The Mario & Luigi series has become the target of criticism after its recent entries, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions comes 14 years after the original GBA title, and a mere four months after its official reveal back at E3 2017. Does Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, a remake of the original GBA title, truly take the series back in a positive direction?
This remake of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga stays true to the original game in terms of its plot. The evil bean witch Cackletta and her underling Fawful have stolen Princess Peach’s voice, and are attempting to take over the Beanbean Kingdom. Setting off to stop them and retrieve Princess Peach’s voice, Mario, Luigi, and Bowser go to the Beanbean Kingdom, where all sorts of trouble ensues, bringing the Mario Bros into many strange, humorous scenarios.
While the game sees some small changes here and there, such as a minor character or two being replaced, or some new dialogue lines, the bulk of the story of Superstar Saga remains the same. Things are newer when we turn over to the other mode of the game, Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser.
In this mode, players start off by taking control of a lone Goomba, separated from the rest of Bowser’s minions when the Koopa Cruiser exploded. He then makes it his quest (with the help of some other Goombas looking for someone gullible to take charge) to unite the minions to find and save King Bowser. The problem with this plan, however, is that Fawful is brainwashing all of the minions, and the only way to save them is to beat them. This mode has a decently interesting story, which isn’t more complex than the average Mario story. It ties well into the plot of Superstar Saga, even explaining how Bowser went from being launched from a cannon to becoming the Popple’s amnesiac sidekick, Rookie, something fans have wondered for 14 years now. Best of all, it gives us even more character interactions that fit right in with the rest of the writing of the Mario & Luigi series. Though often times they don’t add to the plot of this mode, the minions will run into various characters first encountered by the Mario Bros. in Superstar Saga. The purpose behind this seems to clearly give these characters some new lines and more appearances…Though some, such as Prince Peasley, are used to reference the main plot of Superstar Saga. Ever wondered how Prince Peasley ended up inside that Piranha Bean? You may want to check out Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser…
The Mario & Luigi series has faced criticism in recent games due to some increased complexity and lengthy tutorials. Thankfully, I can say that this isn’t the case in Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. While you do get a tutorial for each new ability that you get, each is relatively quick and easy, just as it was in the original game. The gameplay is not just copied exactly from the original game, however, as many elements of later Mario & Luigi games, namely Paper Jam, have been incorporated. In the overworld, pressing the X button allows for both Bros to jump at the same time. Especially when having to use other actions repeatedly, this option is useful, as it allows players to quickly keep moving rather than constantly change abilities with the L/R button. The X button is also used in battle for the “Emergency Guard,” which minimizes the damage received, but obviously isn’t as good as a full-on dodge or counterattack. The double jumping and hammer mechanics from later Mario & Luigi games are also present, which leaves the game familiar for those who have more recently played the later games in the series.
The biggest change from the original game, and the most notable updates to the gameplay, come from the fact that the game now has two screens like every other game in the series. The 3DS Touch Screen is fairly useful. During battle, it displays the stats of both Bros, including any changes that may occur, such as status inflictions. When selecting moves, including the various Bros. moves, it allows for a tutorial of the attack, as well as just practice for it, which I found myself using as well to perfect new Bros. moves. In the overworld, the touchscreen can be used for two things, being the mini-map and another tool to swap abilities. While it’s useful to have each of the different abilities available at the touch of a button, I still found myself preferring to swap with L and R, as I liked having the mini-map available to me. The touchscreen is also used in the pause menu to access the various sections, as the top screen displays the map of the Beanbean Kingdom and the Bros passports.
Overall, the gameplay of Superstar Saga is very smooth, and plays like a wonderful adaptation of the original game, while adding in new elements and updates to old mechanics that makes the gameplay feel just right.
The gameplay of Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser is interesting, on the other hand, as….there isn’t too much of it in comparison to Superstar Saga. Before entering a battle scenario, you choose a team that’s most likely to win. There’s a rock-paper-scissors sort of power triangle. Melee units best Ranged units, Ranged units best Flying units, and Flying units best Melee units. Players are tasked with making a team that’s most likely to beat each given scenario, which can have a balance of enemies, or a lack of balance that heavily favors one enemy unit type. While new units are constantly recruited, it’s encouraged even within the game itself to revisit old scenarios to level up weaker units. Once you make your team and enter a battle scenario…it becomes very “cutscene” heavy, such as advancing any dialogue that comes up before the actual battle phase. During actual battles, players can use the touchscreen or D-Pad to use Captain skills, such as “Deny,” which stops an enemy from using their special attack, or “Rally,” which increases the allies’ spirit and makes them perform better. There are some other pretty interesting Captain skills, but I’ll leave those as a surprise…During battles, players also have special attacks, though they occur randomly. When they are triggered, the character performing the attack becomes the focus, and an A button action command is given, which can perform “OK” or “Excellent,” much like the action commands of the Mario Bros. While there isn’t much “hands on” gameplay in Minion Quest, it’s important to pay attention, as that can make or break a battle. There does seem to be a bit of RNG thrown in the mix too, as sometimes I’ve simply retried a battle after losing without changing anything, and I’ll end up just as close as the last time, yet manage to luckily pull through.
Overall, the gameplay of Minion Quest: The Search for Bowser is fun, and thought-provoking, and easy to learn. I personally felt the wins were satisfying, but I can completely understand complaints that there is a lot of sitting and waiting around for actions.
The Mario & Luigi series has gone through several art style changes over the years, but has seemingly found its anchor in the art-style of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, as it appeared relatively unchanged in Paper Jam, and yet again here….and that’s completely okay. The Beanbean Kingdom has never looked more beautiful. The world looks gorgeous at times, and I would argue far better than anything from Paper Jam or Dream Team. In addition, seeing all of the characters and enemies from this land with so much more animation just makes them all feel so much more alive. Many people have complained that the cartoony effect from the original game is gone…but I have to disagree with them. I think the Mario & Luigi series simply evolved how they were using the cartoony effect to make it blend better with the rest of the Mario universe. The game still features fun, exaggerated interactions, such as Prince Peasley’s signature hair flip and Luigi sitting down for a spot of tea.
The same can be said for Minion Quest. The writing in it is just as strong as the rest of the game and the series as a whole. I found myself often laughing at the antics the various Captains found themselves getting into. Extra appearances from characters such as Sledge and Mallet, who make the Mario Bros their hammers, give us more writing and actions of these various characters from the Beanbean Kingdom. Both Superstar Saga and the Minion Quest side mode are polished fairly well, having nice and clean menus, gameplay, graphics, and UI. The only real graphical problem the game has is the fact that it does not support 3D, which is disappointing as the 3D was fairly decent in the previous two games.
The music in the game is a very nice upgrade from the original GBA game, with the new original pieces in Minion Quest fitting nicely in with the rest of the series. Even now I find myself still going back to listen to several songs from this game, instead of the GBA original. There’s even a music player in the game itself, with most songs unlocking as you hear them for the first time in the game, while some are hidden, scattered throughout the Beanbean Kingdom to be found in blocks.
There are some changes made to the game’s presentation from its original that bothered me a bit, however, most of these are fairly minor. Most people have already complained about the starting area outside Peach’s Castle having just different colored Toads instead of the ones of various shapes, sizes, and colors. While this did catch my eye, I noticed it most annoyingly prominent in Little Fungitown, an area first visited about halfway through the game. Originally, there were many different Toads of shapes, sizes, gender, color, and age depicted. In this game, however, nearly every Toad is another generic, one-of-five colored Toad…yet, the dialogue stays the same as the original game. The obviously-children Toads look exactly the same as the obviously parent Toads. The only differences are the Dr. Toad, Dr. Toadley, and this one oddly specific Toad wearing an apron. This is probably the biggest change that bothered me about the game, but it isn’t something that I hate the game for, though, it makes this area of the game a lot blander than it should be.
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions sticks very true to its roots of the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga while doing a fantastic job of giving us extra with the Minion Quest mode. Both modes play well and are easy to jump into. Minion Quest is definitely a nice change of pace from the normal Mario & Luigi format, so if you ever get tired of the Bros, make sure to check this not-so-little mode starring a Goomba. The updated soundtrack is great, and the new songs added for the new mode are also just as great. The game looks really nice, and I think this is probably my favorite-looking Mario & Luigi game to date. As someone who, despite really loving this series, was feeling burnt out on it by the time Paper Jam released, I really loved my time with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. Perhaps it’s the return to the classic gameplay and mechanics that did it for me. Either way, it revitalized my love for the series, and while I had a few gripes with it, I believe it’s a must play for any fan of the Mario & Luigi series.
I give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.