If you follow my YouTube channel, “llproductions2006“, you might be familiar with my Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, “Superstar Saga+”. I thought it might be interesting to recount some of the history and logic behind the hack.
For starters, I first found out the extent to which Superstar Saga could be hacked when sometime back in 2009, I saw that two guys from the “Yoshi’s Lighthouse” forums, Salanewt and Charleysdrpepper, had found the “lost sprites” from the scrapped StarBeans Café cutscenes. (If you’re not familiar with these, basically, rather than E. Gadd showing up and giving the Mario Bros. various special items, various other Nintendo characters were supposed to make appearances. Check out The Mushroom Kingdom’s page here for more info.)
It turned out that they had also located a bunch of enemy data, map data, level-up data, and so forth; pretty extensive leads on stuff at the least. After helping them figure out what various bits of data were for a while (Stache Discount Groups for items and the like), I realized there was enough knowledge out there to completely rebalance the stats in the game. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of Superstar Saga and can hardly fault it for anything. However, with some moves (*cough* Chopper Bros.) and equipment (*cough* Mush Badges) being what they are in the original, I can’t deny they needed a fixer-upper.
So in May 2011, having familarized myself with working with the fairly basic Yoshi Magic editor, and having figured out or asked for the locations of a number of other things, I started work on “Superstar Saga+”. Seeing as I was planning on dramatically scaling up the stats and re-working them from the ground up, I gave it a working tagline of “Bigger, Better, BALANCED.” (This got scrapped at literally the last second; those words were supposed to appear on the last three chords in my release video, rather than “Thanks for watching!”.) To make this happen properly was going to be no small task; however, I had a pretty good idea of how to handle it.
The first thing I did was decide the stat distributions at level-ups, so I’d be able to predict Mario and Luigi’s stats fairly accurately at any level, and base the enemy stats around them. I decided that Mario and Luigi would ideally finish the game at level 50, so that anyone that felt like maxing their level would have an easier time doing so. (I also put a cool easter egg in for anyone who bothered to do that; the level-up stats get outrageously high in the 90s, and at level 99, all the stats increase by 99!) All the stats hit about 300-350 at level 50, excepting HP, which is around 400, and BP, which is somewhere around 200. Part of the reason for that massive discrepancy is that I thought originally that the BP cost for attacks couldn’t exceed 10 or 15; as it turns out, this wasn’t the case, but I didn’t find that out until most of the stat selection was complete. Besides, special points have always been one of the lower stats in the Mario RPGs. As in the original Superstar Saga, Mario’s POW and STACHE are a fair bit higher, and is SPEED is considerably more so; conversely, Luigi gets a sizable HP advantage, and his BP and DEF are a bit ahead as well. After testing a quick level-to-max with a 65,535-EXP-from-battles code to see how the bonuses would affect the totals (considerably more so than I thought), I wrote out an Excel sheet of expected stats at every level.
With that out of the way, I edited all the not-enemy-stats stuff next. BP costs and Stache Discounts were fairly easy to deal with (and while I was editing Bros. Attack stuff, I tweaked how many Great!’s you needed for Advanced commands, and made Luigi do the Advance! animation on ALL his attacks, not just Chopper Bros.) Item editing wasn’t too difficult either, though I had to drastically re-balance the 1-up Mushrooms; initially I’d decided I wanted not to have any full healers, but my first attempt made the 1-ups far too weak, to the point where Mario often wouldn’t survive a single hit after being revived. “Max” items were replaced by the Boost Shrooms, which act like weaker forms of the StarBeans drinks, and weaker but purchasable Peppers. Similarly, Nuts were replaced by an additional 1-up Mushroom variety, and Bros. forms of Mushrooms and Syrups. You can’t use these on the overworld, but seeing as they’re fairly expensive per worth in healing, I figured no one would need to. A couple other item tweaks were necessitated, like changing the respective dialogue about receiving them from Monty Moles and such (sadly not the sound effects or pictures; that takes scripting I wasn’t familiar with), and re-ordering what order they appear in shops so the Bros. items and Boost Shrooms appeared last (Ultra Mushrooms are still unique to Little Fungitown, and are actually the highest-healing variety now anyway). I also re-wrote all the item and equipment text, along with their descriptions, using only a handful of snippets the original game’s names and text. Notably, a couple of equipment slots I didn’t bother using contain items like the “Beta Badge” and “Hacker Slacks”, that have worthless stats and berate whomever used “all item” cheat codes to get them.
On that note, equipment editing was an interesting process; I decided to make the equipment go up to a max of around 100 in the respective stats, and I tried to keep the distribution of the various special statuses about the same as in the original game. The astute player might notice the similarity of the naming scheme for the overalls to that of the original game; Mario’s are always “Pants”, and Luigi’s, “Jeans”. Rather than have a bunch of random enemies having “rare drops” that weren’t even as good as the items in shops when you first encounter them, I decided that only two very powerful items, the Secret Slacks and Secret Badge, could be obtained from normal enemies. These items are obtainable as soon as you get Swing Bros. Advanced, and have high amounts of HP and BP with the DEF- and POW-Up statuses, respectively (if you’re aware of a certain really hard-to-get standard-enemy-dropped badge in the original game, you can get the Secret Badge the same way in SS+). The two flavors of Oho Jee each have their own drop as well, both with terrifically terrible puns in their names. As for the rest of the slots, I made every boss from Mom Piranha afterwards drop a piece of equipment. In particular, the Koopa Kids all give 100-POW/DEF items with the some of the best statuses, and Fawful gives one of the only two badges with the “Mushroom Force” effect (the other is an even more unlikely find). I was especially careful to make it difficult to get these without trying; the 2nd “rare” item drop slot is used for these items at first, but once you can get the Gameboy Horror SP, which gives you the 2nd-slot item guaranteed, it switches to a 1/31-shot 1st-slot item. This does introduce a really slight chance of a random drop, but it’s better than letting people get those rare items the “easy” way. The most elusive piece of equipment is the Piranha Badge, which is the 2nd-slot drop for Piranha Bean. (Those of you who remember the Piranha Suit should see where this is going.) This gives you practically infinite use of Bros. Attacks in the late-game, but there’s a catch: you have to get literally ALL 35 Hoo Beans and the vast majority of the Chuckle Beans up through that point in the game (since you need the Game Boy Horror to get the drop, as you fight him as Luigi alone, and can’t use Swing Bros.)
And that transitions into the area of the hack where I probably put the most effort into perfecting, at least as much as enemy stats – item blocks. I wanted to make that Piranha Badge impossible to get if you aren’t willing to put the effort in to search out those Hoo Beans. Thus, I made every visible Hoo Bean block contain something else (usually a Hee Bean), and every “obvious” Chuckle Bean spot contain a Woo Bean instead (excepting the five in the tutorial; those are scripted to always be Chuckle Beans). To make up for the loss of a ton of Hoo Beans, I turned a couple of formerly visible blocks invisible instead, and I replaced a few of the subtler Chuckle Bean spots with Hoo Beans as well; most of those can be seen in my aforementioned release video. (If you’re not familiar with the locations of the original game’s Hoo Bean blocks, check out this video.) There are indeed only 35 attainable before fighting the Piranha Bean boss; in retrospect, I should have made it 36 in case someone missed the one in the path to Guffawha Ruins, as it can be permanently missed. In looking at the block data, I was astounded at how many hidden Chuckle Beans I never would have guessed existed. Here’s a picture of some of the more interesting repeat-offending Chuckle Bean locations; if you see a feature like this, there’s a good chance there’s a Chuckle Bean nearby. In addition to all these bean shenanigans, I changed some items in the blocks so you wouldn’t be getting a bunch of Boost Shrooms from them, and made the coin blocks give a bit more moolah than in the original. In addition, all the item blocks are red, and the Hee Bean blocks green, instead of the usual yellow; the color has nothing to do with who can hit them.
After all these item-y tweaks, which took a far longer time than you would think (or I, for that matter), I finally got to using the Bros.’ level-up data to pinpoint stats for the enemies. After a painstaking round-up of how many times every battle arrangement appears in a single playthrough (this took 10+ hours alone), I was able to set the enemy EXP values to make the Bros. hit level 50 right at the endgame. And they scale so exponentially, you’ll hit almost exactly that even if you fight a bunch of extra enemies or skip a lot of battles (though with the higher enemy stats, that’s not at all advisable anyway). I did curb how much the level EXP requirements increase, though; hitting level 50 gets you about 30% of the way to level 99, rather than about 10% in the original game. Once I had that taken care of, I hand-selected every enemy stat using this ultra-complicated Excel sheet, which I unfortunately seem to have lost since then; I selected HP and DEF to make them take about 4-6 jumps to kill, and POW to do a specific percentage of the Bros.’ HP in damage, assuming the appropriate level (some of the powerful enemies do 30+%, whereas the average falls in the low-20% range; some bosses’ attacks hit around 50%), and I selected appropriate SPEED values to make the desired brother go first, or none at all, based on the type of enemy. Again, I lost the master sheet that I did most of these calculations with, but these shots should give you some idea of how crazy it was: (1) (2) (3) A special case I considered was the Gold Beanie; they have a massive 40 HP, you can’t damage them more than 1 health per hit (2 with Great Force), and they’ll absorb elemental damage. To top it off, they solidly one-hit KO you if you mis-time a guard, regardless of your stats. But if you can land a winning blow, they can drop either Boost Shrooms DX, or an ultra-rare piece of equipment that has 100 DEF, and can be sold for an absolutely ludicrous number of coins.
After all this, a test playthrough or two, and a few other minor changes (most notably, the shops and Pipe House play an awesome music track not in the original game), and after a total of probably 150+ hours of work, I released the original version of the hack as an IPS patch in late July 2011, giving myself a virtual pat on the back. However, this original version had a lot of shortcomings. Even ignoring the occasional sound/graphic mismatch due to changed items (which are largely still there in the current version, unfortunately), there were a number of things that went pretty firmly against my “Bigger, Better, BALANCED” promises, and that eluded me on those first couple of playthroughs.
Most notably, and this was more a flaw in the original game than anything, the POW/DEF status effects are game-breaking one way or the other. POW/DEF-Dn renders enemies practically worthless (POW-Dn almost certainly knocks their attack power down to 1), and POW/DEF-Up gave the Bros. way more of a boost than it should. In fact, most of the status effects in the game, equipment-induced or otherwise, were made either too weak or too powerful. Most of these changes were fixed in my most recent patch, version 1.3, and are as follows:
– Firstly, BP was far too strongly affected by the stat-boosting items and level-up bonus wheel, so I increased their values to about on par with the other stats (and bumped up the Bros. Attack costs and Syrup restorations accordingly).
– Poison statuses deal about double the damage they did originally, due to the Bros.’ higher HP values.
– HP Auto-Gain restores 10 HP, and BP Auto-Gain restores 5, rather than the worthless 2 that was low even by the original game’s standards.
– POW/DEF-boosting badges and items had their boosts cut in half
– Most importantly, Thunder Bros.’s POW/DEF-Dn effects were reduced dramatically; it turns out that the original game made enemies’ DEF reduce to 33% of its normal value, and POW to under 30%! I did, however, leave in the effects of a little-known glitch that allows you to drop enemy DEF to 0 (no such luck for POW, thank goodness).
I also have changed a few other aesthetic/playability things since the original build; as a cue from EarthBound’s mega-levelups on multiples of 4, levelups to multiples of 5 have their effects increased substantially (and the rest decreased slightly to average it out). Also, the EXP values of enemies from the halfway point of the game on were increased, since I assumed you’d have the Bonus Ring earlier than I should have when balancing stats, seeing as it’s now the sixth Pin item rather than the second. I also added a 1-up Mushroom or two in the early part of the game, since they’re hard to come by before Hoohoo Mountain.
And that’s pretty much the story; try the patch out if you’re a fan, or just want a slightly less forgiving introduction to the game.