This month, another Nintendo handheld game gets the remake treatment on the 3DS and gives you yet another reason to keep your handheld dusted off. A more straight-forward remake this time around, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions is well worth checking out. Come inside for my full review!
Last month saw the release of Metroid: Samus Returns, an incredibly well done remake of the old GameBoy game Metroid II. This month brings Nintendo fans yet another remake, this one based on the 2003 GameBoy Advanced game, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. The game diverges from the normal Super Mario formula, eschewing the fast paced platforming for a turn-based style RPG. Sure, it's not Mario's first foray into the RPG genre, but the twists added to the gameplay in Superstar Saga make it one of the most memorable outings.
Admittedly, I have almost no experience with this series, despite the many sequels we've seen over the years. At the time of it's initial release I had little interest in any kind of RPG game (I spent most of my gaming with either action/adventure titles or strategy games). I just didn't have the patience for them, but as I've grown older, I've grown increasingly fond of them and the stories that are able to be told through RPGs. As such, I was eager to pick up Mario & Luigi to see what I'd missed out on and subsequently bummed it took me this long to play it.
The story setup is pretty typical of what you'd expect from any Mario related title. Princess Peach is in trouble and needs your help to set things right. The journey sees the iconic brothers team up with Bowser and travel to an all new kingdom to battle entirely new enemies. The premise is fairly standard, but the way the story unfolds is still a lot of fun, filled with tons of humor and self-parody (one of the stats you can upgrade is your mustache).
The majority of the game plays out in a canted top-down perspective (think Link to the Past and the older Pokemon titles), where you'll traverse different areas by jumping, spinning, and other methods you'd find in platforming games. Combat, however, takes you to a separate battle screen (much like every other turn-based RPG).
Moving around and combat are much different, however, and is a big part of this game’s charm. All of Mario’s actions, from movement to combat, are controlled via the ‘A’ button, while Luigi’s are mapped to the ‘B’ button. Simultaneous actions can be performed by the ‘X.’ This three-button setup can take some getting used and I had to remind myself when climbing steps I had to make sure BOTH the characters jumped. After about an hour of playing, however, the mechanics become second nature and its quirky nature really stand out as something special.
Combat takes advantage of this setup as well and takes a more interactive approach to the turn-based formula. Sure, you’ll still pick your attacks, but you can time your button presses (still assigned to each character) to deal extra damage or perform a “Bros move” to really hammer your enemies.
This take on the turn-based formula makes combat feel less tedious; keeping you constantly involved. It also makes every battle just a little bit different, making it feel like much less of a grind in the latter parts of the game. As you’ll rely on leveling up your characters and abilities to tackle the end game bosses, taking the monotony out of the grind (even just a little bit) helps a great deal.
The Remake Factor
Unlike Samus Returns, which was more akin to a complete rebuilding of the game from the ground up, Mario & Luigi is more along the lines of a remaster than anything else. The core mechanics haven’t been touched and it plays out much like you would remember, although some of the combat has been updated to be on par with the more recent installments of the RPG series.
The tweaks that have been made are all about streamlining the process and taking advantage of the touch screen/extra buttons on the 3DS. The map and menu now displays on the bottom screen, making them far more accessible without having to stop the action. The addition of a “fast-forward” button for cutscenes was particularly nice. While the story is fun to play through, some of the story moments move pretty slow.
Visually, the game has been overhauled so that it looks sharp on the 3DS, without losing any of the design’s charm. I’m sure diehard fans of the original would find a myriad of other minor changes, but suffice it to say, the game felt and played like a modern release; so newcomers should have no problem getting to it.
The biggest change to the remake is the addition of an all new game, Bowser’s Minions. This is a tactical RPG that sees you assemble a team of enemies to take on Fawful (one of the main story’s primary antagonists). The ability to play the game opens up fairly early in your main play through, and you’ll be able to jump back and forth between the two whenever you want...which is a good thing.
Bowser’s Minions sounds like fun on paper, but it’s better left alone. The battles are simple to the point of feeling chore-like to get through them and it wasn’t long before I found myself jumping back to Mario & Luigi. It’s just not a lot of fun, and feels like an unnecessary addition to an otherwise amazing game.
It’s almost like Nintendo was worried fans wouldn’t want to pick up a more straightforward remake and felt the need to add on another gameplay element. Fortunately, playing Bowser’s Minions is entirely optional and isn’t tied to your progression in the core game. Just forget it’s there and the original game itself is worth the price.