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Mario RPG is a lovingly crafted update of an all-time classic

At times, the Switch version of Super Mario RPG feels authentic to the point where you can imagine flipping a switch and replacing its crisp new visuals with their original 16-bit undercoats – brilliantly, as you can already do with its soundtrack.

The new version – Nintendo’s careful not to call it a ‘remake’ – is an incredibly faithful retread of one of the very best role-playing games of the 1990s, down to the smallest of details like its endearingly jittery animations, and plump, off-brand character models.

That unprecedented level of authenticity makes Switch’s Mario RPG feel like a love letter to the original game. Fans of the 1996 version will be delighted by the care that’s gone into recreating the SNES title scene-for-scene, just how they remember it.

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Super Mario RPG (Nintendo Switch)

For newcomers, it offers an adventure that’s just as entertaining and memorable as it was back in the day, with striking scenarios and quirky characters that are still as strong as anything the modern Paper Mario games have offered decades later. There are some sections that could’ve justifiably been left in the 90s, like its jarringly dated mini-games, but even they add to Mario RPG’s retro charm and authenticity.

The original Super Mario RPG (subtitled Legend of the Seven Stars) was released in 1996 in Japan and North America. Developed in collaboration with Final Fantasy creator Square, the game is fondly remembered for its fun story, approachable gameplay, and brilliant soundtrack.

It’s a testament to how well these elements stand up nearly 20 years later that the Switch version virtually doesn’t change a thing about Mario RPG’s moment-to-moment structure. You could run the SNES and Switch games side by side, and they would remain pretty close throughout.

While the visuals on Switch have of course been hugely improved since the SNES days, they remain pleasingly authentic to the pre-rendered look of the original game.

“It’s a testament to how well these elements stand up nearly 20 years later that the Switch version virtually doesn’t change a thing about Mario RPG’s moment-to-moment structure”

For example, the game’s cute, but clearly off-model character models, which fans would usually expect Nintendo to replace with official off-the-shelf replacements, have – surprisingly and brilliantly – been left alone. Jittery animations, which could easily have been replaced with slick reworks, also maintain the 16-bit character of the original game.

There are also some significant UI improvements here, accessibility updates like fast map travel and auto-saving, and the addition of pre-rendered cut-scenes, but they’ve been introduced respectfully, and tonally feel in keeping with the spirit of the original game. There is more new content on top of this, including post-game boss rematches, but we’ll keep schtum to avoid spoilers.

Despite the big visual upgrade, Mario RPG feels just how fans will remember it. As mentioned earlier, at times it’s like developer ArtePiazza has layered HD graphics on top of the original game. In the overworld, you move and jump from an isometric viewpoint, solving puzzles, chatting with characters and initiating turn-based battles, as you would in a classic Final Fantasy game.

Turn-based combat retains the tangible, rhythmic feel of the original, which introduced Action Commands. These act similarly to modern Paper Mario games, wherein a timed button press during an attack or defence can improve your end result, adding an extra punch or dodging a devasting attack.

Now, timing is even more important, as a precisely timed button press will also reward you with damage to all enemies on screen. There’s a more significant addition in the form of the Auction Gauge. When filled by performing Action Commands, this will allow you to perform a powerful three-character Triple Move – accompanied by a flesh CG cut-scene – which changes depending on which combination of characters you have in your party.

The game also tracks ‘combos’ of how many Action Commands you’ve performed in a row and rewards you with stat buffs. Although some fans will likely be put off by how this makes an already not-very-difficult game even easier, it’s otherwise a welcome new layer of depth on top of the original.

Thankfully, it’s the adventure itself that’s the core appeal of Mario RPG, and here, fans will be delighted by the care that’s gone into updating it. Even for newcomers, this is a wonderful, traditional-style RPG that deserves to be experienced, if only for its humorous and heartfelt story, and conveyor belt of brilliantly quirky characters and set pieces – the kind we rarely see in modern Mario games, allegedly due to Nintendo’s tight brand restrictions.

“Mario RPG’s many fans will be delighted by the care that’s gone into this new version then. But for newcomers, this is definitely a traditional-style RPG that deserves to be experienced”

For one of the first times in a Mario game, Bowser is sidelined as the main villain and replaced by the Smithy Gang, an army of sentient weapons who’ve invaded the Mushroom Kingdom. In typical RPG fashion, Mario and his party of friends must travel town-to-town to solve problems, and along the way, find out where this Smithy Gang came from.

Throughout the adventure, Square delivers a masterclass in pacing, with memorable characters and quirky scenarios introduced in quick succession.

One moment, you could be exploring a sunken pirate ship, the next you’re in a village of reformed Mario baddies, crashing Peach’s (forced) wedding, or conducting an orchestra of singing tadpoles. Mario RPG contains some of the most fun story moments in any Mario game and, although it’s otherwise very much like the traditional Square RPGs of the time, that makes it feel unique.

Super Mario RPG is a lovingly crafted update of an all-time classic
Buy Super Mario RPG
Super Mario RPG (Nintendo Switch)

But as I mentioned earlier, the Switch version is faithful even to a fault. Its many mini-games, such as an early part of the story where you must awkwardly button mash down a waterfall, or a barrel-riding section that lacks the dynamism and response of similar sequences in modern games, feel jarringly dated to play.

Old and new players will no doubt debate the merit of such sequences in the months to come. For veterans they keep the nostalgia bottled inside this staunchly authentic game update, but newcomers almost certainly would’ve appreciated something new.

It’s a small mark on what’s otherwise a gold-star update to an all-time classic RPG. Mario RPG is one of the most lovingly crafted re-releases we can remember, where underneath the striking HD visuals, you can still see the brush strokes of its original creators. This is an adventure well worth experiencing for players old and new.