Since Mario first leaped his way onto our old CRT televisions over 35 years ago, he’s appeared in all manner of games besides those beloved platform romps. Puzzle games, beat ‘em ups, racing titles; you name it, Mario’s done it.
One of our favourites has to be the Mario & Luigi franchise – a turn-based RPG series starring everyone’s favourite plumbing brothers. The Mario & Luigi games have you take control of both bros at once, as they embark on an epic quest – usually to rescue Princess Peach or save the Mushroom Kingdom. Usually to Luigi’s chagrin also, as he finds himself unwillingly dragged along for the ride.
You’ll have to battle your way through harsh environments, perform some light platforming to reach new areas and even solve the occasional puzzle to progress. In other words, gameplay is pleasingly varied, while the story and character interactions are often downright hilarious.
The Mario & Luigi series started with Superstar Saga, which hit the Gameboy Advance nearly 15 years ago. Younger gamers won’t have had the chance to blast through this hilarious RPG, so Nintendo has kindly re-released the title for the 2DS and 3DS portable consoles, just in time for Christmas. However, this isn’t just a straight port; the game has been remastered and also expanded in the form of ‘Bowser’s Minions’, a whole new bonus section which tells a concurrent behind-the-scenes tale.
While the story of Superstar Saga holds few surprises – Peach is in trouble, Mario and his hapless brother come to the rescue – the way that it’s told is simply sublime. For once it’s good to see Bowser take a back seat to a fresh, formidable foe, and in fact be downright humiliated as this new threat smashes his beloved spaceship and then blasts him out of a giant cannon (which just happened to be lying around).
The Mario & Luigi titles have always been tongue in cheek and Superstar Saga is no different. Tropes from the series are torn into with zero mercy, which will squeeze a fair few chuckles out of long-standing fans. NPCs often come out with hilarious off-the-cuff remarks, while Luigi generally freaks out at every hint of danger.
Although you can wander freely around the land, your route through Superstar Saga is very linear. You can’t simply wander off in any direction you please, as you can on recent Zelda titles, for instance. Guiding the bros is pleasingly simple, even in trickier platforming sections, despite the fact you’re controlling both of them at once. That’s thanks to the dual jump button, which has them both leap in the air simultaneously. You can also use combo moves to help them reach high up or distant platforms, with the ability to skip between moves using the shoulder buttons – or the touchscreen in this updated version.
That world is filled with all manner of malevolent beasties of course. Combat begins when you touch one (or actively attack, which gives you a chance to inflict bonus damage), at which point you’re embroiled in a violent turn-based battle to the death. Or until one of you chooses to run away, of course.
These combat segments are great fun, thanks to the active participation throughout. You don’t simply stand there and take whatever your foe throws at you; rather, you have the chance to avoid damage, with a bit of careful observation and expert timing. When it’s your turn, you can choose from a variety of attacks, including super-powered combos using both brothers at once. Again, these require good timing and can be tricky to pull off. The devastating results make it very worthwhile, though.
For this 2DS/3DS remake, Nintendo has spruced up Superstar Saga’s graphics considerably to make it look a bit more modern. The game certainly looks crisp and colourful in this remastered version, with snazzy new lighting effects and real depth to the visuals, although any 3DS owners hoping for pop-out 3D effects will be disappointed.
That said, you do now have the option to save the game at any point. For some reason (perhaps nostalgia) you’ll still find the save blocks scattered around the world, which were previously your only means of recording your progress. But in these busy times, it’s refreshing to be able to save whenever you like, with a quick tap of the touchscreen. Definitely an essential feature for commuters.
Of course, the main reason to pick up this remake for fans of the original is the new Minion Quest material. This well-considered bonus quest has you leading Bowser’s faithful servants into battle, as they try and track down their missing boss. Minion Quest’s story runs concurrently to the main Superstar Saga plot, yet gameplay is quite different, so this isn’t just a case of a couple of bonus levels tacked onto the end. Rather, this section plays out more like a strategy title, with you picking units and sending them to fight your rival baddies.
As with all strategy games, each character has its own strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have to choose carefully to emerge victorious, while ensuring enough allies survive to join your ranks.
Overall, this is a great value package for anyone who missed out on Superstar Saga, or returning fans who want to dive back into a classic adventure. You can pick up Mario & Luigi now on Nintendo’s 2DS or 3DS consoles.
Check out our in-depth review of Mario’s first proper Switch adventure, Super Mario Odyssey