Platforms: Nintendo Switch
The original Super Mario RPG was a bona fide classic in the halcyon days of the SNES… just not here in Europe. The Square-developed role-playing game was never physically released in PAL territories back in the day, and although a digital release arrived on the long-defunct Wii Virtual Console service in 2008, this Switch remake marks the first chance for many to experience one of the finest titles from Nintendo's 16bit golden age.
Although arguably the first Mario game with a story deeper than "run to the right, stomp turtles, rescue princess", Super Mario RPG still starts out on familiar terrain, with Bowser kidnapping Peach and Mario setting out to save her. Matters soon complicate with the arrival of the Smithy Gang, sentient weapons from another reality who aim to destroy the Star Road and remove the power of wishes from the world. Joined by new allies Mallow (a cloud raised by a frog – don't ask) and Geno (totally not Pinocchio), Mario sets out to liberate the Mushroom Kingdom from its latest threat.
That's as it was on SNES, and still as it is on Switch – Super Mario RPG may have more story than the plumber's platformers, but it's still not a terribly deep one. The general narrative progression is a basic formula of "go here, solve problem, beat boss, repeat", but now there's occasionally a glossy CGI cutscene to add a bit of pizzazz. Those new characters get the lion's share of development and focus along the way, allowing Mario, Peach, and Bowser to retain their standing as largely archetypal ciphers. It all works, and it's packed with charming, delightful, and often genuinely funny moments, but don't expect anything that's going to leave you scratching your head over the hidden meaning of it all.
A joyful adventure, packed with brilliantly clever, touching, or adorably weird moments.
Across the board though, what's really remarkable is how little 2023's Super Mario RPG deviates from the original, and not just on the story front. While the visual upgrade is impressive, it's all in service to area and world design that precisely recreates the SNES version, right down to the location of invisible hidden chests. Even the translation is nigh-identical, barring a handful of tweaks to bring things into line with Nintendo's more codified 21st century Mario lore – Princess Toadstool, as she was known in the original, is Princess Peach here.
Where there are entirely new additions, they almost feel cautious on Nintendo's part. Some, such as the inclusion of a scrapbook feature to recap the story are welcome (who hasn't returned to an RPG after a few weeks away, only to find they have no idea what they were doing?), as are boss fight rematches, adding a degree of replayability. Others though, including a bestiary of defeated enemies and an Easy Mode that makes the already unchallenging game even more of a cake walk, feel like the result of wanting to add something new while also being careful not to alter anything too significantly.
Combat is the main area where changes have been made, although still nothing that rocks the boat. This retains all the hallmarks of a Square game from 1996, with turn-based battles, status effects to inflict or avoid, and ability-enhancing equipment to kit your party out with. Most updates are subtle – while the original introduced well-timed action commands to increase damage dealt to enemies, this expands it so a perfectly timed tap of the attack button when landing a blow deals splash damage to all enemies. Similarly, well-timed guards can mitigate enemy damage entirely, but foes now indicate when an attack can't be dodged at all. A bigger shift, Triple Attacks, now allow powerful group moves to be used when a gauge has been filled via all those well-timed action commands, but it's nothing genre fans won't have seen elsewhere – by any measure, this is a simple, almost entry level JRPG.
And yet, it's almost impossible not to fall in love with Super Mario RPG, then or now. Despite its simplicity – the greatest obstacle most players will face is likely to be a couple of rhythm-matching mini-games that never seem to actually match rhythms – it's a joyful adventure, packed with brilliantly clever, touching, or adorably weird moments that Mario fans old and new will be captivated by.
Ultimately, the Switch incarnation of Super Mario RPG feels more of an exercise in game preservation; less a remake, more a slavish recreation. This iteration is utterly faithful to the original, for better (an option to swap between composer Yoko Shimomura's wonderful original score or a newly arranged version) and worse (an experience that, overall, still feels like a nearly 30-year-old game). The game remains worthy of its legendary, influential status – no Super Mario RPG, no Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi – but, by design, this is a love letter to a bygone era.