The Super Mario RPG remake is unmissable. It’s hard to believe that it has been 27 years since the moustachioed icon’s first-ever role-playing game landed as the swansong to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Nearly three decades on, and now spruced up for the Nintendo Switch, this fan-favourite adventure remains just as much a joy to experience.
Princess Peach has been kidnapped yet again. When Mario races to Bowser’s Keep to rescue her from his clutches, after the ensuing chandelier showdown their altercation is interrupted as Exor the Giant Sword smashes through the Star Road – piercing the sky before laying claim to the King Koopa’s castle by firmly sheathing himself in it.
The resulting tremor sends Mario flying, who, continuing to search for Princess Peach, soon learns that the Smithy Gang is responsible for the unexpected disturbance. With Exor the Giant Sword hinting at the Gang’s “big plans,” the Italian plumber must put a stop to whatever they are while helping to recover the Star Road’s shattered pieces so that it can be rebuilt – allowing everyone’s wishes to be granted once more.
ArtePiazza has been revealed as the developer behind Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars’ surprise rejuvenation, delivering what can be seen as a masterclass in how to modernise a beloved classic while still allowing the experience to feel like it remains faithful to its 16-bit roots. That composer Yoko Shimomura returned to remix the game’s soundtrack is the icing on the cake.
It is the overhauled visuals that hit you first. Sumptuous cutscenes, updated character models, more expressive animation and environments enriched with detail. The world is a delight to exist and run around in, with the wide-ranging improvements demonstrating how far technology has come in that time. Whirring away underneath that is everything that made the original game so special, which, even as someone experiencing it all for the first time, is hard not to recognise all these years later.
Those looking to tackle Super Mario RPG will discover two difficulty modes to choose between once they boot it up: Breezy, which makes the game’s battles easier and is intended for those who simply want to enjoy its story; and Normal, in which battles are balanced normally for those looking for a more challenging experience. Beyond this, there is more leniency in how punishing the game can be. While you can still manually save at Save Blocks like in the original game, in the remake it automatically saves whenever you move between areas. Given that you wake up at the last place you saved whenever you are knocked out in battle, it means that you shouldn’t ever have to worry about losing too much progress.
Super Mario RPG is largely straightforward by design. It’s clear to know where to go next on the World Map to progress its story and, when not distracted composing melodies for Toadofsky at Tadpole Pond or participating in its many mini-game challenges, you will spend the rest of your time bopping enemies, confronting quirky bosses or hunting out Frog Coins and Hidden Treasure blocks.
Timing is important in battles. Hitting the A Button as an attack hits will increase the damage that you deal, with perfect timing also damaging surrounding enemies. This is the case for defending too, where hammering the A Button as an enemy attacks will reduce the damage received and if your timing is perfect you will take no damage.
These are known as Action Commands, which you will soon start to do impulsively. Perform them successfully and you will steadily build up your Action Gauge, which, once filled to 100 percent, will let you unleash a Triple Move. The one that you fling at hapless foes depends on which characters you have in your party, made from a combination of Mario, the heartwarming Mallow, the mysterious but fan-favourite puppet Geno, Bowser and Peach. Each Triple Move is accompanied by a cutscene packed with kaleidoscopic pizzazz, with those available including Star Riders, Shooting Star Shot, Clown Car Barrage, Starry Shell Spike, Healing Rainbow or Spare-Us-All. Much is inferred by their names, but these devastating Triple Moves can strike one or multiple enemies or can defensively heal, buff or protect your team.
Even regular attacks are packed with personality. depending on what weapon each character has equipped: Mario can swing hammers or kick Koopa Shells at his enemies; Mallow can slam Cymbals together to make an earsplitting racket; Geno can shoot bullets from his fingers or unleash a double rocket punch with his detached hands; Bowser can spin a Chain Chomp to hurl at an enemy or pick his arch-nemesis Mario up and chuck him in their direction; and Peach can slap foes with her gloves or slam a parasol in their face. As with the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi games that came after it, Super Mario RPG’s greatest success comes from breathing life into the Mushroom Kingdom and turning the expected into the unexpected.
Each character has access to Special moves – learning more as they gain experience and level up, which in turn increases their stats across Max HP, Attack, Defense, Magic Attack and Magic Defense categories. These Special moves require Flower Points (FP), which are shared between your party but can be restored or boosted with items such as a Flower Tab, Flower Box or Flower Jar. The Special moves are also unique to each character: Mario has Jump and Fireball attacks; Mallow can summon thunder, healing rain and snow; Geno can buff the party and unleash beam attacks; Bowser can scare enemies to inflict a Fear status and poison them; and Peach can heal or revive the party as needed.
That you can switch characters mid-battle is brilliant, and lets you react to what you are confronted with on the fly. Enemy weaknesses and resistance to elements can also come into play, but, while they can help deal increased damage, exploiting them doesn’t feel as much of a necessity compared to more recent games in the genre such as Persona 5 Royal.
The Super Mario RPG remake is bursting with character, but it isn’t without its imperfections. Platforming within an isometric space can be frustrating and the mini-game execution can prove to be inconsistent. The good far outweighs the bad, but in looking for the remake to be as authentic to the original game as possible it is unable to shake off all of its flaws.
Given its age, it is astounding how well Super Mario RPG holds up. If anything, its inventive gameplay mechanics and playful nature were far ahead of their time. I’m surprised that it never received a sequel – likely down to Square Enix shifting its development resources to the fledgling PlayStation back in the day.
Super Mario RPG may not offer the lengthiest or most challenging quest that you will ever face, but it is a game with tremendous heart that never fails to raise a smile. Modernised for a new generation, it bookends what has been a stratospheric year for Mushroom Kingdom adventures.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo