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Super Mario RPG remake is gloriously faithful to an all-time great – hands-on preview

Remakes can go one of two ways, but you'll be pleased to know this SNES throwback is hyper-faithful – perhaps to a fault.

The little, squat version of Mario stands looking a bit worried in front of a nice, cosy house and a signpost in a screenshot for Super Mario RPG remake.
Image credit: NINTENDO

Gaming do-overs are big business now – remakes, remasters, and reimaginings are all the rage. They also come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. But for my money, Nintendo’s upcoming Super Mario RPG is of the best kind: hyper-faithful, perhaps to a fault.

As the old saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? And such is the case for Super Mario RPG remake. It’s easy to forget that this is the game that essentially launched a couple of different spin-off franchises. It’s not really clear if we’d have Paper Mario without this game; and certainly, the Mario & Luigi RPG series has a direct lineage to this game, even sharing a composer.

My point, anyway, is that Super Mario RPG is a classic. I’d actually go so far as to say it’s one of the very best games in the Super Nintendo’s library – one of the best consoles of all time. That perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a marriage of a confident, industry-leading Nintendo and the RPG kings at Square, who at the time of Mario RPG’s original release were in between Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 – arguably the two most important RPG creations out of Japan.

All of this is to say; it wasn’t broken. And while we’re a way off from being able to offer a full review of Super Mario RPG, I am today able to report on some of my early hours with the game - and I’m thrilled to report that largely, it hasn’t been fixed.

Birdo, in a pink bow, pops out of an egg that's decorated with purple splotches.
Birdos of a feather. | Image credit: Nintendo

There’s quality-of-life changes here and there, some balancing adjustments, and general shifts. But ultimately, this is the same game - gleefully faithful.

It would’ve been easy, for instance, for Nintendo to replace the slightly squashed, chubby-looking Mario & co. from RPG with the more sanitized, ‘standard’ Mario we’re used to seeing everywhere in 2023. But it hasn’t. Instead, the pre-rendered characters from the SNES have been replaced with near-identical looking 3D models – full of character, still with that chubby, clay-like appearance. This makes for a lovely pairing with Mario Wonder, which also has a more unique and stylized look to its characters.

Temptation has even been resisted to give these models too many frames of animation, so they still flicker between different animation states with the low-framed chaotic look of the SNES originals, which forms a huge part of the character of the game.

Super Mario RPG screen: the party in battle in a jungle biome, all rich greens and vibrant brown earths.
Vibrant, right? | Image credit: Nintendo

It’s the same, but just cleaner, sharper. Modern. The same is true of the soundtrack, which sees Yoko Shimomura return to remaster and rearrange one of her most iconic works. The dialogue still has a 90s flair, too, even though it’s a fresh translation. There’s a silly edginess that is very much of that era, and I love it.

I like a good remake or remaster, but to be honest, I don’t always trust Nintendo with ‘em. Some of the lighting changes to Wind Waker always felt a bit 'fanmade Unreal Engine demo' to me, for instance. And in other instances, changes meant to ‘modernize’ an old game have butchered its structure, as with Super Mario 64 DS.

But even in Mario RPG’s early hours, I can see that this is the same game - just made anew, reborn with a beautiful HD presentation. Don’t get me wrong - there are changes that we’ll need to dissect at review, and in the weeks after release.

Peach, Bowser, Mario, and others stand in a half-circle, holding a star above their heads.
Star power, indeed. | Image credit: Nintendo

But they are subtle, not sweeping. There’s no shame in the fact that it’s a slower-paced turn-based RPG, or in its quirky art-style. The realization has been made that these things are exactly what made this game magical, and so it is all lovingly retained. And with that said, I’m going to head back to playing it. Look out for our review closer to release.

Super Mario RPG comes to Nintendo Switch on November 17, 2023.

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