Super Mario RPG Remake Review Roundup: Dated But Charming

Super Mario RPG was a revelation when it came to the SNES in 1996. A mashup of everyone’s favorite platforming plumber and the turn-based, stat-driven combat of a Final Fantasy game proved to be an enduring mix that spawned multiple spiritual successors. Does Nintendo’s remake of the retro gem on Switch do it justice? Initial reviews say yes, even if dated mechanics and some writing changes make it feel more conservative by the standards of 2023.

The Super Mario RPG remake gives a fresh 3D coat of paint and some new gameplay wrinkles to a game about Mario teaming up with friends and enemies to unravel the mystery of some magic stars that are messing things up across the Toadstool Kingdom and beyond. Light platforming and timed attacks during combat spice up the traditional turn-based encounters dungeon slog, with the seeds of the idiosyncratic humor that blossomed in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series buried throughout.

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It sounds like all of this is more or less intact. The review consensus ahead of the November 17 launch seems to be that Super Mario RPG remake is a beautiful and streamlined recreation of the original that will win over existing fans and is more welcoming to newcomers, but doesn’t exactly hold up as a bonafide must-play the way some remember the original, or take any meaningful new risks.

The game currently has an 84 on Metacritic and an 87 on Open Critic. “Now there’s no excuse not to see why Mario’s most unexpected adventure is still so beloved,” wrote IGN’s Tom Marks, who gave the game an 8 out of 10. GameSpot’s Steven Petit called it more of a remaster than a true remake, but praised it nonetheless. Edge’s Chris Schilling was less impressed. “Objectively fun, but I’d have much preferred either a re-release or a properly reimagined version, not this cosmetically-enhanced uncanny-valley halfway house,” he tweeted.

Mario and friends fight on an isometric battlefield.

Screenshot: Nintendo

Here’s what other reviewers are saying about the Nintendo Switch’s latest nostalgia trip:

While Mario RPG’s breezy pace and frequent scene changes ensure it seldom drags, none of it could be mistaken for a modern video game, and it feels as though this remake is more likely to find an audience among aging nostalgists than a new generation of first-time role-players. But really, that’s to ArtePiazza, Nintendo, and Square Enix’s credit. Because this is Super Mario RPG with its barmy, clumsy, endearingly unfiltered soul intact — preserved, hopefully, for the next 27 years.

This Switch remake does an incredible job of sanding off the rough edges of the original to make that charm shine through in 2023. Other Mario RPGs have offered more substantial experiences that better combine goofy gags with robust role-playing adventures, but the zany shenanigans of Super Mario RPG are still worth enjoying today, and the remake is easily the absolute best way to do just that.

But even beloved classics can show signs of age. It feels like a missed opportunity to not apply more meaningful changes to Super Mario RPG beyond mere visuals. This version could have included new combat mechanics, new story sections or details, or even new minigames. Super Mario RPG is a classic, but there’s undoubtedly room for improvement, and streamlining or altering parts of the original would have been justifiable. As a remake Super Mario RPG is fine, but there’s a sense that this could have been better. At the very least, the fact that a new generation will get to experience a defining RPG like it was new, is good enough.

That said, Super Mario RPG doesn’t exactly stun or wow with its aesthetics. It gets the job done, don’t get me wrong. It just doesn’t often aim much higher than that. It’s not really a bad thing, but in context, Super Mario RPG was one of the SNES’ more distinct and impressive-looking games. That specific appeal is lost here, and I imagine some purists may prefer the original game for that reason.

I hesitate to call Super Mario RPG an improvement over the 1996 version. It’s still the same whimsical adventure that I’ll never tire of playing, but it loses a bit of what made the original special amid a stack of tweaks that go both too far and not far enough. I imagine that a lot of players will stick to the original on future replays, opting to soak in its dense pixels and dark landscapes. I can still see those images clearly when I close my eyes, that mysterious box art beckoning me back to my Super Nintendo. The Switch remake is a safe way to visit that ominous world in broad daylight, but I yearn to return to those blackened skies over a sword-pierced castle.

Nintendo may have a conflicted relationship with its history, but if there’s one thing the company loves, it’s selling you classic games over and over again. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of platforms on which I own games like Super Metroid and Super Mario Bros. 3. That lack of attention from Nintendo is part of what makes Super Mario RPG such a curiosity — and its new remake on the Switch such a welcome sight.

Revisiting the game more than 25 years later in this new remade shape shows the original formula did not need much tweaking to deliver an engaging and enjoyable journey. Super Mario RPG is not entirely innocent of the sins of video games past, but old fans will relish the chance to see the game in a new light, and I’m confident newcomers will find something to love.

I knew I would enjoy my return to Super Mario RPG. I love the Mario and Luigi games very dearly, and it’s always interesting to go back to the start of things. I wasn’t prepared for how much I’d be drawn in, though. Drawn in by that no-fuss campaign with its brilliant jokes and glorious whirlwind combat. I’ve loved my time with this game, and it’s that rare remake that really preserves the spirit of the original very precisely.

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