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[Game Review] Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

Hey look, I’m doing a review! Been a while, huh? So yeah, I’ve already mentioned before how the Mario and Luigi series is one of my favourite RPG serieseseses (excluding Paper Jam, which can fuck off). Despite this, I got into the series with Partners in Time, so I’ve never actually played Superstar Saga. I was pretty excited to give it a go, so after beating the game (not the Bowser’s Minions portion, I’ll admit), here’s what I think of this first game in a venerable series. Or, uh, remake of the first game in a venerable series. Which is not quite the same thing.

Superstar Saga details the adventures of Mario and Luigi on a hilarity-filled quest to rescue Princess Peach’s voice from Lima, a representative of the nearby Beanbean Kingdom. Of course, like any good Mario RPG (looking at you, Paper Jam) the plot immediately balloons to ridiculous proportions – we find out about the mysterious Beanstar, find out that Lima was Cackletta in disguise, and spend lots of time trying to fathom everything Fawful says. God, I love Fawful. He’s the best character in this damn game.

Sorry, got distracted. So, it plays out as any typical Mario and Luigi game – battle enemies, press buttons when it’s not your turn to dodge enemy attacks and completely neuter them, pull off insane Bros. Moves to trash bosses in about 3 turns and run around doing useless busywork to get to the next part of the story. Honestly, though, what I found the best about Superstar Saga is it’s pace. The opening to the game is pretty slow, and I was flicking to Bowser’s Minions more often than I wanted to, but after a certain point, everything picks up like a snowball rolling down a hill and into a busload of children. The pacing is quick, the dialogue is funny, and I found myself actually enjoying the breakneck approach to the plot, because nothing got old and boring.

Of course, the Beanbean Kingdom is an entirely separate region to the Mushroom Kingdom, and a lot of work has been put into making it feel similar, but eerily distinct. A lot of that comes from the music; I’d argue that Superstar Saga has one of the most unique soundtracks in Mario history, perhaps second to Super Paper Mario. The enemies are, too, weirdly familiar. The ‘bean’ enemies are essentially replacements to the Goombas of Mushroom Kingdom fame, but they’re thematically appropriate. Another thing I like is that the further you get into the adventure, the more ‘typical’ Mario enemies you encounter, as if Bowser’s presence in the kingdom is slowly tainting it. Beautiful mix of gameplay and story, if I do say so myself.

There’s lots to do in the overworld, too, it’s not all combat. When you’re not rushing towards the next objective, there’s some fun to be had digging for beans, doing sidequests for ridiculously broken equipment, learning new moves and discovering hilarious cutscenes. Comedy and lightheartedness is clearly the intended tone for this game, and it comes across very well. I’d argue that whilst it’s less dark than Partners in Time, the humour definitely packs more of a punch: I found myself chortling along to several of the funnier cutscenes in the story. Luigi does a lot for this game’s comedy, and I appreciated him being there. Admittedly, this game leans pretty heavily on the old favourite ‘oh man, who’s that green guy’ joke, but we can chalk that up to early instalment weirdness: by Bowser’s Inside Story, that’s not much of an issue anymore.

The special moves are pretty nice. The thing I appreciate most about Superstar Saga’s battle system is the Bros. Moves, which are implemented as exact replicas of the moves you can perform in the overworld. It’s the only game in the series to do so, but I think it should return – it makes the battle/overworld feel more interconnected, and it flows more nicely than ‘well, now we can jump out of magic windows because you learned a skill completely unrelated to the plot as a whole’. The spin jump, high jump, thunderhand and firebrand… all the famous skills are found here. Admittedly, there are quite a lot of them, but Superstar Saga, being a remake, solves the problem by having them constantly accessible with just a tap on the lower screen. I’ve never needed a quality of life update more than this, and it’s such a good system. It makes the overworld more accessible than ever before, and it makes adventuring fun.

As I said, these special moves equate to Bros. Moves in battle. Another fucking fantastic quality of life update in combat is the Bros. Moves themselves – rather than awkwardly hit A and B when you think you’re supposed to, Mario and Luigi now get surrounded by red and green circles that notify you really well of when to hit the buttons. I thought the original Superstar Saga’s system sounded really awkward, and this is a really nice way of solving that little problem. They’re fun to pull off, and punchy, too. My only complaint is the advance versions. By using a Bros. Move enough, Mario and Luigi will think of ways to improve them – this unlocks the advance versions which do more damage and work differently, and that’s what bugs me. The improved attacks aren’t always direct improvements – for example, Thunder Bros. is a nice move for hitting the entire field. The advance version, whilst doing better damage, only hits a single target. I already have Bros. Moves for hitting a single target, Superstar Saga, please just let me hit the entire field, since that’s what I’ve been using the move for! Generally, though, the advance versions are a natural way to introduce stronger attacks, and I think it’s a nice way to reward the players who use the Bros. Moves against normal enemies, not just saving them for bosses.

Equipment is also something to keep an eye on. Mario and Luigi find various pieces of equipment on their quest, which change subtle aspects of combat. I found these to be a lot of fun, and very varied, but let’s be real… the Stone and Guardian Slacks break the game entirely – they block three attacks, and there are very few enemies that cannot be beaten in three turns: the only ones for me were the final boss and a few of the Koopalings in the endgame. Which brings me neatly onto my next point: Christ, this game is easy. I know difficulty was toned down in future instalments after Dream Team, but this is a remake, dammit! I wanted it to be hard!

I found myself enjoying Superstar Saga more than I expected. It’s not perfect, which is where Bowser’s Minions comes in. This remake tacked on a weird side-story focussing on a Goomba looking for Bowser. The gameplay is drastically different – you command a force of minions, and charge into battle. Different minions have different advantages over other ones, in a triangle of Melee > Ranged > Flying. It’s weird.

No, really, I’ve no idea what to make of it. It’s fun, in an odd way, but I can’t say it’s particularly engaging. My favourite parts are the cutscenes of Captain Goomba and friends, which are pretty funny and characterise the minions way more than any other game have. But there’s very little interactivity when playing the actual game; you select your team of minions and hit go, and every so often you can spend coins to help your team a little or press A when one of the minions is about to release a special attack, but really, it’s pretty much random chance as to whether you’ll win or not. You can switch out your minions to take advantage of your opponents, and you’ll pretty much have to later in the game, but I found that there was little consistency in how the game works.

Maybe it’s me not understanding it, but I stopped playing once the main game got interesting. It was a nice distraction from Superstar Saga’s earlygame, but nothing that maintained my attention for that long. I’m disappointed, honestly, because I wanted to see the end of Captain Goomba’s quest, but I just can’t bring myself to play more when I have other things to play.

Overall, Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is a really solid addition to the series, and I really appreciated getting to play one of the older games in a new-and-improved format. I can’t say it’s my favourite: the second and third entries are far stronger in my opinion, but it’s still a good RPG and well worth your time. Besides, it’s got Fawful in it. What’s not to love?

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