Nintendo is keen to prove that the 3DS has life in it yet, and it's doing a bang-up job. First we got Metroid: Samus Returns, and now we have another reimagined classic in the form of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Does it hold a candle to Samus Aran’s latest outing? We’ve spent some quality time with the final game and have some impressions to share.
The Bros. are Back
It’s difficult to believe, but the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was released fourteen years ago, in 2003. The Game Boy Advance title was well loved and started a series of spiritual successors to the Super Nintendo Square-developed hit, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
If you played the original GBA version of this classic the first thing you’ll notice is the new art style, which eschews the more cartoony aesthetic in favour of something a bit more akin to the pseudo three-dimensional art of the IP's 3DS predecessors. The change is bound to be a divisive topic among fans, but the more we’ve played of the game, the more we’ve come to enjoy it.
In this game Mario & Luigi are in search of Princess Peach’s stolen voice. A new villain, Cackletta, has taken it with plans to rule over the Mushroom Kingdom’s neighbour, the Beanbean Kingdom. Mario and his green-shirted bro set out on an adventure that sees them taking on familiar enemies in unfamiliar places.
Despite being an RPG, Mario & Luigi doesn’t adhere to genre norms, even in 2017. While the genre has begun to shift away from random encounters, with some games like Bravely Default even allowing the player to turn them off, Mario & Luigi follows in its cousin’s footsteps and displays bad guys in your surroundings.
Every part of Mario & Luigi is a joy, and the combat is the stuff we wish all turn-based RPGs were made of. Rather than leaving whether an attack hits or misses up to chance, as with most games of this type in the genre, a well-timed jump or swing of your hammer will help you evade or counter an enemy’s attack. It’s a simple idea, but one that works so, so well in practice; it’s surprising more games don’t take this approach.
The overworld is far from dull, either. Exploring environments throughout the Beanbean Kingdom is made enjoyable by the environment puzzles presented. Everywhere you turn there’s a chest in a seemingly impossible to reach spot or an enemy in a weird spot. Using the skills you unlock as you progress through the story you're able to reach new areas on a regular basis.
Mario & Luigi is also full of nods to the Bros’ storied history. You’ll encounter enemies like Fighter Flies from the original arcade Mario Bros. to virii from Dr. Mario, as well as classics like Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Hammer Bros. and more. That isn’t to say everything is a throwback, however. Mario & Luigi boasts a whole host of new enemies and characters to fill out the foreign land the duo adventure in.
On your way to defeat Cackletta you’ll meet a colourful cast of new characters, all of whom need rescuing by the brothers Mario. You’ll encounter would-be heroes like the always-fancy Prince Peasley to some more over-the-top characters like Queen Bean and Lady Lima. They may not have the same star quality of series mainstays, but they make up a great supporting cast. The dialogue is always good for a chuckle too. We’re particularly fond of the running gag in which nobody can quite seem to remember who Luigi is.
What you gonna do, bad boys?
New to this version of Superstar Saga is Minion Quest, a side story that gives you an inside look at the life of those destined to be stomped by one of our mustachioed men of action. After reaching a certain point in the main campaign, Minion Quest will become available as an option you can hop into and out of with a tap of the touch screen.
Minion Quest starts out aboard Bowser’s airship; you’re a Goomba trapped in a barrel, unable to get even a modicum of respect from your peers. When Bowser’s ship is shot down, you and your fellow Goombas fall from the skies and are scattered. It’s up to you to reassemble Bowser’s minions and help locate and rescue your boss.
The gameplay itself is reminiscent of Miitopia, Nintendo’s other recent RPG; as you build a squad, you get into skirmishes with other groups of minions. You’ll move along a path and battle automatically, with the only inputs needed from you being a push of the A button at times to land a critical hit, or a small range of limited 'captain' moves on the D-Pad directions to disrupt the enemy's attacks.
Beyond that, you’ll need to build your party based on what you’re up against. Minion Quest operates in a sort of rock-paper-scissors format. Goombas are weak to flying enemies, and flying enemies are weak to Hammer Bros, where Hammer Bros. are weak to Goombas. You’ll know what you’re up against in advance, so you have to carefully plan who you’re taking with you.
Minion Quest interweaves with the main campaign’s story and gives you insight into what Bowser’s forces are doing while their boss is gallivanting around the Beanbean Kingdom. The banter between the baddies is often funny and the tone is lighter than the already lighthearted main story. It feels a bit feature-light be we’ve enjoyed it thus far as a distraction.
The years have been kind to Superstar Saga. The gameplay is still ahead of its time and the new visuals look great on the small screen. We'll have much more on Mario & Luigi in a few days right here on Nintendo Life, of course, including our full review. Are you keen to pick up this new take on one of Mario's older adventures? Let us know with a comment.