What Is The Future Of Mario Role-Playing Games?

Back in 2016, I speculated about the future of the Mario RPG series on Nintendo hardware: With the company’s home and handheld consoles combining and rumors of a bizarre Rabbids crossover floating around, exactly how many of these series could the Big N support? I closed the discussion with the following paragraph:

Luckily for Nintendo, they’ve got some time to think about their next move—both Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario released titles this year, so I wouldn’t expect to see to see a new version of either game until 2019. The strong (albeit a rumor) first-year game lineup for the Switch also buys Nintendo some time—after all, who gives a flip about a future Mario RPG title when you’ve got Mario, Zelda, Skyrim, Splatoon, and a bunch of other stuff coming in 2017? Still, as someone who has played through the entire Mario RPG game at least 20 separate times and longs for the days when weaponized cymbals were all the rage, I’ll be very curious to see what path Nintendo decides to take.

Well, it’s 2019 now, and while we haven’t heard any official word about the Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi series, we’ve seen several major developments on this front:

  • The more we saw of what became Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, the more we liked it, and it ended up being a surprise smash hit for Nintendo and Ubisoft. The characters were fun, the tactical-RPG mechanics were excellent, and Ubisoft treated Nintendo’s IP with the utmost care and reverence. Mario with a gun didn’t turn out too bad, huh?
  • More recently, the game studio AlphaDream, which had been the primary developers of the Mario & Luigi series since Superstar Saga, filed for bankruptcy, leaving both the future of the company and the franchise uncertain. When a company has been working on a series for that long, filling its shoes can be a challenging task.
  • The Switch, has gone from a questionable design choice to the hottest console in gaming, and very franchise in the universe seems to be clamoring to get their games onto the device. This includes Square Enix, the original partners on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, who have successfully brought Octopath Traveler and a whole bunch of Final Fantasy remakes onto the system.

The combination of a lack of official franchise announcements and a plethora of interesting circumstances are raising several questions in my mind:

  • Does Mario & Luigi ever return? Their console is dead, their developer is on the ropes, and for as much as I loved all of the games, you could make an argument that the franchise’s formula had gotten a little stale. Despite all this, however, I still think there is a way forward for this franchise. Nintendo’s experience with Ubisoft proved that a third-party studio could truly do justice to the Mario franchise, so switching from AlphaDream to another outside studio may not be the big risk we would have feared several years ago. The 3DS-specific mechanics that I liked the least about the franchise (giant Bowser/Luigi/Papercraft battles) are  likely to be cut, especially since the 3DS “replacement” Switch Lite lacks  much of the crazy tech that Nintendo might use for such mechanics (unless they somehow incorporate the Ring-Con…). Given all this, I think there’s still room for a more-conventional RPG series in the Mario universe, although there may be better options for such a game than Mario & Luigi
  • Does Paper Mario ever return? As far as I can tell, Intelligent Systems seems to be doing just fine, so they’re ready to take the call if Nintendo needs a Paper Mario fix (although the company seems to be a Fire Emblem-heavy shop nowadays). The graphical power of the Big N’s hardware is certainly good enough to make the game look gorgeous (see: Paper Mario: Color SplashYoshi’s Crafted World)., and much like with Mario & Luigi, the gimmicky battle mechanics that put off a lot of people almost have to be toned down due to the I/O limitations (no one’s carrying around that brick of a Wii U tablet anymore). Most importantly, the large number of people who are still banging the drum for a remake of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door indicate that there’s still a sizable fanbase out there waiting for the game to return to its roots. So yeah, there’s no reason for Paper Mario to not make a comeback, unless…
  • Does Mario RPG make a comeback? This is the question that really excites me right now. With no split between home and handheld consoles, there’s no reason to split the Mario RPG franchise either, and if Nintendo can get freaking Banjo & Kazooie (and Sans, for that matter) into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, they can totally sit down with Square Enix and hammer out a deal to bring back Mallow and Geno. With the way the Mario universe has exploded with games like Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Odyssey, the time seems right to turn Mario loose on a Breath Of The Wild-style imagining of the Mushroom Kingdom, criss-crossing the globe collecting magical MacGuffins to bring down a pseudo-Smithy. As much as I loved PM and M&Lthis is what I really want to see, and for the first time in ages, the stars appear aligned to make it possible.
  • Does Nintendo even need this games right now? To be honest, the answer is a bright-red “NO.” The Switch has got plenty to games available right now, and frankly I think Nintendo has already crammed too many games into its 2019 release schedule. In the span of a few short months, we’ve gotten Super Mario Maker 2Fire Emblem: Three HousesAstral ChainThe Legend Of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Daemon X Machina, and we’re about to get Ring Fit AdventureLuigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon Sword and Shield! (Wait, there’s a new Brain Age coming too?!) My big fear is that less-heralded games like Astral Chain (which actually got some decent press) are going to get lost in the shuffle and be forgotten, and despite their longevity, neither of the Mario RPG spiritual successors have the power to break through a lineup that’s this stacked. Given how much Nintendo milked the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series during the barren years of the Wii U, I think it’s at least another year (or maybe two) before we hear from any of these franchises again.

In the short-term, I think the future of the Mario RPG series remains in limbo as Nintendo brings the rest of its AAA-titles onto the stage (don’t forget Animal Crossing: New HorizonsMetroid Prime 4and that Breath of the Wild sequel). Long-term, however, I believe that there is still a future for Mario RPG in any of its forms, and I’m excited just imaging what that future might look like. Be patient gang, because good things come to those who wait. (Hopefully.)

Mario & Luigi: Which One Is Most Worth Buying?

Does more Marios mean more fun? (Image From PCMag)

For better or for worse, the calling card of the Mario & Luigi series has been its consistency: Every entry features solid RPG action, a dash of platforming and puzzling, and some of the sharpest writing in gaming, but also generic environments, mediocre minigames, and gimmicky hardware-based battle types that detract from the overall experience. You could argue that all five are the same game, but it’s an unfair reduction of what’s proven to be a high-quality (and profitable) series. Much like with recent Kirby games, you might not be surprised by what you play, but you will be amused and entertained.

I’ve had enough fun with the series that I’d recommend trying out every entry if you get the chance (yes, even given my recent rant about Bowser’s Inside Story). This, however, is an expensive proposition—which entry offers the best combination of fun and value? After an exhaustive-but-unscientific survey, we here at Kyle’s Korner have ranked each game in terms of its quality and availability. Where did your favorite end up?

Image from Nintendo-Okie

#5: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

  • Gameplay Rank: 5th out of 5
  • Availability: Scarce (until 2019)

Again, this probably isn’t a surprise given my earlier rant. Simply put, Bowser’s Inside Story just didn’t hook me: Its story wasn’t compelling, playing as Bowser wasn’t novel, and the “giant Bowser” touchscreen battles were so frustrating that I put the game down and didn’t pick it back up for several years. While I’m in the minority on this one (it seems like most people regard Bowser’s Inside Story as one of the series’s best, not its worst), the fact that a) it’s relatively hard to find, b) it’s selling for a small fortune on Amazon, and c) a shiny new remake is due next year means that buying this game today is a terrible idea. If you’re going to subject yourself to this one, at least wait until 2019 to do so.

Image from wallscover.com

#4: Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time

  • Gameplay Rank: 4th out of 5
  • Availability: Scarce

Partners In Time deserves a lot of credit for being the only game in history to make baby Mario characters useful and kinda-sorta sympathetic, but to be honest, this one didn’t leave a lasting impression on me. The fact that it was a GBA port was painfully obvious (the DS touchscreen was used exactly once, in the least interesting way possible), and the whole ‘alien invasion’ angle felt a bit generic (the Shroobs were a far cry from the Smithy Gang)

Image from YouTube

#3: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

  • Gameplay Rank: 2nd out of 5
  • Availability: Reasonable

There’s a lot to like about Paper Jam: Adding Paper Mario and battle cards brought a new level of strategy to the fight scenes, the annoying giant Bowser/Luigi fights were replaced with flawed-but-enjoyable papercraft battles, and the interactions between flat and three-dimensional characters were loaded with charm. Someone has to sit in the middle seat, however, and  Paper Jam wound up being overshadowed by not standing out in either quality or value.

Image from Rocket Chainsaw

#2: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

  • Gameplay Rank: 3rd out of 5
  • Availability: Abundant

Dream Team certainly has its strengths (lot of cameos from old friends and enemies, Dream World battles that mix up the combat, strong use of the 3DS’s 3D feature), but it’s squarely in the middle of the pack when it comes to gameplay. As a Nintendo Select that seems to be in every store I frequent, however, Dream Team is a cheap and easy way to introduce yourself to the M&L franchise. It isn’t the best game in the series, but as of right now, it’s the most cost-effective.

Image From YouTube

#1: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

  • Gameplay Rank: 1st out of 5
  • Availability: Abundant

Once again, it seems that nothing beats the original: Superstar Saga was a straightforward RPG experience that featured memorable characters (and quotes), challenging battles, and none of the frustrating gimmicks that appeared in later entries. As useless as Bowser’s Minions is, the remake put the game back on store shelves in large quantities last year, and while it’s twice the price of Dream Team, the jump in quality is worth the added cost. If you didn’t get to experience this classic on the Game Boy Advance, now’s your chance to do so.

Of course, this is just one man’s opinion on the subject, and ranking these games is like trying to rank Pokémon generations: You’re going to enjoy yourself no matter which one you play, so what are you waiting for? Try one out already!

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions: Is It Worth Buying?

Before we get to the question of whether this game is worth buying, we need to tackle a more fundamental question: Why does this game even exist?

Nintendo’s releases have been heavy on retreads lately, but most of these re-releases serve a greater purpose: Pokkén Tournament DX expands the game’s audience beyond the paltry Wii U install base, Metroid: Samus Returns throws a bone to fans of a long-forgotten franchise, and the SNES Classic lets players relive the glory days of the 16-bit era. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, however, fits none of these explanations:

  • The 3DS has a substantial user base, and every other Mario & Luigi game can be played on it (including the DS games).
  • Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam was released just last year, so the franchise isn’t suffering a release drought.
  • While the franchise is fairly old, its history still pales in comparison to Metroid and the Super Nintendo.

In short, a grand total of nobody was clamoring for this game to come back…yet here we are.

To be fair, I loved Superstar Saga back when it came out, and if you never got to play the Game Boy Advance version, it’s worth checking out the 3DS remake. However, if you’ve already played this game, you’re free to give this version a wide berth. The game’s story is exactly the same as before, and Nintendo doesn’t provide a compelling reason to revisit it.

Sure, the Bowser’s Minions portion technically counts as an expansion to the storyline, but it feels like an aftermarket add-on than an added layer to the story. Basically, you build up an army of various baddies from Bowser’s army, and then watch them butt heads against a bunch of other enemies while you play the role of benevolent overseer (your options are basically limited to “captain commands” and occasionally tapping minions for charged-up attacks). While this sort of gameplay can be entertaining (it worked really well in Miitopia), it requires the characters to have a lot of charm and personality, and that’s not something the generic Goombas and Koopa Troopas of Bowser’s Minions provide. It’s just not enough to justify re-buying the entire game.

Superstar Saga, like every other entry in the series, is the kind of game you’ll play through once, say “Hey, that was fun!” and then never touch it again. If you’ve never played the original version, then it’s worth picking up now, because it’s a solid, fun RPG on its own merits. If you have played it before, however, you’re better off waiting and saving up for Super Mario Odyssey instead.