Chances are, you’ve witnessed Mario’s familiar moves, like stomping a goomba or kicking a Koopa shell. However, you might not have imagined him delivering a punch to a giant lady with parrot-adorned hair, targeting her shins as she leisurely sips a cocktail atop a floating banana. Super Mario RPG stands out as one of the quirkiest journeys the iconic plumber has undertaken, capturing attention when Square, the developer behind Final Fantasy, first introduced it nearly three decades ago. The 2023 remake faithfully recreates this already fantastic RPG, adding a fresh layer of polish and incorporating subtle yet intelligent combat updates.
While these changes may not completely erase the 27 years of dust, they offer an excellent opportunity for fans, like myself, to relive this classic. Simultaneously, they allow newcomers to experience firsthand just how delightfully unconventional Mario’s adventure can be.
Breaking away from the usual formula, this engaging narrative begins with Mario swiftly reaching Bowser’s fortress and promptly rescuing a kidnapped Princess Peach.
However, before they can enjoy a happily ever after, a colossal sword with a face crashes through the castle roof, propelling all three characters into an unexpected adventure.
Mario finds himself facing a myriad of mischievous living weapons and must collect seven Star Pieces to save the Mushroom Kingdom. While the story is relatively short, taking around 12 hours to complete (having done so on SNES before), the consistently humorous and often off-the-wall writing in this essentially unchanged script had me frequently bursting into laughter.
It’s easy to see why this combat system influenced so many games.
The turn-based combat in Super Mario RPG is refreshingly uncomplicated, placing your party of five against an array of peculiar and imaginative foes. Ranging from familiar Mario creatures like goombas to the enigmatic skeletal remains of a mastodon with no apparent backstory, the game seamlessly integrates timing-based button prompts into the traditional mix of standard attacks and spells with limited resources.
This dynamic approach provides a gratifying experience, rewarding well-timed A-presses during offense with an extra boost while allowing for damage reduction, or even complete negation, during defense.
This combat system remains impressive, and its influence on subsequent games is evident, whether in Mario’s RPG adventures like the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario series or in more recent titles like the South Park RPGs and this year’s Sea of Stars. However, it’s worth noting that, while consistently enjoyable, the combat often races at a nearly comical pace, propelling you into super-easy skirmishes as swiftly as you’re likely to conclude them.
The truly engaging encounters, however, are reserved for a diverse range of inventive bosses. These include a peculiar dog monster capable of generating clones of your party members and a sentient bow that cleverly disables buttons on your controller, disrupting specific moves. Although these battles are creatively shaken up, they generally pose little threat.
Combat undergoes a significant and largely favorable overhaul in this remake, with the most substantial alterations taking place in this aspect.
Button timings now yield even more substantial bonuses for precision, introducing a splash damage effect to basic attacks that prompted me to be more considerate in distributing damage during standard encounters than I ever was in the original version.
Successfully chaining together well-timed presses also fills up a gauge for powerful new Triple Moves, each accompanied by an impressive 3D cutscene. While these updates may not necessarily elevate the combat to the level of modern or deeply intricate systems found in games inspired by the original, they undeniably inject a breath of fresh life into a system that greatly benefits from the enhancements.
A highly enjoyable aspect that retains its charm is the diverse array of weapons within the system. Unlike mere statistical upgrades, each weapon is uniquely tailored to individual party members, influencing not only their effectiveness but also altering animations and attack timings upon discovery of a new weapon.
For instance, Mario might transition from kicking a koopa shell to smashing enemies with a hammer, while the endearing “tadpole” Mallow might shift from wielding a stick to clashing together cymbals.
Bowser, rounding out the party alongside the enigmatic Geno and Princess Peach herself, boasts perhaps the most intriguing weapon option: a glove enabling him to pick up and hurl Mario as a projectile, reminiscent of Colossus tossing Wolverine.
The weapon variety for each character is still a ton of fun.
I found the process of adapting to each new weapon both challenging and enjoyable, requiring a retraining of my muscle memory. The introduction of a smart new prompt, which guides your timing until you master it a few times (and returns if you start to falter), made this adjustment smoother.
However, the downside to this immensely entertaining weapon system is the limited control it affords. Super Mario RPG follows a very linear path, and each new weapon you come across is typically just a statistical improvement over the previous one, without any comparable alternatives to choose from.
This pattern extends to your defensive items, resulting in the RPG aspect of Super Mario RPG feeling somewhat sparse, as character customization is limited to a single accessory slot for items such as minor stat boosts or status resistances.
The vitality of this adventure lies in its diversity – finding enjoyment in straightforward combat and progression is effortless when the settings constantly change, preventing any chance of monotony.
You’ll traverse from the classic Mario sewers to a ghost-filled sunken pirate ship, shift from a coin-collecting waterfall descent in a minigame to a hill-climbing mission to rescue Princess Peach, and transition from facing a frenzied bomb character to encountering a living wedding cake.
While this world could have easily crumbled into a mishmash of unrelated concepts, especially considering its foundation as a Mario game, it instead coalesces into a strangely coherent and delightfully unique entirety.
Every element I’ve previously mentioned, and more, has been meticulously recreated using authentic 3D graphics that remain true to the original’s pre-rendered 3D art style. The new visual presentation is… well, it’s satisfactory. I don’t want to diminish the achievements of this remake; it does indeed boast a visually pleasing aesthetic, particularly evident in its fresh and often exceptionally cool cutscenes.
However, there’s a sense that some of the original’s personality may have been lost in this translation. The updated models and environments closely mirror their predecessors, appearing sleek and modern but at the expense of some of the inherent charm of the original pre-rendered look.
Comparing it to other Switch remakes, such as Link’s Awakening or Live A Live, I find myself wishing this one had embraced a bit of its own distinctive flavor inspired by the SNES aesthetic, rather than opting for the closest approximation it could achieve.
The music is perfectly reverent while adding impressive new layers.
One aspect that has undergone an exceptional modernization is the soundtrack. Super Mario RPG’s music has left an indelible mark on my memory since childhood, and while my initial nostalgia may have colored my perception, a simple swap between the new and old versions (conveniently facilitated in the menu) swiftly revealed the brilliance of the updated tracks.
These new compositions strike a perfect balance, paying homage to the originals while introducing impressive layers of instrumentation and nuance to each song. They successfully capture the essence of the original tunes, preserving their catchiness and subtle accents, while simultaneously bringing a fresh perspective to the table – a transformation I had hoped the graphics would achieve in a similar manner.
Speaking of the new, this isn’t merely the adventure remembered by old-timers like myself. The core campaign has remained largely unchanged in terms of content, but a completely fresh post-game experience allows players to uncover missed secrets after the credits roll. It also introduces impressive additional challenges designed to test your limits.
Without divulging specific details to avoid spoilers, these challenges include exceptionally clever twists on certain battles that demand a deeper understanding of the combat system and its various mechanics – a feature I found quite appealing. While I wish these encounters hadn’t been exclusively reserved for endgame content, I appreciate the added difficulty for those seeking more challenges beyond the main storyline.
There’s also an extensive Monster List to complete, featuring checkmarks and amusing quotes for every enemy successfully timed with Mallow’s Thought Peek ability. This provided me with a completionist objective to pursue, even as combat became excessively easy.
However, this list exposes perhaps the most unexpected issue with the Super Mario RPG remake: around one-third into the campaign, the menus began experiencing severe framerate drops. This affected everything from navigating shops to juggling equipment and managing the exhaustive Monster List, making these tasks a cumbersome endeavor.
Besides encountering some similar lag in a specific map area, I didn’t face any other technical issues. Nevertheless, the menu-related framerate drops were significant enough to detract from the enjoyment of managing my party, checking items, or revisiting the collection of amusing quotes, which is a bit disappointing.
Super Mario RPG holds its status as a classic for a reason, and this faithfully crafted remake effortlessly allows those who missed it in the SNES era to understand why. Unapologetically eccentric, it embraces the unexpected with writing that consistently elicited laughter, even at jokes I’d heard countless times before.
The turn-based combat, though relatively simple outside of its clever boss fights, offers immense satisfaction in maintaining a well-timed string, even when facing less challenging opponents.
While the updated graphics are both visually appealing and somewhat conservative in interpreting the original’s style (accompanied by some unfortunate menu lag), the fresh renditions of its excellent music stand out as truly exceptional. Super Mario RPG already withstood the test of time reasonably well, but with this remake, there’s now no excuse not to discover why Mario’s most unconventional adventure continues to be cherished.
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