The Little Things That Make Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga So Delightful

By Narelle Ho Sang on at

For a few hours one morning, I repeatedly failed to defeat Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga’s final boss, Cackletta. I remember that unseasonably warm February day clearly. Of course I do. It’s only been four months since I got thoroughly thrashed.

Before the final battle of Nintendo’s 2003 Game Boy Advance classic frustrated me, I spent many hours marvelling at Superstar Saga’s unmatched wit. I’ve loved the Mario & Luigi series for a few years well now, with a fondness that began with 2009’s Bowser’s Inside Story. Since then, I’ve looked forward to the series’ humour and creative gameplay. I even look forward to the unveiling of its North American box art covers, which hint at more than just pretty aesthetics and good times.

As much as I love the series, I never got around to playing the Superstar Saga, the first game in this Mario & Luigi RPG franchise, until this year. There’s something undeniably precious and cute about the game’s charming humour, use of colour, and art. Its tough battle system—requiring players to balance timed attacks and defensive manoeuvres—reminded me of the time I struggled to play Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time in 2005.

But apart from Superstar Saga’s headache-inducing final battle, I was so pleased to finally be able to delve into the first game’s Beanbean Kingdom’s adventures. The game’s music, its neat save system, Bowser’s ridiculous inclusion in the game, and Beanbean royalty—these are all some of the things that had me laughing then and still thinking on now. Here’s why.

Fawful’s Rants

It all begins with Fawful, you fink rats. Naturally.

Perhaps one of the most entertaining villains in Mario’s history, all you need to know about Fawful’s characterisation is in his introductory conversation with the brothers. Cackletta may be the horrible, purely evil main villain of Superstar Saga—and don’t misunderstand, her vampiric presence that’s exacerbated by her constant cackling is chilling—but her right-hand minion steals the show. His incessant berating of the brothers is worded so succinctly that for every fury he has, it’s actually quite insulting yet oh so amusing to be referred to as an idiot of foolishness by him. Comical but stinging just the same.

The Best Passport Photos

It’s a small detail that adds so much joyful personality to the game’s save screen. Whilst preparing to cross the border into Beanbean Kingdom on Bowser’s ship, the brothers are asked if they have their passports ready. The attending Koopa photographer notices that they do, but their pictures are absent making them invalid. Well, d’oh! Looks like the brothers will have to take some pictures, but as the Koopa pleads, any sudden movements made by pressing the directional pad will result in posing that’ll mess up the photos.

So what do you do? Mess with the poses to get hilarious passport photos. It’s entirely appropriate for their adventures across the new kingdom. Of course! It’s a tiny, fun reminder of your goofing that is immortalised in the brothers’ suitcases every time they access the save screen.

Bowser Gets A Bump to the Head

Look at Bowser in the corner. He spends the majority of the game being busted up somehow. Poor thing.

In the Mario & Luigi series, I’m beginning to think that Bowser has a lot more in common with Luigi than I realised. In Superstar Saga, Bowser crashes to the ground which sets his course as a sidekick villain for the rest of the game. Until he’s unceremoniously possessed by Cackletta. The great Bowser is first reduced to taking orders from a sleazy, petty criminal and then manipulated into being someone else’s evil puppet. And not even a formidable boss either. Cackletta’s final form gave me hell, but the Bowser and Cackletta combination, Bowletta, was not nearly as troublesome. I didn’t like the deranged eyes their monstrous combination had though. That wasn’t cool either.

Cackletta’s Theme

There’s so much good music put forth by composer Yoko Shimomura in this game. It’s not surprising as her take on the series’ music consistently produces amazing tracks with every new entry. Great villains’ themes convey much about what you’re dealing with. Cackletta’s is a nightmare castle showpiece with organs and a carnival element to it. I probably should have expected her rotating arms in the final battle would have given me night terrors all these months later (worst attack!), given that her theme music had that freakshow quality to it. It’s an unsettling mess. The piece is not the only one with that specific quality but it’s also very different from many of the other playful and intense battle tracks featured on the soundtrack.

Prince Peasley

Precious Prince Peasley with his obnoxious flair and glorious hair toss. All games need a Prince like this one. All of them.

These elements are just some examples of what makes Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga so wonderful. It was a treat getting to experience its offbeat humour for the very first time—an endearing quality of the series that shows in subsequent entries. There are rumours swirling that the game is headed to the 3DS. If true, it would probably be too soon for me to re-play it and get super irritated by the final fight again.

But just so you all know, I did eventually finish Superstar Saga! And in spite of the hair-pulling, the 14 year old game’s timeless humour gave me so many chortles.