Thursday, January 24, 2019

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions


Few gamers would expect Nintendo’s mascot plumbers Mario and Luigi to star in RPGs, although the original Super Mario RPG, one of the Super NES’s swan songs and a cooperative effort between the Big N and Squaresoft, proved popular, the former company ultimately attempting to make RPGs without Square’s involvement (a consequence of the companies’ fallout between an aborted CD add-on for the 16-bit system), their first effort being Paper Mario, one of the better-received titles on the Nintendo 64. With a little help from AlphaDream, Nintendo would start the subseries Mario & Luigi on the GameBoy Advance, a decade later remaking its first entry on the Nintendo 3DS as Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions, for the most part a solid rerelease.

The main quest mostly retains the original version’s timing-involved turn-based battle system, with cooperative Bros. Attacks between Mario and Luigi that consume Bros. Points from whoever initiates one of them, not to mention standard hammer, jump, and magical glove skills. Standard battles tend to be quick affairs, with the player able to gain the initiative by having Mario or Luigi jump on or hammer-strike foes visible in dungeons and in fields connecting them, victory netting both siblings experience for occasional level-ups, most stats increasing and the player able to get a bonus for one stat. The system definitely works, with an Easy Mode giving more predictability in enemy commands that are for the most part avoidable, and the final battles definitely taxing the player’s items inventory.

New is the Minion Quest, which features real-time tactical battles in the vein of the Dragon Force series, where the player picks a captain among Bowser’s minions and seven recruits to accompany them, with battles consisting of several stages, victory through all of them netting all participants experience, and defeat merely sending players back to the stage-select screen with nada. Strategy arises from the Rochambeau formula of melee units beating ranged units, which beat flying units, which beat melee units, although certain minions are more powerful against other specific types regardless of said rock-paper-scissors methodology. The player randomly gains new recruits after beating stages, and while the subquest is a little grindy, strategy RPG aficionados will likely find good in it.

While control has some improvements from the GameBoy Advance release such as the ability to have the Mario siblings simultaneously jump, there are still lingering issues such as the lack of detailed maps for dungeons and the areas between them, with shortcut pipe warps not labeled on the overworld map at all. There’s also one part where the game shows players where beans necessary to feed Yoshis are buried, but then doesn’t keep them labeled on said overworld map, and there were some moments where this reviewer had to look at a guide to find out how to advance, something no one should ever have to do when playing a game. In the end, interaction could have received a once-over.

The main storyline remains generally the same as in the original release, and while many have ballyhooed the alleged humor in the dialogue, this reviewer personally didn’t find the plot all that funny, and in fact found the Minion Quest subplot, which actually has a bit more comedy even in its “failed” jokes indicated by wind gusts, to be superior, with some background given to Bowser’s children, the Koopalings, although players are still left in the air about their matriarch. The translation is largely polished, aside from the occasional unnatural line, and all in all, the story fortunately doesn’t detract too much from the gameplay experience.

Yoko Shimomura as with before provides the soundtrack, which somewhat overuses Koji Kondo’s signature Mario themes at points, but is mostly pleasant. Characters also have distinctive speech sounds during dialogue, Mario and Luigi for instance having Italian-esque gibberish conversations with the occasional English such as “Oh, yeah!” and “Let’s-a go!”, which again doesn’t detract.

Whereas the GameBoy Advance version had a visual style emphasizing pastel coloring, the remake has a different graphical disposition, 99% two-dimensional, that treads the line between realistic and cartoony and very much looks pleasant, the only real flaw being the game doesn’t take advantage of its system’s 3-D capabilities.

Finally, finishing both quests takes a total of somewhere between one- or two-days’ worth of playtime, with things to extend it such as finding all item blocks, uncovering hidden beans, and procuring all musical tracks.

Overall, this remake is for the most part solid, given its involving turn-based battles, the fun diversion of the Minion Quest, nice soundtrack, and superb visual style. However, it does have some strikes against it such as the grindy nature of the strategy subgame, the poor direction at points on how to advance and consequential need to reference a walkthrough, and the general lackluster nature of the primary plotline. Regardless, it’s very much worth a playthrough by Mario and Nintendo enthusiasts, the added quest in particular sure to appeal to tactical RPG fans, and stands as one of the strongest games featuring the Big N’s plumber characters.

The Good:
+Involving turn-based combat.
+Minion Quest is a fun diversion.
+Solid aural and visual presentation.

The Bad:
-Minion Quest is a bit grindy.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Main storyline is generally lackluster.

The Bottom Line:
A nice remake for those who missed the original.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 6/10
Story: 7/10
Localization: 9/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Moderate
Playing Time: 1-2 Days

Overall: 8.5/10

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