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Nintendo "Super Mario RPG" review: Patient gamers will love this updated classic

Super Mario RPG
Jason R. Rich

Nintendo has remade the 1996 classic "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars" for the Nintendo Switch, and it's already become a bestseller. The new game has updated graphics and some improved gameplay mechanisms, while keeping all of the classic dialogue and story of the SNES original.

Even if you're not a fan of traditional RPGs, don't write off "Super Mario RPG." It's more reminiscent of a lighthearted Pokemon game with constant exploration, rather than, say, a more elaborate Final Fantasy-type game with complex mechanics and dark storylines.

I went hands on with "Super Mario RPG" to see how well it stands up to the original, and whether I would recommend you play it yourself. (Spoiler alert: Tap the button below to get a copy of this game now; you'll love it.)

"Super Mario RPG": At a glance

Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review
Jason R. Rich

Platform: Nintendo Switch | Number of Players: 1 | Rating: E (Everyone) | Publisher: Nintendo | Game File Size: 6.4GB | Genre: RPG | Supported Switch Play Modes: TV mode, Tabletop mode, Handheld mode

"Super Mario RPG" is a single-player game for the original Nintendo SwitchNintendo Switch OLED Model, or Nintendo Switch Lite. You can play using the Switch's Joy-Con controller or the optional Nintendo Switch Pro Controller ($69). On a Switch Lite, the game works with the controls built into the handheld device. The title can be played using any of the Switch's game play modes, but I recommend the TV mode. The beautifully rendered graphics look their best on a larger size screen.

While "Super Mario RPG" has many elements of a traditional, deeper RPG -- such as puzzles and turn-based battles -- this adventure takes place in a more whimsical world suitable for all ages. It features well-known characters, like Mario, Bowser and Princess Peach, many reprising their first-ever speaking roles in the franchise. In other games, Mario and Bowser are archenemies, but in this adventure, they eventually team up and work together.

There are two ways to experience "Super Mario RPG": A "normal" game mode that you might remember from 1996, and an easier new "breezy" difficulty mode. It makes enemies weaker; items easier to get; and leveling faster, so you can quickly push past battles and enjoy the storyline.

10 things that make "Super Mario RPG" a fun adventure

Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review

Just like in "Super Mario Bros. Wonder," Nintendo clearly put a lot of thought and effort into designing "Super Mario RPG." It allows players to visit a visually fascinating world while encountering a wide variety of familiar and new characters. Here are 10 of my favorite things about "Super Mario RPG," and reasons why I think many gamers will love it.

  • The game stars Mario and several other iconic Nintendo characters, all of whom are rendered using highly detailed graphics.
  • The storyline is rather intricate. There's a lot more to do here than just save Princess Peach.
  • Each of the player areas looks different, features a fresh collection enemies, and incorporates its own navigational challenges.
  • Clues and important information are revealed when Mario (or the character you're controlling) interacts with other friendlies.
  • It's easy to avoid battles if you want. Anytime an enemy is nearby, Mario and his team can avoid a confrontation by keeping their distance. Mario can often leap over an enemy too. But if a battle ensues, there's always the "run away" option.
  • Multiple power ups and items that can be used to keep your characters in a battle. 
  • Each character on your team has a special move that packs more of a wallop than basic attacks. Using them requires flowers that must be collected or earned. You always have the option to return to Mushroom Kingdom or Mario's Pad to take a nap. This will replenish your flower supply. 
  • Yes, battles can get repetitious, but they yield XP points and coins. Every area presents fresh challenges, and it's up to you to discover what's required. You'll likely spend at least an hour (sometime more) in each area just to make your way through it. However, when you need to return to those locations later, you'll know the route and the secrets to pass through quickly. 
  • The non-interactive animated scenes are gorgeous... and often do double duty by revealing important information. 

"Super Mario RPG" gameplay

Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review

On the surface, "Super Mario RPG" is rather simplistic RPG -- you explore, battle, collect coins, boost your team's XP and repeat. Part of the strategy of the game involves discovering your own strength and weaknesses, plus the strengths of weaknesses of the enemies you meet. Traditional Mario logic works well here -- you don't want to use a standard jump attack on enemies with spikes on their backs.

This game also requires some patience. There's a lot to do and a lot to explore, but there's also a lot of repetition and revisiting locations you've been to in the past. Even the turn-based battles don't often progress as quickly as you might like.  (Not a patient person? The "breezy" mode can speed things along.)

You'll get plenty of consumable items along the way, and you'll be tempted to use them to avoid taking damage and to move battles along. But be careful: You'll need those resources and special moves to beat some of the game's boss fights and optional challenges. And speaking of optional -- there are plenty of secrets to discover here, including powerful items, hidden characters and puzzles that'll require some travel and brainpower. And yes, for those who remember the 1996 game: The near-impossible-to-beat optional boss fight is included here, too.

While players are guided along a specific route, you can always deviate and go backwards, gather supplies you need and acquire additional knowledge. It may take an hour or two of gameplay to get fully acquainted with the interface and mechanics.

What I didn't like about "Super Mario RPG"

  • When it comes to the battles, they're turn-based. And while the characters have different fighting moves and there's some strategy involved to win each battle, those the battles become repetitive. You need many battle victories to level up your characters.
  • The music and sound effects change up as you visit new locations, but particularly during battles are very repetitious, just like the battle sequences themselves. I found this a bit frustrating. I sometimes turned down the volume to give my ears a break from the monotony. 
  • Some areas, like Kero Sewers, seem like endless mazes that send you around in circles. It's easy to get lost. 
  • During battles, how much damage you need to inflict on some enemies is not obvious. So it's easy to wind up wasting resources using skills and moves that aren't needed, when basic attacks would work just fine.

Final thoughts

There's always something happening in Super Mario RPG. I sometimes found it hard to stay engaged with the characters and storyline, since there are so many spontaneous battles that often stop you in your tracks. And, while battle sequences are visually impressive, they tend be be overly repetitive.

Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review

Some RPGs are so enthralling you can lose yourself for hours. That's not the case with "Super Mario RPG." While the game does offer plenty to see and do, I found my patience with it running low. I'd play for an hour or two, exit of the game to do other things and then return, sometimes days later. 

But visually, I don't know how Nintendo could have made this game any better. Little about the music and sound effects stand out, mainly due to their repetitive nature. I would have loved to see the battle sequences offer less repetition as well. 

During the many parts of the adventure that require exploration, it would have been nice if they had included more jumping, pouncing, climbing and classic Mario maneuvers. Yes, adding these elements would have given "Super Mario RPG" more of an action or adventure vibe, but because this is a Mario Bros. game (at least in some sense) and it offers an upgraded look to a classic game, a bit more of that trademark Mario action might have made it appeal to a broader audience of fans.

Ultimately, people who appreciate gameplay reminiscent of classic Pokemon titles, and who have the patience to participate in countless turn-based battles will enjoy "Super Mario RPG." It deviates a lot from what someone would expect from a traditional RPG, yet doesn't offer enough action to fall into the action/adventure category. I feel this game would have been just as good if it featured any other characters who weren't from the Super Mario Bros. franchise. 

While the game carries an "E" rating, which is deserves based on the type of content it offers, the people who will appreciate it more will be over the age of 16 and who more patient gamers not looking for that quick adrenaline or dopamine rush that's often associated with action-based games.

Who will enjoy playing "Super Mario RPG"

Super Mario RPG (Switch) Review

Action games like "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" are easy for most gamers to pick and enjoy quickly. "Super Mario RPG" offers the same high-quality graphics, but it's more about telling a story -- allowing players to make decisions, solve challenges and participate in turn-based battles. That means the game offers less of a continuous adrenaline rush and more of a sit-back-and-enjoy-the-story vibe. The game may appeal to fans of the Super Mario Bros. franchise, but it exposes them to a totally different experience than they might be used to. If you've never played an RPG, this is a good one to start with. 

The game requires a fair amount of reading, so younger players may find it less satisfying that more traditional action/adventures. But older gamers who have more patience and a willingness to explore will love it. It pays homage to the original "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Seas" released in 1996. So, if you fall into this category, I highly recommend adding "Super Mario RPG" to your Switch gaming library and setting aside between 15 and 20 hours (in normal mode) to experience all that this game has to offer.

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