On my recent plane flights to and from Japan, I had a lot of spare time to play Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions for the 3DS, a remake of the original Gameboy Advance game. Originally released in 2003, Superstar Saga was released to high praise from critics and fans, cementing itself as a classic in the Gameboy Advance’s repertoire. Given the game’s success and popularity, the 3DS version has some big shoes to fill. Does the remake maintain the unique appeal of the original, whilst also finding ways to update the game for a modern audience? Is it a good way to experience Superstar Saga if you’ve never played it before? My answer to both is a resounding yes.
Contrary to the usual, Princess Peach hasn’t been kidnapped. Instead she’s had her voice stolen by Cackletta, a witch from the Beanbean Kingdom. Mario and Luigi find themselves taking a trip to Beanbean Kingdom and its many locales, battling enemies and solving puzzles on a journey to get Peach’s voice back. The dialogue and characters are appreciably strange and unique — Fawful’s broken dialogue is iconic for a reason — and the visual gags involving Mario and Luigi’s reception by Beanbean’s residents never ceased to amuse.
This version of Superstar Saga offers modern, 3D graphics and high quality renditions of classic tracks, including the battle theme that’s been stuck in my head for weeks. If you played the original Superstar Saga, you’ll recognise most things as being the same, aside from some small graphical and quality of life changes. If you’re curious, you can find a full list of the changes online.
To address the concern from fans of the GBA game, yes, this version of Superstar Saga does have an easy mode; however, it’s completely optional, so don’t worry about the game being too simplistic. The default version still presents the same challenge, with even regular enemies having varying and often unpredictable attack patterns that’ll keep you on your toes — you will still need to time your attack inputs just right for maximum efficiency.
If, like me, this is your first time with Superstar Saga, this is the definitive version of the game thanks to changes to the ease of control, such as the way your abilities are accessed and the fact that you can now press X to make both brothers jump at once, making ledges a breeze. You can access a mini map on the bottom screen as well, and use pins to remind yourself of bean spots and other notable locations.
The second part of the Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions title refers to the new game mode included for the 3DS version, ‘Minion’s Quest: The Search for Bowser’. The story focuses on what Bowser’s minions are doing while Mario and Luigi are adventuring, providing a refreshing and amusing shift of perspective from the main narrative. It plays out like a simple tactics RPG, which sounds good on paper, but is surprisingly tedious to actually play. There’s little input required in battles, and I found myself getting bored. I didn’t feel it was worth sitting through an uninteresting battle mode to experience an otherwise entertaining story. Compared to Superstar Saga’s main story, Bowser’s Minions fails to stand out as a worthwhile addition to the game. It’s completely optional though, so even though I didn’t enjoy it much, it didn’t have any impact on how much sheer fun I had playing Superstar Saga overall.
Given how critically acclaimed the GBA version was, you might wonder if it’s possible — or worth trying — to improve on perfection. Some of the changes mean the game doesn’t present a 1:1 experience to the original, but that definitely shouldn’t discredit its merit as a standalone game. The story, locations and puzzles are all the same, and it’s a great way to experience a classic Mario RPG game that’s hard to access because of its platform and age. As it becomes harder to get a hold of older classic titles, Nintendo has done an excellent job in making the Superstar Saga experience available for a modern generation of gamers; though it’s a remake that wasn’t urgently needed, it’s certainly a welcome addition to the Mario RPG series.