Super Mario RPG review: I just came to say Mallow
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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
Mario Mario is a man of many talents. Doctor. Kart racer. Plumber. Carpenter. Pinball. Over the years, our moustachioed man has proven he’s nothing if not versatile, with his vibrant cast of friends and foes able to gracefully transcend their platforming roots and embrace any genre.
Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars is perhaps one of the greatest examples of Mario’s malleability. We’ve had dozens of turn-based RPGs starring Mario by now, but back in 1996 it was a revelation. It turns out letting Square and Nintendo work together on a Mario game would result in one of the most vibrant, imaginative, and genuinely funny RPGs ever created.
The 2023 remake, first announced over summer, is perhaps one of the year’s best surprises. Super Mario RPG is a game with such a fervent fan following, and it’s fair to say we never thought we’d see this day. I’m delighted to report this remake is the real deal: a faithful return to the Mushroom Kingdom crafted with love, care, and plenty of modern touches to make the experience more accessible for modern gamers.
The first thing you’ll notice is just how stunning Super Mario RPG is. It’s not an easy thing to stay true to a game’s original artstyle while bringing it up to modern standards, but here it’s been pulled off with aplomb by developer ArtePiazza. Super Mario RPG’s world is a candy coated dream - the game’s various realms, overworld map, and battle screens are alive with colour and detail. The addition of new, beautifully rendered, cutscenes and special attack animations are an absolute treat, too.
Super Mario RPG’s story is pretty much exactly what you’d expect a collaboration between Square and Nintendo to be: really, really weird. What starts off as a normal quest for Mario (send Bowser packing and rescue Princess Peach) turns into a fight against sentient weapons from another dimension. On his travels, Mario will team up with a talking cloud who believes he’s a tadpole, and an action figure possessed by a magical spirit.
Like I said, it’s weird. But these characters have become firm fan favourites over the years for a reason, and it’s a joy to see them back after all these years, and to experience their surprisingly fleshed out character arcs again. I’m certain Geno and Mallow will find a whole new audience, and the Smash Bros. campaigns will begin again in earnest. Brace yourselves.
Of course, Super Mario RPG never takes itself too seriously, even in the face of a world-shattering crisis. If you’ve played any of the Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi RPGs, you’ll immediately feel right at home with Super Mario RPG’s tongue-in-cheek writing and absurd encounters. Over the course of the game, you’ll crash a wedding to fight an evil cake, pretend to be a statue to infiltrate an enemy base, and even team up with Bowser to take back his keep.
While I’d argue Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (headed to Switch next year) boasts superior writing and plotting, Super Mario RPG is never anything less than delightful, and packed with imaginative encounters and boss battles that make it feel like more than just another turn-based RPG.
Not that the turn-based action in this game is anything to sniff at, mind you. Super Mario RPG embraces its titular hero’s roots as a man of action by building in a system that rewards players for carefully timed button presses. Follow the right prompts at the right time in combat to dish out bonus damage and even completely avoid enemy attacks. It helps to make fights feel less repetitive than they might in other RPGs, and the remake introduces further incentive to nailing timings by bringing in a combo system.
The more consecutive attacks and blocks you get right, the higher your combo climbs. A higher multiplier means increased damage, defence, and a speedier refill of your special attack bar, which means you can unleash all-powerful combo attacks much more often. The timings can be a little tricky to get right on some attacks, but if you’re really struggling you can simply switch to a new, easier difficulty that makes enemies much more manageable without grinding to a certain level or mastering those button prompts.
There’s also the occasional platforming challenge out in the world, and this is where Super Mario RPG shows its age just a little. The game’s isometric viewpoint isn’t entirely conducive to precise platforming, making certain segments of the adventure feel a little clunkier than we’d have liked. Fortunately, such challenges are few and far between, with turn-based encounters and puzzle solving being far more prominent.
Super Mario RPG’s world is filled to the brim with secrets and fun, random encounters that’ll delight fans new and old. The game’s famous secret boss is very much still present (no spoilers for newcomers), and there are tons of bonus weapons to hunt down and side quests to get stuck into that’ll reward you with substantial items and perks. While you can plough on through to the story in about 12 hours, there’s plenty to explore - and tons of minigames if you want to go back and chase those high scores.
Fans of the original game will also be thrilled to learn that, in addition to the ability to switch between the original SNES soundtrack and delightful new orchestral arrangements at will, there’s a nice amount of post-game content to get stuck into. There’s not masses in the way of completely new content, but there doesn’t need to be. Super Mario RPG is already a pretty perfect adventure as it is.
Super Mario RPG is the perfect remake of one of Nintendo’s very finest games, and I’m so very glad it’s about to find a whole new audience. This is an adventure that’s fizzing with invention, unforgettable characters, and sharp writing. One final, joyous surprise for Switch owners in 2023.
Pros: Gorgeous aesthetic, great writing, fun twist on turn-based battles
Cons: Platforming feels a little wonky
Fans of: Paper Mario, Sea Of Stars, Final Fantasy
Super Mario RPG releases 17 November for Nintendo Switch. Review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.