Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Is An RPG That Hates Numbers

  • 3DS
  • Action-Adventure
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is an RPG that hates numbers. Nintendo

Mario and Luigi are back again in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on the Nintendo 3DS, bringing the red and green brothers’ first RPG adventure to modern handheld consoles. Along for the ride is the new Minion Quest: The Search For Bowser game mode, telling a side story to the game’s main campaign. How do the Mario brothers fare in the update to their Gameboy Advance outing? Like any game, there’s some hits and misses.

Superstar Saga is set in a new world for the Mario franchise. Mario and Luigi ventures across the Beanbean Kingdom in search of the powerful Beanstar and to take down the evil Cackletta. Players control both brothers at once, with the A button primarily used for Mario’s attacks while the B button serves as Luigi’s attacks. Combat is mostly turn-based, but players have the ability to dodge enemy attacks with timed button presses and occasionally dish out counter attacks.

First off, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is an RPG that hates numbers. In a genre that’s built around XP, stats, health bars and other numbers-heavy features, Superstar Saga does away with these in favor of visual representations or no replacement at all. For some things, it’s not a major issue. For example, Mario and Luigi have their own XP bars. Instead of indicating how many points are needed to get to the next level, a flag is used to depict how far along a player is to the next level. This is fine, seeing as how leveling up isn’t that important and XP is pretty easy to come by.

But the lack of numbers and figures becomes a problem when it comes to enemy health. Each attack the player makes will cause a bold flash to show how much damage was dealt, but it doesn’t matter when you don’t know how much health an enemy has. There’s no representation for an enemy’s health at all and it can be very frustrating. Do you use a powerful shot to try and take out an enemy easier? Is it overkill? Will it not do enough damage? You have no idea. Sometimes the flashing body of a boss enemy is the only clue that they’re low on health.

Gameplay can also easily become repetitive and dull. Each enemy type has a different attack pattern, so fighting new enemies is interesting until you know how to defend against them. This quickly turns every encounter into a chore. Sadly, you need to pay attention at all times due to the heavy reliance on timing to land attacks and dodges. You can’t zone out to grind for the next level or to clear an area of enemies — you’ll need to remain alert for the same thing over and over or you won’t be able to progress.

Superstar Saga does feature an interesting story, filled with light-hearted villains and wacky sidekicks. The writing is often funny and a little self-aware, with a number of references to other Mario and Nintendo games as well as some pokes to the fourth wall about actually being in a video game. While the gameplay can be repetitive, the drive to see what happens next can help carry you to the next area with new enemies to face.

New to the 3DS version of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is a side-game called Minion Quest: The Search For Bowser. Players can jump to this game mode instantly through the press of a button in the Superstar Saga menu. The mode features players building an army of Bowser’s underlings, including Goombas, Koopas and Shyguys. For each level, players must build up a fighting force to attack an enemy’s army. While there are strategic picks for choosing an army, the strategy never goes much beyond a rock-paper-scissors complexity and once battles start, players can only interact in minor ways.

The mode isn’t the worst game I’ve ever played, and at least manages to tell an amusing and interesting side story that fills in some gaps from the main Superstar Saga campaign. That said, players aren’t missing out on much if they decide to skip Minion Quest entirely. Seeing as how it’s basically a free add-on though, it’s hard to complain.

If you’re looking for a solid, entertaining-without-being-too-hard, long RPG experience on the go, you can do much worse than Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. That said, some gameplay decisions from a few generations ago don’t age well enough to make Superstar Saga a must-buy. If you’ve already played Superstar Saga on the GBA, the tacked on Minion Quest is not worth the rebuy. Go back into your closet and bust out your old cartridge – it’ll be more fun that way.

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga Is An RPG That Hates Numbers
Mario & Luigi look great on the 3DS, but why does this game have such a problem with numbers?
  • Graphics are crisp on the 3DS
  • Story is light hearted and fun
  • Repetitive and dull gameplay
  • Minion Quest adds nothing
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