Super Mario RPG

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Nov. 17, 2023


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Switch Review - 'Super Mario RPG'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 20, 2023 @ 12:40 a.m. PST

Originally released on Super NES in 1996, Super Mario RPG lets players join Mario, Bowser, Princess Peach, and original characters Mallow and Geno, in an RPG filled with twists, turns and treasure.

The phrase "Mario RPG" sounded so weird when it was announced for the SNES. The platforming plumber might have veered off into kart racing, but an RPG seemed to be something else entirely. At the time, RPG behemoth SquareSoft had partnered with Nintendo to bring forth something truly classic. Super Mario RPG's legacy is long, with a series of similar titles, spin-offs, and an undeniable impact on how the characters are viewed. (The beloved Bowser owes a whole lot of his character to this game.) It's no surprise that the Super Mario RPG remake for the Switch is still a damn good game.

Super Mario RPG starts exactly the way one would expect a Mario RPG to open. The evil Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, and Mario has made his way to Bowser's castle to rescue her. The only difference is that this time, a giant sword falls from the sky and sends the trio flying. The sword, a member of the Smithy Gang, also destroyed the Star Road, the place where wishes made upon shooting stars become reality. Now it's up to Mario to not only defeat these new bad guys but also find Princess Peach and repair the Star Road. He'll be aided by long-term "friends" like Bowser and Peach and well as newcomers Mallow (a fluffy frog searching for his real family) and Geno (a wooden puppet brought to life by the spirit of a wish, which makes this the second game in 2023 where you shoot monsters as Pinocchio).

Super Mario RPG stands out largely for how uncompromisingly weird it is. It was the first real attempt to bring Mario into a plot-based setting, and the dev team leaned in hard to the concept. You'll battle an army made of sentient weapons, storm the tower of a bearded man-child desperate to get married, venture through the land of wishing stars, visit a town of friendly monsters, and more. NPCs are varied and memorable, ranging from a thieving crocodile to a bitter bird who has to pretend to be a cloud person. It gives the game a huge amount of charm and style that can't be beaten. I like most of the follow-up Mario RPG titles, but the original shines as an example of the raw weirdness of Mario.

Super Mario RPG is an incredibly faithful remake. Pretty much every single enemy, puzzle, plot beat, and even a lot of lines of dialogue are unchanged from the original. You could probably use a guide from the original for most of the game. There are some notable changes, including mistranslations being fixed, a few names being adjusted, and Princess Toadstool being changed to Princess Peach, but for the most part, they are as good as or better than the original.

Probably the most significant changes to the game are with the combat system. Super Mario RPG is a turn-based JRPG in the classic Final Fantasy style, as you might expect. The big thing it introduced are Timed Hits, which are when you tap a button during an attack animation at the precise moment the attack hits. When you do this while you are attacking, you inflict additional damage, and when you do it while the enemy is attacking, you take less damage. Magical spells and abilities also have sweet spots when attacking, but enemy spells can sometimes be unblockable (and thus impossible to defend against). It's a fun feature that has become the most often-copied part of Super Mario RPG and is executed to near perfection in the remake. Animations are short and sweet, so it doesn't bog down the game, and the simple act of adding a timing mechanic makes even trash fights more fun. The remake goes a few steps further, but almost all of those changes are for the best.

The first change is that that if you time a standard attack perfectly, the attack does more damage to the enemy and also inflicts reduced damage to all other on-screen foes. This benefits characters who can't do area-wide attacks. Attacks now also have a pop-up marker that lets you know the moment to strike during the animation, although it pops up so quickly that perfect timing is best learned through anticipation rather than reaction.

Perhaps more importantly, successive chains of attacks and hits will grant a steadily ramping-up power buff that depends on your party composition, ranging from Mallow giving Magic Power to Bowser giving Defense. The longer you can keep the chain going, the more powerful your party members are, which strongly encourages players to master the system even for weak attacks. The Switch version of the game also allows players to swap party members at any time, with the exception of Mario, who must remain in the party. You can even swap downed or sleeping characters. This helps avoid the pitfall in the original, where you only used three characters (usually Mario, Peach and one more).

This also plays into the new Triple Team mechanic, which functions kind of like a Limit Break. As you deal and take damage, a bar fills up. Once it is full, you can do a special team-up attack. These attacks vary depending on your party members. Mario, Bowser and Geno do a strong attack that buffs the whole party. Mario, Mallow and Peach do a massive heal that even revives downed allies in the back row. Triple Team attacks are cool and cinematic, and they add potential choices to your team composition.

That said, Super Mario RPG is not a difficult game. It probably won't be a huge struggle for young players, and if you've played the original enough to know where to find the cool secrets and useful abilities, you'll smash things into the ground. Princess Peach's Group Hug skill is probably the single most overpowered healing spell in video game history. (In addition to being a full heal, it also removes all status effects for less than the cost of most attack spells.) The title is engaging and fun enough that you can overlook the low difficulty level, but don't expect to feel pressured. If anything, the additional bonuses make the game even easier.

There are some elements that alleviate this. Some random enemies become special foes, which are miniboss versions of the enemy. They are faster, stronger, and hit significantly harder; early on, they can wreak havoc on your party if you're not careful. You can run away, but defeating them earns a frog coin that can be traded for valuable items. There are now a bunch of new superbosses, which are post-game versions of the existing bosses with new gimmicks and much higher stats. These are a welcome addition and give you a reason to optimize your build and choices, even if you have to wait until the end of the game to do so.

Outside of combat, Super Mario RPG is not a game that ever sits still. Dungeon-crawling involves some light platforming (it is Mario, after all), but you'll often have a weird puzzle, gimmick or minigame to keep you busy. You'll explore an underwater ship and solve clues so you can fight the captain of a group of shark pirates, who is just a man in a shark costume. You'll climb beanstalks into the sky. You'll ride a mine cart, fall down a river, avoid the angry pecks of birds, dodge barrels while chasing an enemy up a hill, and more. It's a near-constant barrage of ideas, gimmicks and concepts.

For the most part, it's lovable. Super Mario RPG is about 15-20 hours long, but every minute feels packed with charm, and it's almost impossible to get bored because something new and weird is right around the corner. Probably the biggest criticism I can muster is that some of the minigames feel a little awkward and janky. This is true to the SNES original, but it still means a few of them aren't as fun as they could be. It isn't a big concern, since most are completed in a few moments, and the prize is usually something minor.

It helps that the game is incredibly adorable. Rather than modernizing the designs, Super Mario RPG adapts the cute, squat designs from the original SNES, and that works massively in its favor. The tiny, pudgy Mario is perhaps the most adorable he's ever been, and the rest of the cast joins in. The environments are varied and colorful, and the game runs smoothly. It tends to lag a little in particularly large zones, but it's not serious. The new music, done by returning composer Yoko Shimomura, is phenomenally good, and it even surpasses the original score. (You can return to the original score if you want, though.) While Super Mario RPG may not be the biggest graphical powerhouse, it's a comfy delight to look at and listen to.

Super Mario RPG is a delightful remake of one of Square Enix and Nintendo's most quirky and charming games. It takes a light hand with the changes, but just about every change it makes is for the better while still allowing the charm of the original to shine through. Most importantly, it is faithful to the original where it counts and retains the same basic fun throughout. Super Mario RPG is probably the best "beginner's" RPG on the market, but it's also a darn fun time.

Score: 9.0/10

More articles about Super Mario RPG
blog comments powered by Disqus