The classic Super Mario RPG on the SNES never saw a direct sequel, but we did see two separate series arise that carry a little bit of that game’s heritage. Paper Mario for the N64 and its sequels represent one direction for the concept, aiming for a sort of comedic take on RPG adventures and incorporating Super Mario RPG’s timed-hits system to add a little flavor to battles. On the other hand, we have the Mario & Luigi series, beginning with Superstar Saga on the Game Boy Advance in 2003, which took Super Mario RPG’s ideas regarding a more active take on turn-based combat and built them up into an entire game.
What we’re looking at today is Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, a remake of the 2003 game that also includes a very Nintendo-style take on the real-time strategy genre.
It’s not easy running the Mushroom Kingdom; misfortune tends to befall Princess Peach, the current monarch, every other week or so. This time she’s had her voice stolen (and replaced with new, explosive curses!) by the villainous Cackletta, a witch from the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom. Something needs to be done or Peach is going to reduce her castle to rubble, so it’s up to Mario and Luigi to take a trip to the Beanbean Kingdom, find Cackletta and get the problem taken care of.
The Beanbean Kingdom is a new and crazy place, though, and so it’s not surprising that scouring the land involves a new and crazy means of exploration. Players control both Mario and Luigi simultaneously; the stick or D-pad moves both brothers, while one brother is assigned to the A and B buttons. A makes Mario jump, B makes Luigi jump, X makes both jump simultaneously and the entire game is built around this concept. Need to get up a short cliff? A quick A-B tap will have both brothers hop, a basic technique for scaling heights; the X button does the same, though that wasn’t present in the original release. Dodging obstacles will often involve timing the jumps for each brother so nobody gets stuck with spikes or what have you.
Those are the basics, but Superstar Saga takes the idea even further by introducing Bros. Actions. Having Luigi jump on Mario’s head will allow the duo to make a super high leap, for instance, while having Mario jump on Luigi’s head and perform a spin will produce a helicopter-style hover. Later, when the Bros. get hammers, they can smack each other around to accomplish further feats, and even more esoteric abilities await as the game progresses. The heroes will learn many of these special abilities as the game progresses, using them to solve puzzles and explore the world in equal measure.
Unlike many Mario games before it, Superstar Saga really highlighted the sibling relationship between the pair and gave them both some time in the spotlight – it’s especially hilarious when most characters have no idea who Luigi is!
Controlling two characters simultaneously extends to the combat as well, which integrates both turn-based and action game mechanics. Mario and Luigi attack in a similar fashion to Super Mario RPG; select an attack from a menu, then tap buttons as necessary to boost your damage output. This applies to both regular attacks and more advanced Bros. Attacks that involve multiple button presses to achieve the best possible results. Combat gets really interesting when it comes to defense, though; you’ll use the heroes’ jump buttons to manually dodge attacks or block them with weapons, ideally landing right on your foes’ heads or striking back for a counterattack. It’s a surprisingly great way of making bringing some life to turn-based combat, which is, by its very nature, kind of dull.
All of this works together to make for a must-play experience, one that’s led to an entire series of must-play games, but that’s not all that’s included in this package. You’ve also got Minion Quest, a Nintendofied RTS where you control the titular baddies as they try to reconvene with their beloved Koopa master. This incorporates aspects of real-time strategy games, Nintendo’s own beloved Fire Emblem franchise’s rock-paper-scissors combat system and even a little Mario & Luigi flair with timed attacks.
Don’t come in expecting a tactical extravaganza, but Minion Quest is definitely more than just a tacked-on minigame, and there’s something to be said for leading your own army of Goombas and Koopas against the hostile residents of the Beanbean Kingdom. The two games don’t interact much – you need to reach certain points in Superstar Saga’s plot to get past points in Minion Quest, but the latter has no effect on the former at all so far as I could tell – so you can largely ignore this mode if it’s not to your liking.
Along with Minion Quest, the big draw of this remake is how the game looks. The original Superstar Saga’s cartoon-styled sprites have been traded in favor of the more modern look seen in more recent Mario & Luigi titles like Dream Team and Paper Jam. Both styles look great, to be honest, and Superstar Saga doesn’t lose much in the transition; it still plays largely the same as the original as well, so you aren’t losing anything there either. As always, the classic Mario presentation makes this game a joy to play through, and if you’ve been a fan of the plumbers before you aren’t going to start hating them now.
We aren’t too far off from the next big Mario adventure proper in Super Mario Odyssey, but if you’re hurting for a little plumbing right this second then you might want to check out Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. Minion Quest is fun but probably isn’t enough to sell as a game by itself; Superstar Saga, though, is a solid RPG that’s worth a look for pretty much anyone – even those who are averse to the genre are likely to be drawn in by the sheer Mario of it all. Superstar Saga has certainly held up after all these years and this is the definitive way to play it.