, but it didn’t need to be.
What could a remake for Superstar Saga improve? The original game holds up pretty well, thanks to colorful GBA sprite-work and simple controls. You can still buy secondhand carts of the game for reasonable prices and it even got a Virtual Console release on Wii U. I also felt there was nothing in the original game that really needed an overhaul.
After getting my hands on the game, I’m glad to say the remake looks a lot better in motion; the screenshots in this review don't do it justice. There’s a level of fluidity to the animations that manages to carry the charm. The coloring and new lighting effects work well as you move from screen to screen. I don't think I outright prefer one visual style to the other; it wasn't as off-putting as I initially expected it to be. Some environments look especially wonderful in certain locations.
As for the game itself, it plays nearly identically to the original. Combat is completely turn-based, but the player must time a button press with every action in order to deal the most damage. Most enemy attacks can be blocked or dodged by pressing either A or B at the right time to have Mario or Luigi avoid damage. Simple as it may be, it's quite effective and rather addictive. There's no wonder why these mechanics have persisted throughout the rest of the series.
One of my qualms with later games in the series is how they began to drag out both combat and narrative elements. Characters started to become a little bit too talkative, combat actions took longer to execute, and even dungeons became a bit of a slog to progress through. Revisiting Superstar Saga was a nice reminder of how lean and snappy the series used to be. Combat is quick, and there isn't an overwhelming amount of dialogue. It was refreshing.
There are a handful of quality of life improvements added here too. The fast-forward mode from Paper Jam makes a return, increasing the speed of most dialogue interactions. A couple of new Warp Pipes were added to the overworld and it makes getting around just a tad easier than it was in the original game, and having a minimap on the bottom 3DS screen never hurts. Brand-new equipment items have also been added to the Information Shop, which rewards the player based on how many enemies they’ve defeated, attacks dodged, beans gathered, and such.
Otherwise, the Superstar Saga remake is nearly a 1:1 redo of the Gameboy Advance game. The dialogue is identical, the maps are laid out in the same fashion as before, and every item block and buried bean are in the same place as before.
Paper Jam, the most recent entry in the series, had much more intricate 3D environments and level design. Superstar Saga sticks to a more 2D layout where you can only move your characters in 4 cardinal directions. This also leads to SS+BM being a much better performing game - Paper Jam ran into framerate issues in several places where SS+BM has no issues here whatsoever. It's a smooth experience from start to finish.
With the base game being just fine and dandy, what is this “Bowser’s Minions” thing? Unlocked a few hours into the main game, the player is given the option to play this new addition called Minion Quest. The easiest way to describe it is that it's an entirely separate game alongside Superstar Saga (hence the full name of Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, I suppose). Besides being set in the same story and world, there is no crossover between the two game modes in terms of the game itself. Nothing you do in Superstar Saga affects Minion Quest or vice versa. A small handful of Minion Quest battles don't become available until you progress to certain points in Superstar Saga, but that's about it.
Minion Quest tries something a little different for the series. Instead of turn-based battles with active command presses, it’s more like a miniature war simulation. The player picks eight units to compose their army, and these units consist of the numerous enemy types you can find in the game or in other Mario titles. You have the traditional goombas, koopas, hammer bros., boos - basically most of the established Mario baddies roster.
There are three types of units - melee, flying, and ranged - and they utilize a typical rock-paper-scissors system to dictate type advantage: Melee is superior to Ranged who is superior to Flying who beats Melee. There are a couple other unit elements to take into consideration as well. For example, a Fire Bros. (a koopa that throws fireballs) is more effective against any ice-type enemy. After selecting your squad, you are pitted against an enemy group of eight and then the battle takes place mostly autonomously without direct player input.
Combat in this mode isn’t totally hands-off, however. Occasionally one of your units will perform a special attack that requires a well-timed button press to execute. There are also leadership commands that you can activate at will with various effects, such as canceling an enemy special attack or calling for reinforcements. But for the most part, this mode is all about the squad you put together before the skirmish.
After a battle, the units you picked gain EXP, can level up, and sometimes new units are unlocked. You can then replay the skirmish if you want to gain more EXP, or move onto the next one. It's a pretty simple and standard flow.
There’s no real ‘plot’ to speak of, just chatter between minions. I also felt the dialogue in this mode was a bit long-winded and I found myself starting to zone out at times in between battles. There are a couple of cameos from other series’ games that come into play (you may or may not be glad to see Starlow again).
In fact, you can completely ignore the Minions mode as it holds no importance to anything that happens in the game. There’s no in-game reward given if you go through the new mode either. It feels like a way to tack on amiibo functionality to Superstar Saga, which I believe adds new units you can use. I didn't have the chance to try this out myself. If you are fond of the idea of a small Mario-based simulation game, it can be a fun distraction, but you aren’t missing out on anything at all if you skip out on Minion Quest entirely.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions a weird game to review. It’s a safe and fine remake of a good game that didn’t really need a remake - although new features like fast-forward are still certainly appreciated. It adds a new mode that isn’t very interesting and doesn’t offer much. Superstar Saga is still a fun game and I enjoyed reliving a little nostalgia, but I can’t help but feel the whole thing was unnecessary.
Versions tested: Nintendo 3DS
Disclaimer: A copy of this game was provided to RPG Site by the publisher.