Surprise! In Super Mario RPG, the villainous Koopa Bowser has abducted Princess Peach, and it’s up to Mario to save her. If that sounds a little too familiar, Nintendo thought the same: unlike most Mario games, Bowser’s bounced off a chandelier and sent packing in the first five minutes. After that, the plumber is made party leader for a sprawling role-playing game (RPG) that’s closer to the likes of Final Fantasy than his usual run-jump shenanigans.
Bowser and Mario’s long-running feud is put on ice with the arrival of the Smithy Gang, a band of cosmic outlaws who have taken over Bowser’s Keep. They’ve also destroyed the Star Road, where the universe’s wishes are granted, which means it’s up to Mario to gather a party of (mostly) heroes to gather star pieces, patch things up, and give Smithy Gang the bouncy brown boot.
Along the way, Super Mario RPG is split between beating baddies in turn-based combat, and roaming the world of Mushroom Kingdom. The setting is usually background fodder for other Mario games, but this time it’s there for exploring. Its lively characters make RPG hilarious for all ages, whether it’s the wise Frog Sage relying on safety wire and an (almost) out-of-frame Lakitu to hover before Mario, or meta commentary poking fun at role-playing game tropes.
The rest of Super Mario RPG is just as funny, particularly with Mario’s odd bunch of companions. Two highlights are fluffy friend Mallow, who’s out to find his real parents and prove he’s not a crybaby, and Bowser – who’s not thrilled at his latest partnership with Mario, but sees it as the only way of getting his castle back from the Smithy Gang. Throw in possessed doll Gino and damsel-no-more Princess Peach, and RPG‘s heroes are a joy.
As for combat, Super Mario RPG is a remake of the ’90s game by Square – the Final Fantasy developer now known as Square Enix – and although everything has been given a fresh lick of paint for the Nintendo Switch, not too much has changed mechanically.
Battles are turn-based, and you can field up to three members of your party – though they can be switched out for the other backbenchers without losing a turn. Besides basic attacks, everyone has their own special moves to use. Mallow has devastating lightning-based spells, while Peach can keep the party’s health topped up. Mario and Gino are brilliant all-rounders, while Bowser excels at… well, bashing things. If you’ve played a turn-based combat game before, this is all par for the course.
Yet Super Mario RPG mixes things up by integrating a real-time aspect to each fight. Pressing a button just before an incoming hit lets you deflect all but a few moves, while the damage of your own attacks can be amplified massively if you react to a prompt in time. That being said, many of these prompts require lightning-fast reflexes, some bordering on frustrating, and the system as a whole might not necessarily click with anyone looking for a slower-paced strategy.
In fact, the best parts of combat are the party’s group attacks, which are incredibly powerful and don’t need any button-mashing to pull off. These moves weren’t in the original Super Mario RPG, and their accompanying cutscenes are a brilliant spotlight for the remake’s vibrant graphical overhaul. Mario surfing along Rainbow Road, or Bowser cackling as a cannon emerges from the painted grin of his clown car, are the flashiest parts of RPG, while the forests and towns of Mushroom Kingdom are beautifully re-imagined.
However, this remake takes few risks with its source material, and at times Super Mario RPG shows its age as an older title. Certain boss fights can have awkward gimmicks that make defeating them a chore, while exploring Mushroom Kingdom is limited to small areas broken up into stages.
Yet for returning fans of the original game there’s plenty of nostalgia and much-needed touch-ups to be found, and while fresh-faced players may find RPG a little unimaginative at times, this is the absolute best way to play a gem from the annals of Mario history.
Super Mario RPG launches on November 17 for Nintendo Switch.
Thanks to a gorgeous makeover and timeless characters, Super Mario RPG proves itself well worth revisiting. Though die-hard RPG fans may find this offering a little limited in scope, its blend of turn-based and real-time combat remain unique – and if you want to see Bowser hurl Mario like a weapon, you’ve come to the right place.
- Witty writing keeps Mario’s journey laugh-out-loud funny
- Mushroom Kingdom looks fantastic
- A short, snappy story makes a nice change from many RPG timesinks
- Real-time combat elements can be frustratingly challenging
- Fairly tame in the face of modern party-based games