Super Mario RPG Review – The Enemy of My Enemy…

Super Mario RPG on Switch

When you’ve been rehashing the same ol’ conflict for so long, things tend to get a little bit stale. You start to recognize the familiar beats. Peach gets kidnapped, Bowser tries to marry her, Mario saves the day. What better way to freshen things up than by completely cutting Bowser’s castle in half in the opening of Super Mario RPG, and introducing a whole new threat that all parties now have to deal with? As the old adage goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and having Bowser and Mario team up against a new face is incredibly charming.

The premise really is that simple. Things have gone awfully wrong in the Mushroom Kingdom. Peach goes missing after Bowser’s castle gets destroyed, and Mario quickly befriends new allies Mallow and Geno. The former is a marshmallow-looking dude who swears he’s a frog, while the latter is some sort of being who descended from the cosmos and is looking to collect seven stars to help battle the new threat, Smithy.

In an effort to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Smithy, Mario works together with his allies and even brings Peach and Bowser into the fold. Paired with fun turn-based RPG mechanics, a lighthearted story, and extremely cute team attacks, Super Mario RPG ends up being a great palette cleanser and easy play for anyone just looking for a relaxing time.

For folks looking for an in-depth, complex turn-based RPG a la Octopath Traveler or your typical Final Fantasy game where there can be tons of min-maxing involved, Super Mario RPG is not that kind of game. Instead, what you have here is a pared down version of those games. You’ll equip a weapon, armor, and accessory on each character, and each time you level up, you get to increase their HP, physical stats, or magical stats.

Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

Things are kept very simple here, right down to status effects and afflictions. The only remotely tricky thing about combat is the timing system, where you can push the A button at the right time to execute a perfect block or land a critical hit, not unlike what we saw in the recent Sea of Stars. As you might’ve guessed, crits deal more damage as well as splash damage to nearby enemies, while perfect blocks prevent you from taking any damage at all.

A new addition to Super Mario RPG is the gauge and Triple Move attacks. As you pull off more crits and blocks, a gauge at the bottom left corner of the screen fills up. Once it’s full, you hit the – button to unleash a Triple Move, which varies depending on your current party combination. The Triple Moves not only deal a crap-ton of damage, but also come with some seriously charming animations and cutscenes that’ll never fail to put a smile on your face.

It’s not always easy to determine when you need to push the A button to fill the gauge an exclamation point icon shows up to indicate the timing, though I’ve found it’s not very reliable but it’s the little things that help Super Mario RPG feel just that little bit more special than your typical RPG.

Generally speaking, I managed to coast through the game on its default difficulty setting, though it still bears mentioning that the game’s difficulty curve can ramp up quite a bit if you’re not actively seeking out every combat encounter in each level. You don’t necessarily have to grind, but Super Mario RPG can get a little tricky if you’re consciously avoiding combat, which is certainly something I was prone to do.

Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

While Super Mario RPG does feel incredibly polished and cleaned up for a modern audience, it does suffer from one major drawback: slow battles. This isn’t an issue once you’ve out-leveled the enemies in your area, but I found that combat encounters could be quite time-consuming. It’s a mix of several things: slow animations, characters afflicted with sleep and forcing you to wait them out… It can be a slog is what I’m saying, and it makes the game feel more dragged out than it needs to be.

Combine that with the fact that you do need to engage in all these combat encounters in order to keep up, and Super Mario RPG can end up feeling like a bit of a chore to get through every now and then.

That’s honestly my only real complaint with Super Mario RPG. For all the work Nintendo put into making the game feel more modern and streamlined, with good-looking character models and sleek menus, I couldn’t help but wish there was some sort of speed-up option for battles, or some way to skip them entirely once you had out-leveled your foes sufficiently similar to what Bravely Default does.

Image Source: Nintendo via Twinfinite

Still, these are very minor gripes in what’s otherwise a very charming and magical game. It’s hard to describe that feeling or pure, unadulterated joy I get from watching Mario, Bowser, and Mallow fly around in a teacup as Mallow hurls magic at my foes with a wide, cheesy grin on his face. In fact, it’s almost enough to make me forget the hours I spent slogging through a bunch of slow combat encounters. Almost.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I got to play this refined version of Super Mario RPG. It’s a game that garnered quite a bit of critical and fan acclaim back when it first released in 1996, and the 2023 remake is a loving recreation that will appeal to both longtime fans and newcomers alike. While I wish it could’ve been just a little bit more streamlined, it’s hard to complain too much about a game that just makes you smile and feel good for playing it.

Super Mario RPG

Reviewer: Zhiqing Wan

Award: Editor’s Choice