Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

I really enjoyed this! It reminded me a lot of UnderTale with how personalized (and delightfully silly) every enemy was, and I’m impressed by how much strategy they got out of pretty simple mechanics with the three regular attacks. I also loved the Metroidvania-like feel of getting new exploration abilities along with your battle abilities and just, it was really cool!

I did think it got a little repetitive towards the end, unfortunately — after you get the final ability (about two-thirds of the way through the game), the only new mechanics to interact with come from the enemies’ side, and they don’t interact with yours very much. The endgame just involves spamming your best combo attacks against every boss, which drops them in about ten seconds. (The only exception was Fawful, but his “you can’t hurt me until I say so” mechanic was just tedious. It might have been more clever to make it only possible to hurt him through counterattacks, which is where I thought they were going at first, but then that would have given the player even less agency.)

It was extremely far on the easy side — the only bosses that gave me any trouble were the final ones, and by that point I had so many healing items stockpiled it was impossible to lose. I figure this is an inevitable balance problem in an RPG where you’re expected to completely dodge enemy attacks, but I did pretty poorly at dodging and it still didn’t give me much trouble.

The koopalings were so cute, though! I felt so bad about thrashing them, and it was really fun how they all had their own special puzzle before the fight. Are they from another Mario game?

I remember greatly enjoying the original Super Mario RPG too when I played it as a kid, and it’s interesting to see how the mechanics evolved from that. Super Mario RPG was much more of a typical RPG, and I felt that gave it more strategical depth even if the action commands weren’t as complex — different timing mechanics for every weapon was really neat and showed a lot of love on the designers’ side, and more party members obviously led to more complex battles. (I also liked that Peach was a fighter — in Superstar Saga they really crank up her damselness.) The fact that you couldn’t completely negate damage also required you to pay more attention to your stats and made defense more valuable — in Superstar Saga, Luigi’s defense focus ends up pretty useless when you don’t even have to get hit in the first place. But Superstar Saga definitely feels a lot more like a Mario game, and turning every enemy attack into a unique dodging minigame goes a long way towards preventing an RPG from getting stale.

I’m now really interested to see Paper Mario‘s unique spin on the RPG idea.

3 Comments

  1. mcbender says:

    Since you asked: the Koopalings were originally from Super Mario Bros. 3, and returned in Super Mario World. They might’ve been in one or two other games around that time, but then they vanished for years; their return in this game was a big deal because it’d been something like a decade since we’d last seen them. Aside from the common problem of “Wendy’s the girl one whose personality is girl”, I’ve always enjoyed them, they have a lot of personality for mid-bosses.

    (If you care about lore, they’re a bit confusing. Originally, they were Bowser’s children, but they’ve since been retconned into… something that isn’t that?… because Nintendo created Bowser Junior and wanted to put more emphasis on him. I don’t know what their relation to him is supposed to be now.)

    I’ve always liked Superstar Saga; unfortunately, I think the later Mario & Luigi RPGs never quite managed to surpass it (though Bowser’s Inside Story is a close second). I agree that the strategic depth isn’t quite there (one of the reasons I prefer the Paper Mario side of the RPG series), but it’s still fun, and the real-time dodging makes the battles feel dynamic in a way that felt pretty novel.

    Did you play the original GBA version, or the enhanced remake? I remember the final boss was quite easy to die to in the original, because you started the second phase on 1 HP and (if you didn’t have equipment to automatically go first) she’d outspeed you and attack before you had a chance to heal, but IIRC they changed that?

    1. I played the original. Wasn’t aware there was a remake!

      Given the koopas are an entire species, I think you could reasonably say the koopalings are just koopa soldiers Bowser promoted instead of needing to tie everything to Bowser directly.

      1. mcbender says:

        The remake came out on 3ds in 2017. I haven’t played it myself but the impression I got is that it brought the visual style etc closer to the later games in the series, and tweaked a lot of the mechanics likewise (opinions seem to be mixed as to whether it’s an improvement, but at its core it’s still the same game). Bowser’s Inside Story got a similar remake in 2019.

        I think the canon now is that the Koopalings are just high-ranking minions, yes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I thought it was a shame to lose the concept of Bowser having a huge family, that incongruity added a certain something to him as a character. Maybe that’s just my nostalgia talking.

        It’s funny, it was really exciting to see them brought back in this game, but nowadays they’re in practically every Mario title (most of the New Super Mario Bros games, Super Mario Maker, a lot of the spinoffs like Mario Kart) so it seems unremarkable in retrospect.

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