Super Mario RPG
November 17th, 2023
A remake of Super Mario RPG wasn’t something almost anybody had on their bingo cards for this year. Over the past decade or so, Nintendo has seemed dead set on distancing Mario from his rich RPG past, with the Paper Mario games being significantly simplified and the Mario & Luigi series being allowed to slowly fizzle out. And yet, here we are in 2023 with a lavish remake of Super Mario RPG on the near horizon. The only thing predictable about Nintendo is their unpredictability.
Is this the star-studded remake Super Mario RPG fans have been dreaming of? Or should the game have remained a 16-bit player? It’s time to scrutinize this SNES classic.
Super Mario RPG doesn’t deliver much in the way of shocking plot twists or heart-wrenching character drama, but it does play with the usual Nintendo formula a bit. While the game begins with Bowser kidnapping Peach as per usual, things take a turn when a new gang of baddies – living weapons who serve a mysterious boss known as Smithy — take over Bowser’s castle, scattering Mario, his friends, and the Koopa king himself to the four corners of the world. Of course, it’s up to you to take out this new threat by traveling through various lands and collecting world-saving MacGuffins (seven Star Pieces, in this case).
While Super Mario RPG’s overall narrative is simple, the fun is in the fine details. This was one of the first Mario games to subvert some of the franchise’s tropes, and while things like playing up Bowser’s insecurities and ineptitude have been done many times since, there are still plenty of chuckles to be had here. While the script has been tweaked and modernized a bit (Princess Peach is no longer named Toadstool, for instance), most of your favorite lines, from that bazooka-loving Toad to Bowser’s haiku, remain intact. There’s also a surprising depth to this game’s world, with a number of full-fledged RPG towns full of quirky NPCs that will tattoo themselves into your memory. While it may feel slightly strange at first, there’s a charming off-brand feeling to the game, with Square-created heroes like Geno and Mallow and wacky villains like the always-confused Booster lending a unique flavor to the proceedings.
That weird Super Mario RPG flavor has been made all the tastier with some of the sharpest visuals you’ll see on the Switch. From the polished halls of Peach’s Castle to the otherworldly sights of Star Hill and the molten depths of Barrel Volcano, everything is vastly richer, more colorful, and intricately detailed than before.
Despite the changes, the old-school charm of the original Super Mario RPG is retained. While the game now offers up a number of well-executed pre-rendered cutscenes, most of the game’s story is still delivered via isometric visuals and intentionally choppy retro animations. This still feels like a 16-bit RPG, even if it’s miles apart visually. Meanwhile, the game’s soundtrack is every bit the earworm it ever was, with new remixes from original composer Yoko Shimomura lending some tracks new depth (although, don’t worry, you can still listen to the original versions).
On the gameplay front, the well-received and influential turn-based combat system of the original Super Mario RPG returns. Players can perform an array of regular or special attacks, with well-timed button presses either increasing your offense or reducing the damage you take from enemies. This approach fit Mario like a glove back in 1996, and it still does now. While you may initially think not much has changed, the developers of this remake have made a myriad of little changes that add up to a big boost in playability. The UI during combat has been vastly improved, and new mechanics, such as being able to damage all enemies on screen with a perfectly-timed attack and swap out party members mid-battle have been added. Perhaps the flashiest change is that hitting your button cues now fills up a new gauge, which, when maxed out, will let you unleash powerful new Triple Move team-up attacks. This all works out well, with every tweak feeling like a positive addition.
Between battles, Super Mario RPG’s level design remains largely the same, with the solutions to puzzles and even the placement of secret chests being unchanged. Early areas feel relatively safe and predictable, but as the game progresses, it throws increasingly complex and often unexpected levels at you. You’ll make your way through twisted mineshafts, a ghost-ridden sunken ship, and into the skies above, all while doing battle with a gentleman pirate shark, sentient wedding cake, zombie dragon, and much more.
There are a few times when the new Super Mario RPG is perhaps a touch too loyal to the source material. While minigames like the minecart ride have generally been refined, the game still forces some frustrating isometric platforming sequences on the player. There aren’t a ton of these platforming bits, but frankly, any number is too many. Meanwhile, there are a handful of puzzles and challenges that require finicky timing and/or strange logic that players were begrudgingly willing to put up with in 1996 but may lead to some grinding of teeth in 2023.
Don’t get me wrong, though – while Super Mario RPG has its occasional irritating flashes, they pass quickly, never seriously tripping up the game as it jumps from one delightful set piece to the next. This steady stream of novelty continues until almost the end of the game, at which point players are met with more of a combat-focused gauntlet. This climax isn’t quite as clever as the rest of the game, but it does deliver a greater level of challenge that some will appreciate.
Super Mario RPG isn’t a huge game by the standards of the genre, with a campaign that weighs in at around 15 hours. That said, the game’s plentiful secrets, quirky side content, and new post-game boss battles ought to keep you immersed in this world for 20-plus hours at least. Not every RPG has to be a 100-hour epic and Super Mario RPG hits that replayability sweet spot like a well-dimed Drill Claw.
This review was based on a copy of Super Mario RPG provided by publisher Nintendo.
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Super Mario RPG is a lovingly-crafted remake that retains the original’s peculiar off-brand charm, appealing combat, and varied level design while subtly tinkering with numerous elements to make the game more palatable for modern players. The game can still be a bit too old-school for its own good at times, but any twinges of frustration pass quickly amid a steady stream of smile-inducing set pieces. Whether you’re new to Super Mario RPG or still own your original SNES cart, this experience will level up your Switch library.
- Charmingly wacky characters and world
- Detailed and appealing visual update
- Top-notch combat further refined
- Admirably varied level design
- Toe-tapping soundtrack
- Some challenges a bit frustrating
- Finale not as joyful as rest of game
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