With a simple to learn, challenging to master combat system and heaps of charm it's a great little side story for Mario and the gang.
I never got a chance to play SUPER MARIO RPG back in the SNES era. It never arrived in Australia at all, being a Japanese and US exclusive, but there was always talk about the game around the school yard.
"Did you know the Final Fantasy people made a Mario game?"
While the game did eventually arrive on the Virtual Console in 2008 if you didn't grow up playing it, you likely wouldn't have played it then either.
The remake of SUPER MARIO RPG by ArtePiazza puts a loving polish on the incredibly solid gameplay, with a few caveats of nineties era design, that makes this new version well worth a look.
Here is the premise, Mario needs to save the day after a big bad comes in and wrecks the shop. Hang on I can hear you saying, isn't that every Mario game? Yes but this time even Bowser is on the out as the weapon like Smithy gang disrupt the Starway interrupting everyone's hopes and wishes.
While Peach does play the damsel for part of the game you do actual end up teaming up with her in one of the first playable iterations of the character and frenemy Bowser recruits you into his minions as well, they are joined by newcomers Mallow and Geno rounding out the five person party.
Each of the characters fall into some of the familiar character class types you'd recognise from Final Fantasy, Mario plays a little bit like a red mage with heavy physical damage and some powerful spells, Peach is a healing white mage slash psychologist, Bowser plays like a fighter or ninja, Mallow is your black mage and Geno is sort of like a ranger or hunter with lots of ranged attacks.
Balancing and swapping your team composition is important, you've got to make sure you keep the right character in at the right time and there is no penalty for doing so mid battle, if you've got two characters injured bad and need a group heal swap out a damage dealer whose turn it is next to cast Group Hug to heal the party. Emotional support is everything.
The exception to this is Mario who has to stay in the first position at all times.
There is also really neat timing bonus system which sits above all the standard stats and type advantages in combat, if you hit A at exactly the right time you can boost your damage and turn it into an Area of Effect attack whittling down other enemies in the field. That also goes for when an enemy attacks you, good timing means you can mitigate damage entirely with a well timed block. You chain these moves together to increase your power within the battle which is a nice nod to the action based gameplay the series is known for.
Once you master the timing of the moves you'll be stomping enemies from above in no time, but it becomes essential in the later stages when enemy damage becomes intense and you simply need to avoid it as much as you possibly can if you want to win.
While many of the systems hold up really nicely the transition from the more 2D flat planes to a pseudo 3D world makes some of the platforming elements kind of tricky, I found myself repeatedly falling into lave pits and into repetitive battles because the perspective and the movement made it tricky to line up. I can see why they wanted to include this, but its one of the more frustrating and weaker parts of the game, even if it does allow you to avoid battles all together.
There are lots of little mini games outside of the combat, with Yoshi racing, music composition and minecart courses to enjoy, some of these are really clever and a lot of fun, others feel like they should have been left in the nineties.
In particular on of the challenges within Bowser's castle felt completely grindy and pointless you are presented with a choice of completing four out of six rooms to progress. There is a mix of puzzles, platforming or combat rooms it was a slog to make it through, either re-treading similar battles again and again or failing repeatedly because I didn't memorise some specific detail. Never mind the nearly impossible jumping challenges. It was boring and repetitive at best and annoying at most, and really reminded me how far games have actually come.
The world itself is a lovely place to explore with plenty of fresh at the time characterisation and lots of fun places to visit like wedding themed Marrymore or the peaceful enemy filled Monstro Town. The world of Mario has expanded a lot since this game was released, but it's really interesting to see a different take on this world. Toads are wearing hats for sure if SUPER MARIO RPG is taken as canon.
Teaming up with Bowser is also really funny, he's played less as the tyrannical dictator and more as a bit of a headstrong fool for great comic effect. It's just silly and very enjoyable.
The soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura has been completely redone for this version and there are definite classics in the mix, you can switch back and forth at any time between old and new music, I played a lot using the original SNES sounds.
SUPER MARIO RPG feels a lot like a time capsule in many ways. There are definitely parts of the game that do feel pretty dated now, but if you're willing to sit through some early JRPG difficulties its an enjoyable and consumable game that should bring a smile to many.
There is a lot here to really enjoy and it's not the sort of massive epic that'll consume all your time, play it just like you'd play a Mario game, jump in and out and complete a few levels at a time.
Lots of companies have had a chance to make their own Mario game since the original release of SUPER MARIO RPG, but if you want to experience the roots of games like PAPER MARIO or MARIO + LUIGI it's well worth cracking open that capsule.
And look forward to our interview with original SUPER MARIO RPG composer Yoko Shimomura in the coming weeks.
A copy of SUPER MARIO RPG on Nintendo Switch was provided to SIFTER for the purpose of this review.