From the Vault: Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (But mostly Superstar Saga)

From the Vault: Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions (But mostly Superstar Saga)
It's time to be a Supastaaaaaah

The time before a major release is always weird l for me. I’m not playing the release I want (in this case, Jedi Survivor), so I gotta find some way to keep myself occupied. This is where this week’s entry comes in. A little-known fact about me is that I love the Mario and Luigi games. Developed by Alphadream (RIP because they are now defunct), this series of games takes what the Super Mario RPG does by taking established characters and throwing them into a neat situation…usually of the hilarious kind. I bring this up because I was already playing through the 3DS remake of Superstar Saga over the last few weeks. I was in a rare nostalgic mood and Nintendo decided to get spicy with the removal of the 3DS and Wii U eShops, so I was doing what any reasonable person did and scrambled to get any and all games they procrastinated on buying over the course of literal years. I also picked up the 3DS Ace Attorney games and Apollo Justice because I had never played either Dual Destinies or Spirit of Justice, and Apollo Justice I played way back in the day and never owned them on top of these being the only ones that Capcom hasn’t re-released yet. That aside, I’ll be taking time today to talk about a remake of a game that I really like from when I was a kid. That being Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions.

Mario and Luigi squaring up to Fawful on Bowser's Ariship
And there's this little goblin. He's great.

The main setup for the game is as such: Dignitaries from the Neighboring Beanbean Kingdom arrive on a diplomatic visit to the Mushroom Kingdom. But it turns out that said dignitaries are actually the evil witch Cackletta and her partner in crime Fawful. They steal Princess Peach’s voice and leave her with an…explosive vocabulary. This prompts Mario and Bowser to team up and get Peach’s voice back, whisking up Luigi in the process before things go absolutely sideways leaving the brothers to explore this new kingdom on their own and stop Cackletta’s evil plans involving a mystical artifact called the Beanstar. While it’s very much your standard JRPG MacGuffin chase plot, a lot of it is fleshed out and enhanced by the ames writing. A well know thing about this series is that it plays a lot of the proceedings I just mentioned (and the stories that it tells in general) with its tongue firmly in its cheek. There’s always at least one piece of dialogue that will succeed in getting a chuckle out of you, recurring jokes and running gags that never stop being funny and even whole characters who exist to set up ridiculous jokes and nothing else are all present. My favorites of these running jokes have to be a tie between no one in Beanbean knowing who Luigi is and the exchange rates between Mushroom Kingdom and Beanbean Kingdom coins. The best part about this style of writing is also how it handles characters. Cackletta and Fawful are both great villains, being a mix of both intimidating and absolutely goofy, to the point where the latter was brought back in the third game as the main antagonist. There’s also the showoff Prince Peasley and the bumbling, self-proclaimed “Shadow Thief” Popple just showing up and being a perpetual thorn in the brothers’ side.

But Superstar Saga also takes the time to flesh out some of the characters we’ve known since the beginning, namely Bowser and Luigi. The story and writing flesh out Luigi and expand on his personality, and while he doesn’t get the main brunt of it until Dream Team, it still takes his personality traits introduced in Luigi’s Mansion and runs with it. And while Bowser is treated as something like a butt monkey in this entry into the series, it also sort of lays the groundwork for him being taken seriously as an antagonist in the main games. And the main thing about the remake is that it mainly uses the same script from the GBA game that was released roughly 20 years ago, which is mostly proof that good comedy is timeless.

Cackletta and Fawful stealling Pricess Peach's voice
Look at her, causing Chaos. Like a Witch

I also wanted to talk about the gameplay as well. You go on a journey to thwart Cackletta’s plans over the course of a near 25-hour journey spread across the Beanbean Kingdom’s 13 locations. The Brothers Mario traverse these areas and the overworld through an RPG-ified version of the running and jumping found in the Mainline Super Mario games like Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario before it. The main difference is in the Bros. Actions. These are unique abilities that you find over the course of your adventure that can help you navigate the environment and solve puzzles. You can get high jumps and tornado-esque spin jumps, shrink and bury each of the brothers with their hammers, and use their fire and thunder hand abilities to get unique movement options or light torches/power semiconductors respectively. These are all the main selling points outside of combat and all make for some really great puzzle and traversal challenges. Heck, they even play into combat!

Speaking of combat. Superstar Saga, again, takes what was done in other Mario RPGs and does its own spin on them, The main differentiator here is that compared to Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario where you had full parties of companions travelling with Mario, this time around it’s just Luigi. You have timing-based attacks while still being turn-based, meaning that you can effectively do more damage if you time the button presses correctly. It also translates to defense because every enemy in the game has a tell that foreshadows an attack against either Mario or Luigi that needs to be either jumped to be avoided or swatted away with a hammer strike. By setting up defense in such a manner, Superstar Saga effectively makes it so you can go through the entire game without taking any damage if you are good enough and I love that.  A change in the remake is that the jump attacks work like n later games, where timing a good jump attack rewards you with a second jump attack. This does mean that enemies need to be a bit bulkier to compensate, but I can accept that because I love that mechanic.

Mario and Luigi in Combat with Bullet Bills
Get your Jumping shoes ready

This actually works in the game’s favour because it really emphasizes the teamwork needed to get some of these attacks off and by those, I mean the Bros. Attacks. These are all based on the aforementioned action I mentioned earlier and are some of the hardest-hitting attacks in the game. Especially useful in Superstar Saga’s many boss fights. And while I love that these fights are the best example of the combat in action, the entire boss rush in the final dungeon leading up to the final boss is something I could have done without. And the final boss fight is as much of a pain now as it was 20 years ago and this is a hill I’m willing to die. I genuinely forgot how annoying it was until I did it. But it’s fine, it’s the only outward blemish on an otherwise superb combat system.

And then there’s the aesthetics. This is where the majority of the work in the remake went and it shows. The sprite work is all done in the style of the latter-day Mario and Luigi entries and goes a long way to showcase a heightened sense of personality in all characters, the brothers being the biggest beneficiaries. And the music. The original soundtrack was done by certified GOAT Yoko Shimomura and with the writing, provided Superstar Saga with a wonderfully goofy and chaotic tone. She was brought back to do new versions of all of the music and it’s just as good. Hell, I’d argue it’s even better because of some of these new arrangements. Cackletta’s theme, in particular, got a glow-up to sound like an incredibly intimidating organ piece that was probably performed by Ganondorf himself, which also maintains its silly over-the-top nature. It’s good stuff all around.

There’s also a mini-campaign where you play as Bowser’s minions, but I barely touched that because it’s more side-content than anything.

All in all, Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is without a doubt a good remake of a fantastic game. While I really like the changes made to the game, I can see where others wouldn't. But I’m not going to deny that it’s not a great way to experience one of the better Mario RPGs out there. I highly recommend it if you want a silly adventure.