Super Mario RPG Review – Wish upon a classic star

Super Mario RPG is a flashy remake that brings its SNES predecessor to modern audiences in gorgeous fashion.
super mario rpg review

I didn’t grow up with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the classic Super Nintendo game that brought Mario into a Final Fantasy-inspired world of turn-based battling and monster quests. Yet it’s always remained a fascinating game to me, for its devotion to being outright strange, and including tidbits of Super Mario lore that have seldom been touched by the modern games. With Super Mario RPG for Nintendo Switch, a fully-fledged remake, I’ve finally been able to explore it at length – and even without the rose-coloured lenses of nostalgia, it’s proved to be an adventure that holds up incredibly well.

As in all Mario adventures, its tale begins with Bowser – only this time, Bowser has been supplanted by a giant sword known as Exor, who suddenly takes up residence in Bowser’s Castle. In falling to the earth, Exor exiles Bowser, and also breaks up the Star Road – a rainbow road that grants wishes. In a kingdom of powerless Toads, it’s up to the legendary Mario to save the day, travelling the world and recovering each of the Seven Stars that make up the magical road.

Along the way, Mario meets a number of allies with unique abilities, all of whom play an essential part in making it through each level, and saving the Mushroom Kingdom from a dire fate.

Charmingly dated

super mario rpg review
Screenshot: GamesHub

The original Super Mario RPG launched in 1996, and it’s a clear product of its era. The new Super Mario RPG is strongly faithful to this adventure in its approach to exploration, adventure, and combat, with only light tweaks to certain elements hauling it into modernity.

The natural result of this devotion is that Super Mario RPG feels charmingly dated, with its level design – while now packed with visual flair – feeling fairly basic. It’s a callback to simpler times, with isometric levels based on simple grids, and each location brimming with familiarity (there’s a lava level, a sand level, a forest level, and so on.)

But there is a warmth to this game design, too – with each level now boasting intricate details and sweeping vistas. Each tree now has individual leaves. Nimbus Land is light and fluffy, and filled with quirky cloud people. The lava pits ooze and flow with life, and Tadpole Pond brims with tiny aquatic life. And there are also enough subtle tweaks to the gameplay formula to elevate the adventure beyond its comforting, throwback nature.

Read: Super Mario RPG remake will reintroduce the best Yoshi

As in the original, the combat system goes beyond being simply turn-based, requiring active participation for the biggest impact. You’ll control up to three characters in your party, with each able to enhance their abilities or diminish enemy actions by pressing button commands at just the right moment. The windows are small, and occasionally frustrating, but they add an exciting layer of tension to battles in the quest for perfect attacks – executing one successfully will now deal damage to all enemies in the battle.

super mario rpg
Screenshot: GamesHub

There are also new ‘triple moves’ that can be deployed after building an action gauge, and these unleash a cinematic attack that brings a sense of flash and style to each encounter. It’s a simple tweak, but one that allows the combat of Super Mario RPG to sing, while providing some relief from constant skirmishes.

It should be noted that Super Mario RPG is a fairly difficult game. This is, after all, an RPG from the late 1990s. Thankfully, the new version features an easy difficulty mode for those who may struggle, and the revamped combat system here provides opportunity and hope in those tougher battles. The early stages of the adventure throw up plenty of difficult encounters, but with time and understanding of the active combat system, your strength builds at a solid pace.

Super Mario RPG manages a neat balance between this challenge and adventuring, with each boss fight and skirmish allowing you to grow your prowess, and travel further beyond the Mushroom Kingdom, into more beautiful and complex worlds.

Tongue in cheek

The further you travel, the more Super Mario RPG reveals itself – and what a strange, colourful, and charming game it becomes. As mentioned, Super Mario RPG is often treated as the black sheep of the franchise, with so many of the characters, concepts, and moments that take place being purposefully left behind in modern Nintendo canon. But for all its oddness, it’s also funny, silly, and wonderfully memorable.

In each location, you’ll typically find a cast of interesting characters, each with their own sense of personality and tiny little jokes which overall, still land well. The Toads in particular are a riot, with their overblown reverence for Mario, and their off-putting, blasé comments about the dangers they face every day. Valentina, the primary boss of Nimbus Land, is also a ridiculous, wonderful caricature of a femme fatale who’s endearing because she’s so over-the-top.

super mario rpg valentina
Image: GamesHub

There are visual gags in the way Mario and his friends wordlessly re-enact major battles to spread the news through the Mushroom Kingdom. There are name puns along the way too, and moments that wring humour from the outright absurd. While not every slice of humour is pitch-perfect – like when Mario finds Peach’s ??? in her bedroom, or when Axem Pink retires from battle as her makeup is running – Super Mario RPG largely maintains a strong sense of humour, injecting joy into its grim narrative.

It’s considerably darker than other games in the Mario series, with its constant onslaught of enemies and challenging puzzles, but with a cynical humour that actually feels more suited to modern times, it manages a balanced tone quite well. With mounting battles on all sides, and plenty of tough opponents in its gauntlet of challenges, the humour is an essential narrative twist that keeps the beat alive.

Slice of History

In its approach to being a faithful recreation of one of the strangest Mario games, Super Mario RPG is a triumph. The original game was an oddity – but one certainly worth remembering, particularly for modern audiences. In retrospect, it’s fair to say Legend of the Seven Stars was a game before its time.

super mario rpg princess peach
Image: GamesHub

It was critically acclaimed on release yet arguably, it feels like it would be more appreciated amongst modern audiences – particularly those who grew up playing Paper Mario or Mario & Luigi, both franchises inspired by this game.

While dated design means other parts of the tale don’t hold up quite as well as its biting comedy, Super Mario RPG remains a strong adventure with challenging combat, and plenty of unique quirks. By maintaining its spirit beneath a fresh lick of paint, Nintendo has created a welcome opportunity to experience or re-experience one of the most important games in Super Mario history.

Four stars: ★★★★

Super Mario RPG
 Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 17 November 2023

Super Mario RPG : Standard - Nintendo Switch [Digital Code]
Buy Now
GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

The copy of Super Mario RPG for Nintendo Switch was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are scored on a five-point scale. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.