In 1996, Nintendo and Square teamed up to make Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. This classic was beloved in its own right and inspired two other long-running RPG franchises: Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. Now, Nintendo has teamed up with co-developer ArtePiazza to bring the game back to fans, with new graphics, cut scenes, and gameplay tweaks.
It seemed like any other day in the Mushroom Kingdom. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach yet again. The opening elements of Super Mario RPG set up a classic Mario story, only to have the tale get turned on its head when Mario’s textbook rescue of Peach is interrupted by the appearance of a giant sword that comes crashing down into Bowser’s castle, casting Mario out, and sending Bowser and Peach who knows where. To discover the whereabouts of his missing friend and enemy, Mario sets out on an adventure unlike any he has had before. One that will require new allies and new tricks if he is to once more save his world from ruin.
This “new” adventure delivers a lot considering the time period it was originally created for. Several new additions to Mario’s world are introduced here, with a couple of my all-time favorites among them. The story takes players outside the Mushroom Kingdom, giving gamers what was at the time their first look at Mario’s wider world. The plot twists are sometimes foreseeable, but always fun. The heroes are lovable, the villains are dastardly, and everything shares an air of goofiness that hits perfectly for those of us who are old enough to remember when all of gaming was this light-hearted.
The most notable thing about this remake is its graphical presentation. Every element of Mario’s world has been brought to life in a way that utilizes the hardware of the Switch, while also feeling like the original game in spirit. Every silly moment from Mario’s pantomiming explanations to people, to party member Mallow’s many clumsy falls is delivered with all the charm long-time fans will remember from the original. With added visual effects for combat, including gorgeous animation sequences for the party’s various triple attacks, Super Mario RPG doesn’t fail to deliver an updated visual design that wows, while also relishing in what made the original great.
While the visuals delight, the core of this game lies in its combat. Classic, turn-based RPG mechanics shine here. The player can have three party members on screen at any time, with the ability to swap out party members on the fly, even ones who have been KOed, to allow for some fast and fun play. Having access to your entire roster of characters at all times allows the player to keep attackers in their lineup to speed through lesser encounters, knowing that if a situation gets away from them, their healer is just a click away.
The biggest stand-out element of the game’s combat is its timing mechanics. When attacking, players can time a follow-up button press to increase the damage done, enable additional attacks, or create an area of effect, damaging surrounding enemies. Learning the timing for each attack is one of the elements that help keep the game’s combat from growing stale. Especially as party members’ basic attacks change depending on what weapon you have equipped, making it an ongoing learning process. The same timing mechanic also works for blocking. A well-timed block reduces damage taken, while a perfect block negates it completely.
Bringing further flavor to Super Mario RPG‘s take on turn-based combat is a wide plethora of status effects. While all the usual suspects like silence and sleep are present, others bring unique gameplay experiences with them like Scarecrow which only allows the player to use special attacks, and Mushroom, which allows no actions but regenerates the character’s health over time.
The only major way this game fails in its combat comes with some of the boss battles. While each is creative and offers unique challenges to overcome in comparison to the rest of the combat, they can take incredibly long to beat. This causes a fair amount of the charm to wear off, long before the boss actually goes down.
As Mario and friends explore the larger world of Super Mario RPG they will get the opportunity to partake in numerous forms of mini-games along the way. These bring a fair amount of variety to the gameplay as each presents unique challenges and offers different rewards. And all can be replayed at any point, so if you aren’t able to master one the first time, you can always return later in your adventure to take another crack at it.
One final important note about this game’s gameplay is its difficulty. It isn’t very difficult at all. While it offers a “breezy” mode to players who want less challenge, the default mode doesn’t present many challenges an experienced gamer won’t be able to easily overcome. This works well for the game, as it allows the player to focus more on the game’s charm and less on the intricacies of combat and leveling. And speaking of leveling…
Leveling up your party is extremely simple in Super Mario RPG. For starters, all party members gain the same amount of experience, whether they participate in a combat encounter or not. Then when a character does level, their stats will go up a fixed amount and the player will get to choose whether to increase the character’s physical attack and defense, their health, or their magic attack and defense. At set levels, characters unlock new combat abilities as well. Like much of the game, the best part of leveling up is the charm of the moment. The party is shown on a theatre-style stage with the leveling character spotlighted while their compatriots dance in celebration of their accomplishments.
Along with level increases, Super Mario RPG also has a barebones equipment system in it. Weapons and armor provide static stat boosts, while each character can equip a single accessory that can provide protection from status effects, as well as other minor aids. This simple system provides a few more options to help players throughout the game should they need it.
The last major gameplay element of Super Mario RPG is exploration. Rather than just walking from one point on a map to the next while battling enemies, the game challenges players with jumping, climbing, and some light puzzle solving to spice up the navigation of its various locales. While some of this exploration is fun, the game tries to ask more of the player than is reasonable. Some platforming elements in the game are simply nightmarish. The awkward camera angle makes seeing how objects are aligned extremely difficult, resulting in numerous falls and loss of progression. It feels weird saying that platforming is the worst element of a Mario game, but there it is.
When all is said and done Super Mario RPG does a great job of mixing charming characters and fun, intuitive gameplay into an easy-to-enjoy package. Despite a few stumbles along the way, this classic journey largely lives up to its reputation, giving fans, new and old, something wonderful to experience.
Super Mario RPG is available now on Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG does a great job of mixing charming characters and fun, intuitive gameplay into an easy-to-enjoy package. Despite a few stumbles along the way, this classic journey largely lives up to its reputation, giving fans, new and old, something wonderful to experience.