Super Mario RPG is Super Mario RPG. It was an instant classic when it came out on the Super Nintendo in 1996, and it’s still a classic in 2023. That’s the review. Leave your comments down below.
Oh, you’re still here. That’s understandable. After all, I don’t think you needed me to tell you that Super Mario RPG is a fun game. This unique collaboration between Nintendo and Squaresoft garnered a devoted following almost immediately upon release, and that passion from its fans endures to this day. While this is technically the origin point that led to the Paper Mario and the Mario & Luigi series, Super Mario RPG remains one of the wackiest and most surreal games the mustached plumber has ever starred in. Quite frankly, it’s a miracle we’re even seeing this game again at all.
When I previewed the game and noted that it was a mostly faithful remake, I saw quite a few mixed reactions. For some, a remake should be the original game preserved with modern graphics and updated music. For others, a remake should be a transformative experience that expands upon the source material. Does Super Mario RPG achieve either of these objectives? And perhaps more importantly, did Super Mario RPG need to change to appeal to a modern audience?
As good as Super Mario RPG is, the answers to both questions are surprisingly complicated. Not necessarily in bad ways, though.
Super Mario RPG (Switch)
Released: November 17, 2023
Fungah! Foiled again!
For those totally unfamiliar with Super Mario RPG, our story begins with a tale as old as time. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, and it’s up to Mario to save her. Even in the Super Mario RPG universe, Mario’s reputation precedes him. So, naturally, he speedruns his mission and whacks Bowser in record time. However, rather than cut to a happily-ever-after, a huge sword crashes into Bowser’s Castle, separating Mario and Princess Peach once again.
A new foe enters the scene, and it’s up to Mario to both find the missing princess and discover why these weapon-based enemies have invaded both the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond.
Mario games don’t typically focus on storytelling, and Super Mario RPG isn’t exactly Shakespeare with its twists and turns. That said, Super Mario RPG remains, to this day, one of the best stories set in the Mario universe. The world and its inhabitants are vibrant, with funny dialogue that always got a smile out of me. Yet the story sequences move on quickly, so it never feels bogged down by cutscenes.
I get the sense that Super Mario RPG was written specifically for people who don’t typically like RPGs. Its story beats are exceedingly simple, and the text can say everything it needs with a handful of words. Yet within that space, there’s so much life and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, which makes the package work so well. It feels like proper comedy, not just an RPG with some funny lines, and I love that vibe so much.
Lots of people use something called a “door” to go in and out of their houses
Additionally, this most recent playthrough of Super Mario RPG made me realize how much I love the characters in this game. Mallow and Geno are, of course, charming and lovable in their own ways. But Super Mario RPG is the rare Mario game in which I actually think Mario is the star of the show.
Like many ’90s RPG heroes, he’s a silent protagonist, but he’s so expressive in ways we typically don’t see even today. Mario recaps story events through elaborate charades, and he often reacts to wacky enemies or situations with slapstick humor that looks straight out of Looney Tunes. On a few occasions, we even see the usually cheery plumber lose his cool, and honestly, watching Mallow keep Mario from throwing hands is funnier today than it was in 1996.
At this point, it’s a running joke that if you have a group of friends playing something like Mario Kart, almost no one will actually play as Mario. He’s often treated as a blank slate, with the entirety of his personality coming from Charles Martinet’s incredible voice work. But Super Mario RPG does such a good job characterizing Mario that I’m sad this didn’t become his canon personality. He’s an endearing little ball of chaos, emotive in a way rarely seen by modern Mario.
Super Mario RPG obviously isn’t the only game in the Mushroom Kingdom to get creative with its world and characters. But as one of the first Mario games to take a story-focused approach, it’s amazing just how well Squaresoft and Nintendo nailed it on the first try.
Mario! The chain! Aim for the chain!
The writing isn’t the only part of Super Mario RPG that has aged well. Even exploring towns still feels great, thanks in part to the focus on Mario’s most defining characteristic: jumping. Small platforming challenges and secrets are everywhere, adding extra spice to the more mundane parts of RPGs. See a treasure chest that’s out of reach in a shop? Well, do some snooping, and you may find a few hidden boxes. Climb to the top, and there’s a chimney that drops you in just the right spot. These types of small puzzles are everywhere, and they’re always fun to uncover.
That philosophy extends to the game’s dungeon design (if you can call the enemy-laden areas in the game “dungeons”). Super Mario RPG loves its gimmicks and twists, making each challenge distinct from the last. In one minute, you’ll try to catch a bandit before they escape; in the next, you’ll tackle some light puzzle-solving. Then, before you know it, you’re floating down a river playing a minigame.
It’s the type of ingenuity you’d see in a Nintendo platformer like Super Mario Wonder, except in an RPG setting. Even the smaller gimmicks, like finding a star in a treasure chest that lets you instantly defeat enemies, adds so much energy to the experience. Despite finishing this game several times in my youth, I stayed curious and excited throughout the journey. This kind of design was wildly creative back in the SNES days, and even today, Super Mario RPG feels fresh.
Now, let’s chat about the remake
So, yes, Super Mario RPG has aged quite well. But what does the remake add to the experience?
Well, let’s start with the obvious. Super Mario RPG has a visual overhaul on the Nintendo Switch, and it’s… pretty good! The art remains faithful to the original, with added environmental details where the SNES game just kind of had blank space. The decision to make Mario look so small in this version honestly added to my delight, too. Combine design with his over-the-top characterization, and that makes this Mario a strong contender for my favorite incarnation of the plumber yet.
That said, Super Mario RPG doesn’t exactly stun or wow with its aesthetics. It gets the job done, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t often aim much higher than that. It’s not really a bad thing, but in context, Super Mario RPG was one of the SNES’ more distinct and impressive-looking games. That specific appeal is lost here, and I imagine some purists may prefer the original game for that reason.
The same can’t be said about the music, which absolutely went above and beyond here. Back in the day, Super Mario RPG‘s soundtrack never stuck with me like other games of the era did. But these arrangements of Yoko Shimomura’s tracks sing, adding enough flourishes to enhance and honor Mario’s old tunes. For example, the extended battle theme includes a couple of key changes preventing the original theme from repeating too soon. I found myself stopping at several points just to listen to the music, despite my feelings regarding the original soundtrack.
There was a track or two that didn’t quite stick the landing. But overall, even if visuals aren’t a showstopper, I’d absolutely recommend playing this remake for the new music.
The name’s Nello…PUNCHINELLO!
So those are the aesthetics, but what about the gameplay?
At its core, Super Mario RPG plays the same as it always did; turn-based battles with timed button presses for attacks and defenses. However, we now have quite a few quality-of-life features that make the experience much smoother. Items and recovery magic have quick menus that you can access with a button press, making party upkeep a breeze. Additionally, inventory management drops the collective, total item cap and pivots to limiting how much of each item you can hold. Item restrictions could be a hassle in the original game, but it’s a non-issue in the remake.
Combat is where we see the most substantial changes. The big additions here are chain bonuses that grow with every perfectly timed block or attack and Triple Moves that function like Final Fantasy-style Limit Breaks. However, there are a few other added touches here too. The game will now announce which enemy attacks can or can’t be blocked, and your perfectly timed attacks will now inflict a little splash damage on all enemies. Additionally, a couple of neat new systems come into play once you get your fourth party member.
Out of an overabundance of caution, I won’t elaborate on that last point. But I will say that, of all the changes to the game, the integration of your whole party is my favorite. In the SNES version, I defaulted to a party of Mario, Geno, and Peach and never strayed from that. However, this go-around, I felt encouraged to swap out party members regularly, adding some welcomed variety. Even Bowser, who I almost always benched, actually saw some use in my run. It’s a more dynamic iteration on the classic combat, leaning more into the RPG side of Super Mario RPG.
Crying? But that’s what people do when they’re…sad!!
That said, I can’t say that the entirety of the new battle mechanics changed that much about the game. The new systems are intriguing enough in isolation, but the moment-to-moment gameplay didn’t necessarily feel much different than its SNES counterpart. Stuff like the chain bonus didn’t alter how I played, and even the extra splash damage wasn’t usually enough to alter my tactics.
That said, the battle music does get more upbeat if you maintain that combo. So, in a way, the mechanic did provide an added incentive to time attacks just right. Yet again, Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack comes in clutch.
The subdued impact of these mechanics probably comes from the fact that the Super Mario RPG remake is kind of easy. To be clear, it’s not terribly easy. The original game wasn’t necessarily known for its blistering difficulty, and the remake can put up a fight at times. But as long as you got your timing on your button presses right, there’s less pressure to min-max your actual battle tactics. This ultimately made me wish the game featured an optional harder difficulty for those who are well familiar with the original.
I do appreciate that you can select an easier difficulty from the outset. Super Mario RPG is honestly one of the best games for anyone who wants to get into turn-based RPGs, and the remake retains that quality. But this is one respect where this remake may have stopped just a step too short. I think something as simple as a hard mode could have made the game a bit more transformative for longtime fans, but I wouldn’t rank this omission as a dealbreaker.
I am matter… I am antimatter…
So maybe the remake is only mildly transformative with its gameplay, but what about all-new content? Nintendo previously teased boss rematches, and while I appreciated some encounters, not all of these new fights are winners. However, the ones that worked really dug into the game’s mechanics. This is where Mario RPG gets some real bite, which I think longtime fans will enjoy. One of these rematches, in particular, really stands out, too. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.
That said, without veering into spoiler territory, the boss rematches aren’t quite as comprehensive as they could be. While I was initially fascinated by uncovering “new” encounters, they were over too soon, and before I knew it I had cleared everything. My total playtime, with the rematches, was still under 20 hours all said and done. To be clear, Super Mario RPG goes light on filler. By no means do I think its shorter runtime is a bad thing, especially since most RPGs drag on for 40 hours or more. But if you’re a longtime fan only interested in new content, you might feel a bit disappointed.
There are a few odds and ends you can chase down to max out your save file. Basically, a few medals and trinkets for those who like to 100% a game for completion’s sake. But, again, the remake stops itself just short of giving players captivating reasons to stick around after clearing its beefier rematches. Super Mario RPG still has plenty of secrets tucked away, little things like feeding a Yoshi handfuls of Yoshi Cookies for rare items. But I still wish more was done to explore everything Super Mario RPG’s world has to offer.
It’s honestly to the game’s credit that I was still searching for reasons to keep playing despite the lack of rewards for my efforts. Yet, when I think about remakes like Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver that both preserve and expand on the source material, I can’t help but wish that’s what was done here.
Like the moon over the day, my genius and brawn are lost on these fools
At the end of the day, Super Mario RPG juggles its duty to serve as a classic tribute and modernized experience well. However, your mileage will depend on what you want out of it. Judged strictly as a remake, this is a firmly good-to-great effort. The visual upgrades are nice, and the music is phenomenal. Meanwhile, the added content and gameplay elements may not be substantially transformative, but do offer more than something like the Link’s Awakening remake. It’s not nearly as comprehensive as, say, the recent Star Ocean: The Second Story R, but this RPG maintains all of the appeal of the original.
However, if we judge the game as a whole, Super Mario RPG remains an utterly delightful time full of energy and personality. The writing, level design, and even the world aged so well that it didn’t need many changes to modernize it. Sure, there are a few balance issues, and some of the platforming can be trickier than it needs to be. But from the moment I picked it up, I still didn’t want to put it down. It’s all the charm of a golden age Squaresoft RPG combined with the sheer joy of a top-shelf Nintendo game, so it’s no wonder this one remains so fiercely beloved. There’s still nothing quite like it, and I’m thrilled to see it return for a brand new audience to fall in love with.
Super Mario RPG is an all-time classic game that both RPG lovers and Mario fans alike owe it to themselves to play. This Switch remake brilliantly preserves the spirit of the original SNES game, with some great quality-of-life enhancements and a phenomenally redone soundtrack. Longtime fans looking for a more transformative remake may feel disappointed, but when the core game itself has aged this well, it doesn’t suffer in the ways a lesser title would. If you’ve never played Super Mario RPG, or if you simply want an excuse to revisit it, this remake is for you.