After 14 years, the Game Boy Advance classic “Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga” has returned to the limelight with a Nintendo 3DS remake.
Despite having issues with its updated battle system, the remake presents a gorgeous, enthralling revamp of an older title with graphics and music that perfectly create a vivid and diverse world to explore.
However, there are a number of things that fall short compared to the original.
“Superstar Saga” follows titular heroes Mario and Luigi as they travel from the Mushroom Kingdom to the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom after an evil witch named Cackletta steals Princess Peach’s to use the sound of a pure soul to awaken a magical wish-granting Beanstar.
Once the duo crosses the border into Beanbean, they’re pulled from different battles and tasks in seemingly unending succession before finally encountering the evil witch, but it’s only after that their adventure truly begins.
The main story of the “Superstar Saga” remake is a carbon copy of the original game, even down to the most minuscule bits of dialogue. Only a few exceptions like short tutorials for additional features were not present in the original, but the game’s brilliant comedic writing is modernized extremely well and remains an enjoyable experience for series veterans and newcomers alike.
This lack of added content is somewhat mitigated by the new Bowser’s Minions gamemode, which follows a gullible and dimwitted, but naturally inspiring Captain Goomba as he assembles a small army of classic Mario enemies (Koopas, Bob-ombs, Boos, etc.) to search for their boss after he’s separated from the main heroes at the borderlands.
Bowser’s Minions is an interesting distraction from the main game that fills plot holes from the original game, but the rock, paper, scissors-style army building gameplay feels wasted by a lack of interactivity.
The fights Captain Goomba and his units engage in are conducted almost totally passively, which leaves the extra story tidbits hidden behind a boring experience to slog through.
The main game “Superstar Saga,” is typical of a role-playing game in that it is divided into two primary experiences: Overworld exploration, where Mario and Luigi traverse the small but jam-packed Beanbean Kingdom and use abilities they learn throughout their journey to solve puzzles, and battling with enemies and bosses strewn throughout the land.
In the overworld portions of the game, the protagonists travel together and are controlled by different buttons. The original game had whichever brother was in front act with the A button while the brother in back utilized the B button but in the remake, Mario is always A while Luigi is always B.
This change can result in some mistimed actions, but switching abilities is easier because everything is selectable from the bottom screen of the 3DS.
Other additions to overworld exploration, like using the X button to jump — even when other abilities are selected — and a new markable mini map make the game more streamlined and accessible to players. However, some elements of the game are trivialized by these additions because they were designed for the constraints of a more simple control scheme.
The remake’s visuals are stunning. Backgrounds are full of detail and vivid colors that make even somewhat silly things like the giant green bean pods that line the Beanbean Kingdom, feel more alive and real.
The capabilities of the 3DS compared to the GBA are on full display in areas like Hoohoo Village and Bowser’s Castle, which have things like waterfalls and lava effects that are pretty enough to stare at for hours.
The only real downside to the visual design of the 3DS remake is the fact that you can only play the game in 2-D, which feels like a missed opportunity.
The music in “Superstar Saga” varies widely, and each piece fits its locale perfectly, be it the quick beat and mysterious undertones of Chucklehuck Woods that evoke the feeling of something teeming with bugs or the sea shanty that becomes muted and slows down as the brothers traverse the ocean floor in the Oho Oasis.
Though the songs are short loops, they’re all catchy and head bobbing, made better by the jump from charming chiptune creations to more orchestral, complex pieces that add more depth and character to each overworld area.
Despite all of these improvements, the remake falls short in one major respect: Battles.
Changes to things like the special combination Bros. Attack make battles more streamlined and easy to understand – arguably too easy. On top of this, fights feel more drawn out due to the more complex animations of the detailed character sprites.
Even if battling feels more tedious and tiring, almost all other fronts of the game — from visuals and audio to gameplay mechanics — received massive overhauls that update the game beautifully for a modern audience.
Combine this with writing that is clever and uproariously funny, improvements for player convenience and an easy to consume (if not short) 20-hour run time, and this remake is well worth its $40 price tag for both Mario veterans and players who haven’t experienced this 14-year-old adventure. However, it is worth noting that the original version has its own charms and a somewhat harder overall experience that makes it just as fun, if not possibly more fun, to return to.