Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions review – Bean there, done that

Credit: Nintendo
Credit: Nintendo /

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions revives a GBA classic with a new mini-game twist, bringing a new light to the game’s triumphs…and flaws.

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: October 6, 2017

Nintendo has proven time and time again that they can make serious bank on nostalgia. SNES Classic, Virtual Console, remakes and remasters, you name it–they can probably sell it if it has a classic title slapped on the cover. Pair this with the nostalgic sense with which fans look back on the older, RPG-genre Mario games, and you have the perfect recipe for Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga to make a return on the Nintendo 3DS. The game original debuted on the Game Boy Advance, heralding the Mario & Luigi series and its claim as the sole continuation of RPG Mario adventures akin to Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario. Many remember it fondly, but its remake didn’t so much sell me on the series’ origins as it convinced me how far the games have come since.

Superstar Saga sends the brothers off on a diplomatic adventure to the Beanbean Kingdom, where an evil sorceress named Cackletta hatches a plot to steal the powerful Bean Star. If you’ve ever played a Mario & Luigi title, you know the drill: special abilities used by one or both of the Mario Bros. will gradually unlock access to different areas of the map, and those abilities are reflected further during the turn-based battles. Using jumping, hammers, and Bros Attacks, Mario and Luigi can inflict heavy damage on enemies if the player times their button presses exactly right.

mario & Luigi superstar saga
Credit: Nintendo /

I’ve been spoiled. My only other Mario & Luigi game was Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam–the most recent in the series. And having played the latest (and possibly greatest) in the series thus far, I was keenly aware of Superstar Saga’s shortcomings. Though occasionally worth a chuckle, the game lacks the rollicking, punny humor of its successors. Its story is far shorter, as well, ending rather abruptly after a short tour with few hidden secrets or reasons to retrace one’s steps. On a system that regularly holds more content, the original Mario & Luigi adventure feels abrupt and hurried.

Furthermore, the battles don’t quite stand up, either. If you’ve learned to carefully calculate your button presses, dodges, counters, and attacks over the course of the series, prepare for the easiest ride you’ve had yet. With little effort, I quickly out-leveled nearly every foe I came across, and the simplicity of most dodges and counters made even boss battles a piece of cake. I found myself deliberately avoiding enemy encounters toward the endgame to avoid the boredom of having to sit through another easy battle with enemies I’ve seen a hundred other times. Jump on their heads, hit them with a hammer, jump to avoid their attack, done.

mario & Luigi superstar saga
Credit: Nintendo /

All of these are problems inherent to the original Superstar Saga that weren’t nearly as obvious in its time. Rather, it’s impressive to see how far Nintendo has come with each successive entry and to see the solid foundations later games were built on. And don’t get me wrong–if you’re hankering for Superstar Nostalgia, you won’t be disappointed. The updated visuals are an adorable treat, especially when compared to the GBA designs. Satisfying little details in character animations, such as Luigi’s sly grimace during battle or his idle behavior during certain cutscenes prove humorous highlights where the story seems to falter. And Yoko Shimomura’s music is never anything to scoff at, either.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions isn’t the amazing, timeless classic I expected…but it’s not a bad game, either.

Of course, there’s still the question of Bowser’s Minions, the minigame attachment that tells the story of how Bowser’s minion army, led by a single Goomba, goes traipsing off after him when he disappears during the plot of Superstar Saga. This tale is told via a strange little strategy game that involves the player selecting various minion units to send into battles against enemies, and then watching them duke it out while occasionally providing timed-button-press support. Sound a little dull? I thought so too, but as the quest added layers of complexity, I quickly shed this notion.

The meat and potatoes of Bowser’s Minions aren’t in the battles themselves (though they can get a bit hectic when multiple finishers go off one after another) but in the planning and coordination of your minion team. As more and more minions join your army, you’ll be faced with increasingly difficult choices about who to send into battle and how to progress. Do you need to train up your minions before the next bout, or can they handle this new wave of Shy Guys, Boos, and Koopas? Should you mix and match based on the strength/weakness triangle, or keep working on your power players? How will stat boosts turn the tides?

mario & Luigi superstar saga
Credit: Nintendo /

The questions and answers are simple enough, but I found myself delighted to simply discover how things would play out. It’s a good thing I did, too, because Bowser’s Minions is where some of the game’s best (and silliest) humor lies. The story, however fluffy it may be, helps explain some of the weirder moments of Superstar Saga, and there’s even a cameo from another Mario & Luigi character that doesn’t otherwise make an appearance in the main game.

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Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions isn’t the amazing, timeless classic I expected it to be based on what nostalgic fans said, but it’s not a bad game, either. If anything, it’s a testament to how far the series has come, and how much more fun is still to be had using the same RPG system of cues, counters and timed button presses. Bowser’s Minions is a silly addition that pads things out, but oddly, it’s not one I scoff at. Since it’s accessible at any time after an early point in the main game, it proved a pleasant diversion when Superstar’s battles grew tiresome and earned its keep with a few surprises along the way.

7.5. Though lacking the difficulty, complexity, and ribbing humor of its successors, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is an aesthetically pleasing and fun enough remake of a beloved GBA title. The Bowser’s Minions side story adds just enough oomph to keep things fresh, though if you’re not a fan of the original Superstar Saga, you might not be awed by the whole package anyway.. Nintendo. . Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.