Back when Nintendo announced that Super Mario RPG would return this year, I actually gasped. For years, I assumed this unique collaboration with SquareSoft was lost to time. But lest you believe that announcement was actually a fever dream, I can tell you that it is, indeed, real.
Ahead of Super Mario RPG’s launch on November 17, I got to play this new twist on an old classic. Based on this experience, much of this remake felt the same as the SNES classic it’s based on. Yet despite only featuring a few small tweaks to the original game, what I played was remarkably fresh, even by modern standards.
Just the way you remember
From the first moments of the game, I felt an overwhelming wave of nostalgia wash over me. Sure, that opening cutscene where Bowser kidnaps Peach remains faithful to the original. But even the smaller touches are retained to a tee. For example, seeing Mario walk up to the door of Bowser’s castle, pause, and then run in place before dashing in like a classic cartoon character made me vividly remember when I was seven years old in my childhood room, watching the exact same moment play out.
Are there differences? Sure, there are a few new shots thrown in here to show off the enhanced 3D graphics. However, most moments played out at least closely to how I remembered them. I don’t think being this faithful is necessarily good or bad, but I was impressed by the attention to detail nonetheless.
Granted, it’s been long enough since I last played Super Mario RPG that I had to rebuild my muscle memory. For those just tuning in, combat in Super Mario RPG is mostly turn based. Similar to the Paper Mario games that followed, the strength of your attacks and defenses involve timing button presses right at the point of impact (with potentially more complex prompts when you use special skills). For this reason, I used the opening battles leading up to the first encounter against Bowser to test if I could still time Mario’s punch attacks just right. Spoilers, I couldn’t.
I actually needed to play the game’s combat tutorial to relearn how to time attacks again. Fortunately, with a bit of practice, I did get my groove back. All of this is to say that, so far, combat doesn’t appear to be simpler than it was.
It’s the little things
After I got my bearings and made my way through the game’s first levels, I started noticing subtle differences. The original SNES game was already pretty streamlined. At least, it was in terms of raw RPG elements, especially compared to contemporaries like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest. And while this iteration of Super Mario RPG doesn’t appear to simplify its systems, it does get you in and out of its menus at lightning speed. Using items or healing spells is a total breeze, and even inventory management was basically a non-issue.
If you’re new to Super Mario RPG, you’ll likely think nothing of these changes. But I imagine those familiar with the classic will warmly welcome these tweaks.
That’s not to say that the only alterations are quality of life related. There are also cute visual touches that, while seemingly small at a glance, added a lot to my experience. Mario and his companions now have fun little idle animations while they wait for their turn in battle, which appropriately reflect their personalities. For example, you might see Mario take a couple practice swings while he waits for his turn. And perhaps most importantly, the new level up screen has gotten a total rework. Your party now takes to a stage, performing an adorable dance for whoever had the honor of passing that next EXP threshold.
I have to confess that I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time on this screen just looking at Mario work it before I inevitably decided which stats to upgrade. Something about his especially short-looking model in this remake makes Mario as a character so much more endearing than usual. Keep on dancing, king.
Prepare for battle
Where the game appears to make the most substantial changes, however, is in its battle system. As previously reported, players can now enjoy a few extra bonuses whenever they pull off those timed button presses. Pulling off successful attacks or defenses builds a chain bonus, granting extra effects the longer you maintain it. I didn’t notice this making the game much easier, necessarily. But it’s certainly nice to see how many button presses in a row you timed perfectly.
The other obvious difference comes from what the game calls Triple Moves. For all intents and purposes, you can think of these like Limit Breaks in Final Fantasy 7. You’ll charge up the Triple Move meter to attack and defend, and once it’s full, you can trigger a new ability. Typically, the ability involves your party working together in some fashion. However, I was surprised to see Triple Moves usable as simply a “Gauge Move” before recruiting a team of three. It’s a small thing, but I like that you can play with the new toys the remake offers right away.
Much like everything else, these mechanics blend well with what was already in Super Mario RPG. They’re integrated into the core experience rather seamlessly, and they don’t override the battle system in any way. I’d say combat on the whole skews more toward the familiar side, but I do like seeing fresh elements added to the mix.
We’ll all learn more soon
Overall, I feel very curious about how the rest of the game will pan out. It’s admittedly been years since I last played Super Mario RPG, so I can’t give a play-by-play of what’s new and what’s the same down to the detail. That’s something I’m sure the fans will go over, and I think I’ll enjoy reading people analyze this remake as much as anyone.
It’s too early to draw any kind of conclusion about Super Mario RPG. However, having just recently played the superb Super Mario Bros. Wonder, I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting childhood memories with Nintendo’s charming mascot. I never thought I’d get another 2D Mario game on the level of Super Mario World, but here I am, reliving those highs in full force. And now, only a month later, I can play a classic RPG that I never thought would hit modern consoles. I love 3D Mario games like Odyssey and Galaxy, but the NES and SNES are where I fell in love with our moustached friend. Those were my games, and I’m happy to see these kinds of experiences returning for those who missed those console generations.
But even if others don’t warm to these ’90s Mario throwbacks, I’m certainly here for the ride, wherever it may take. Because as far as my 16-bit loving heart is concerned, it’s been a great year to be a Mario fan.
Super Mario RPG will launch on November 17 for the Nintendo Switch.