For many people, playing Super Mario RPG in 2023 on Nintendo Switch will be their first experience of the game. A 1996 swansong release for the beloved SNES console that never saw the light of day in Europe until a Virtual Console release on Wii, the new take on the title that eluded so many is here, and it’s a reminder that great ideas are often timeless, because it feels fresh today, offering a modern feeling RPG that stands up against the best out there, only falling slightly due to the lack of difficulty through the main story.
But that in itself is a bonus. The original game had little reason to replay outside of just pure enjoyment, whereas Super Mario RPG adds reasons to continue after playing, and in fairness, difficulty options from the start. If you’re a veteran, or have spent 40 hours seeing everything there is to see in the likes of this year’s Sea of Stars, you’ll want to put it on hard, maybe.
The princess has been captured, Bowser is acting the fool, and you’ll face lots of enemies and puzzles along the way to save the day. But that’s really half the story, because the original developer was Square Enix who (to this day) created new characters like Geno (a pinocchio style puppet came to life) and Mallow (a cloud with a strange backstory) so it’s not the usual story at all, sometimes. In fact, Bowser becomes one of the good guys, sort of, to fight back against the Smithy gang, who are wreaking havoc around the Mushroom Kingdom.
All of this is done with such style and humour. Bowser thinks you’ve become his minions, but everyone can see through the ruse. Mario is incredibly unique looking, but people only notice who he is when you hit the jump button to prove you’re who you say you are. There’s a plethora of enemy types and characters that haven’t really been seen since, and it’s refreshing to take on enemies that are, even by Mario game standards, bizarre.
The movement out of battle is similar to the turn-based combat encounters, which is to say it’s rapid and wastes no time. You will time button presses for your numerous attacks, but also when you defend to negate damage. Everything from a healing spell to a thunder clap, requires you to boost it with a timed press of the right button, or a movement of the stick, or a hammering of the A button. You can chain some attacks for a long time to massively boost damage, you can add equipment to raise your stats, and superbly, every weapon you equip isn’t just a stat changer, it actually changes the combat. Mario can wield a green shell early on, and you’ll have to time the kick to boost that damage. You’ll want to nail the timing, too, as it adds bonus damage to adjacent enemies when you get it right.
Bowser will wield a chain chomp, or just throw Mario at an enemy. He never throws anyone else, only Mario. It’s these small yet thoughtful touches that elevate Super Mario RPG even in the modern era of gaming. Perhaps this level of attention to detail is to be expected from a first-party Nintendo Switch game, but nonetheless, it’s one of the things that can keep the fairly simple battles from going stale, because it always finds a way to make you smile, from the animations, to the actual bosses themselves. The triple move attacks are a highlight, too, when you fill up your gauge (by achieving the timed attacks/defence presses) you will do a special move that changes depending on who is in your party.
In truth, some of the puzzles will likely give you more trouble than the combat. While the game has been updated across the board, some of the things you need to do, and some of the secrets held deep are a little more tricky than people might be expecting. There’s nothing too horrible, but there’s certainly things to get you scratching your head. Also, there are action moments and optional side-quests that are both fun, and worth doing. While you can avoid enemies in the fields, you won’t want to, as if you find special enemies (stronger, higher health) you will be rewarded with green coins. This is a whole optional currency, but there’s also musical mini-games, rapids to ride, Yoshi’s to race. There’s a lot going on here, and you’ll never be bored.
Accessories allow you to customise your heroes on top of the clothing and weaponry, with badges that boost stats, or negate status effects. There are hidden blocks to find, and a badge that will reveal when you’re near them. Levelling up will raise your stats, but also allow you to gain new moves, but also a bonus stat increase per level. This means you can create a tank by always picking strength to get more attack power and defence, but will leave your magic for that character sorely neglected. You can build your Super Mario RPG party how you want, which is ace.
One slight negative is that the music can be pretty repetitive. This is nothing new to an RPG, really. You will hear the battle success music, then the level up music, and it’ll be an ear-worm before you know it. Thank god it’s got good music, though, or you’d be going up the walls with how often you hear it. It looks great, too. I suspect it’s an art style you’ll either like or not, and the isometric rooms you sometimes enter that feel minimal, visually, might confuse people, but this is a remake, and liberties with the original design haven’t been taken.
You’ve got to handle a beloved game remake with kid gloves, and that’s exactly what Nintendo has done with Super Mario RPG. This is a careful remake, adding goodies like a monster list, or the option to play with the original music, rather than taking anything away. If nothing else, it’s a remarkable testimony to the ability of designers from 1996 to make a game this good that still feels as brilliant today, and it bodes incredibly well for the 2024 re-release of Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door.
Feels very modern
Will make you smile
A bit easy