In 2003 I was far too “cool” to be seen around campus sporting a Game Boy Advance. I was also far too broke to juggle socializing in a new school and playing N64 at home to maintain a portable game collection. I often refer to this as the dark ages of my gaming history as I let a number of amazing franchises pass me by. One of these was the Mario & Luigi series by Alphadream. By the time I picked up a game from the Dream Team Bros. line, I realized the error of my ways and endeavored to work my way back through the series.
To that end, Nintendo have re-released the seminal classic Superstar Saga. In a year that has seen remakes and re imaginings galore, Nintendo has clearly realized that more and more fans are coming back to its systems and want to experience games they have missed. The graphics and gameplay are updated and a new game mode has been added. The big question remains: is this a superstar title? or is it a quick cash grab?
The game takes place in a fantasy kingdom, but there are no specific spiritual links besides the use of magic spells and items.
Players take part in cartoon violence. Characters are harmed by jumping on them, or using oversized mallets. The violence is comic and designed to be lighthearted and when enemies are defeated they simply disappear, there is no reference to blood or bruising during the combat.
There is the suggestion that Princess Peach is swearing when her voice is stolen, but this is conveyed comically by the use of grawlixes.
Superstar Saga itself promotes positive skills such as cooperation and teamwork alongside the positive image of good working hard to overcome evil against all odds. However, the idea of princess peach playing a damsel in distress character does again raise questions about gender roles in video games.
Back when Superstar Saga was originally released on the GameBoy Advance, there had only been two other Mario RPGs. With one of those not being released in Europe, Mario RPG was a more difficult concept to take off in the UK. However that didn’t stop Superstar Saga from becoming one of the most popular titles in the GameBoy Advance catalogue.
The story makes no apologies for following the tried and tested formula. Princess Peach is visited by a representative of the Beanbean Kingdom only to be tricked into losing her voice by the evil Cackletta and her minion Fawful. At the same time as this, Bowser had been planning to kidnap Princess Peach (of course) and agrees to work alongside the Mario brothers to rescue (and later kidnap) the Princess. The trio travel to the Beanbean Kingdom but are met by Fawful, who attacks the troupe, causing them to be separated.
The game breaks away from the traditional RPG formula in a few ways. Moving around the map allows you to control both brothers simultaneously. With each having their own jump, and in time, their own abilities as the game progresses. While traversing the map, enemies that can be avoided or interacted with to trigger battle sequences will appear.
Combat is turn-based, as in traditional JRPGs, but also relies on knowing enemy tells and having good timing. Both Mario and Luigi have jump and hammer attacks whereby, perfect timing will increase the power or the number of attacks. The combat system is bolstered with Bros. moves which require timing between the two brothers to unleash powerful attacks. Players can also defend against attacks to reduce the amount of damage they receive. Defending moves can also give players the opportunity to counter attack at times. During the course of the game the brothers will level up and receive badges that can alter their attacks.
The aesthetics of the game have been improved since their GameBoy advance outing, with a switch from 2D sprites to the 3D cartoon realism of the more recent games. Whilst I feel this is a shame as the original sprite art was original and gorgeous, the game’s updated backgrounds are more than enough to make up for the switch. The only real criticism of the art style is that it doesn’t take advantage of the 3D features. Musically there is little difference and the score is as beautiful as both the original game and Nintendo games in general.
When comparing to the GBA version, there have been a few additions to improve the experience for fans. The map feature uses the 3DS bottom screen as well as displaying special moves in combat. There is also a skip function for more confident players to skip through the sometimes verbose cut scenes. There is also the addition of the increasingly more common “easy mode” that Nintendo have added to games. This increases the power of the characters while reducing the damage taken in combat to allow players to speed through the game more easily.
The other added feature is the “Bowser’s Minions” missions. These take place after the airship is downed and focuses on Bowser’s minions who are trying to reunite themselves with their beloved dictator. The game is a watered down version of Fire Emblem where you control a minion captain and build up an army of underlings. The combat focuses on three areas that work on a rock paper scissors system. Melee beats ranged, ranged beats flying and flying beats melee. Victory in these games is almost solely linked to the number of troops you have that beat the enemy’s.
The minions game starts off as a fun little segue from the main game but very quickly I found that I wanted to get back to the main game and ignore the minions. To that effect it is possible to bypass the minions game completely but this then begs the question of why it is included?
The negatives of the minions game however do little to take away from the enjoyment of the main game. The language is humorous and fun throughout and includes many-a-reference to Nintendo gone by. The character’s personalities shine through, particularly the Mario brothers who don’t speak much, instead having soundbites provided by the official voice of Mario, Charles Martinet. It is hard to champion the originality of the game when you remember this is a remake, but new players to the franchise will enjoy the originality of the villains and the slight shift away from traditional Mario games. Veterans of any Mario RPG however will possibly feel that the new additions to Superstar Saga make the game easier than the original.
Overall though, this is a classic in the Mario RPG franchise and was a worthy candidate for a remake. The main formula hasn’t been tampered with too much and what is there on the whole is designed to enhance rather than detract. The minions side missions are a fun distraction at times but often leave players wanting to ignore them. Hopefully this will drive up enough interest for Nintendo to bring back Bowser’s Inside Story.
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The Bottom Line
The addition of Bowser's Minions does little to deter players from the fun, humerous and enjoyable experience that is Superstar Saga. The updated graphics bring the game into the modern age and the use of features from more modern titles helps to make an already enjoyable game easier to access. A must for fans of the franchise and a strong recommendation for anyone who wants to enter the world of JRPGs.