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Mario Video Game Playthroughs

Super Mario RPG is the Perfect Breezy Game for My Quarantine Brain

RPGs are known for being long and complex. This makes sense; role playing allows you to inhabit a character or a set of characters and explore their world. There are usually systems that dictate battle mechanics and character interactions. These can range in complexity especially as your party of controllable characters grow. This is obviously intimidating for anyone who has never played RPGs before and can be downright inscrutable for young players. But what if a game took all those mechanics and simplified them as much as possible? Gave players a small set of character sets, simple equipment upgrades, and an easy to follow progression? What if it starred Mario and came out in 1996?

Super Mario RPG, the celebrated SNES game, is still an absolute joy 14 years later. It’s simple, funny, and easy to follow and progress through the story. It’s light and accessible which is very much in line with Mario’s modern games. It takes the RPG systems of the time, turn based battles specifically, and smooths them down into a digestible flow. After playing multiple other RPGs this year (FFXII and X, Disco Elysium) it was nice to have one where I can just cruise and turn my brain off.

Super Mario RPG Tadpole Pond

The story is slight and really just more of an avenue to get you from place to place. It opens very strongly though; Mario, locked in his eternal battle with Bowser, is attempting to rescue Princess Peach (or Toadstool in this game, remember before her name change?). They’re interrupted by a giant sword striking through the castle. This sword belongs to a new evil doer named Smithy who has destroyed the “Star Road” preventing wishes from being granted. Mario thus begins his journey through the mushroom kingdom, recruiting new one off characters to his party alongside Princess Toadstool and Bowser (more on that in a minute). Along the way you’ll get periodic updates on the story from Mario in the form of silent act outs, where he literally transforms into other characters to convey what happened (it’s amazing). 

Said journey through the Mushroom Kingdom offers a great opportunity to riff on what it’s inhabitants and towns look like. You’ll visit towns full of Toads, ponds with great frog sages (all hail Frogfucius), shark pirates and a town full of retired monsters. All of the towns are varied and full of charm and it makes running around talking to each of the inhabitants a joy. The game is also incredibly funny, offering in jokes on the mushroom kingdom to bizarre riffs. You’ll have toads referencing bazukas (which I missed the first time, thank you Brady for sending that), crazy shut-ins attempting to host a wedding ceremony, and Mario almost punching a child. Comedy in games is incredibly hard but this game hits often.

It may be a blessing and a curse that there are so many memorable characters that haven’t been incorporated in future games. This is an unfortunate effect from Miyamoto’s supposed disdain for this type of game (and continues to plague their teams). That also means they never wore out their welcome and we get some incredible snapshots here. You get a variety of Mario universe characters; lots of Toads, Goombas, Koopas, and even chained up Donkey Kongs as an enemy type? 

Super Mario RPG Donkey Kong Enemy
The Cursed Kong

Outside that a lot of the major characters are taken from a completely different design philosophy. Take Mallow, your first party member. He believes he’s a tadpole, but he’s actually a cloud prince from Nimbus Land. Still following? Mallow is genuinely my favorite character in the whole thing. He’s essentially a plucky anime protagonist but in the form of a cloud. He’s always positive, naive, and just an all around bundle of joy. His origins are initially clouded in mystery; he grew up at Tadpole Pond under the guidance of Frogfucius and only just learns that he was adopted. It’s fairly obvious he’s not a Tadpole, but learning of his royal birth late in the game is a great payoff. As soon as you enter Nimbus Land and see other similar looking cloud people things start to click. Pepper in a plot to steal the kingdom from Mallow’s parents by a cocteau-like woman and it’s the perfect recipe for ridiculous shenanigans.

Nimbus Town Shrine
Mallow in the middle, as he should be

Geno, the other completely original character in your party, doesn’t get the same treatment. Even if you haven’t played this game, you may have heard of Geno as one of the characters people constantly shout about adding to Smash Bros (and they delivered a gut punch by making him a costume). He’s a very thin character, a being from the Star Road that inhabits a child’s  toy to help Mario. His introduction is the best part as the toy comes to life randomly in the dead of night (this scene follows after the aforementioned scene where Mario tries to punch the kid for saying Geno was cooler than him). After he joins your party his plotline just stops. No further characterization and at the end he just gets to wave goodbye. I can see why people might like him if they grew up with this game. He’s modeled after the “cool hero” archetype and he has the most varied type of equipment. As a character though, he’s kind of a non-entity.

Bowser Crying Animation

This game is really Bowser’s though. This is the first game where we get to see another side of Bowser; the type of sensitive guy who just can’t catch a break. When the sword fell, Bowser lost everything. His crew is in shambles, the princess is missing, and he can’t even go back to his castle. Bowser tries to play macho and put together through the game but it’s a transparent facade. When he joins your party, he graciously ignores their will and deems the party honorary members of his Koopa Troop. It works so well and you can’t help but laugh every time the game takes him down a peg. He tries to break down doors and bounces right off them and tries to scare off enemies to little effect (besides the end castle). His crying animation is honestly one of the best parts of the game.

There are plenty of memorable characters outside of the core party as well. Booster’s Tower (the best part of the game) is home to the eponymous Booster, a shut in who doesn’t know much about the world but prefers to play with his toys and the sniffets that serve him. Toadstool happens to land in his home so he decides that they must have a party and the only party he knows about is marriage. Cue Mario and his crews attempt to rescue her and Booster slowly antagonizes them through his tower. He rides large toy trains around the party, spies from behind paintings and generally just performs screwball antics the entire time. He’s an absolute delight from start to finish.

Booster's Tower

There are plenty of memorable characters outside of the core party as well. Booster’s Tower (the best part of the game) is home to the eponymous Booster, a shut in who doesn’t know much about the world but prefers to play with his toys and the sniffets that serve him. Toadstool happens to land in his home so he decides that they must have a party and the only party he knows about is marriage. Cue Mario and his crews attempt to rescue her and Booster slowly antagonizes them through his tower. He rides large toy trains around the party, spies from behind paintings and generally just performs screwball antics the entire time. He’s an absolute delight from start to finish.

2D Mario Reference
Lots of nuggets like this one

Super Mario RPG is chock full of references to both Mario, Final Fantasy (this was developed by Square after all) and general pop culture from the time. You can run into Samus sleeping at an inn, someone that looks like Link that plays the discovery Zelda music, and a secret boss that harkens back to Final Fantasy 4. In Japan they even had enemies make anime references that were never ported over to English (seriously read through these if you have a chance). My favorite is the crew of the Axiom Rangers who make the most of their brief time on screen. These nods to the Sentai Power Rangers steal a star out from under you and then force you to fight on their battleship. They posture much like the original Rangers do and even have a Zordon head behind them. Unfortunately I’m not sure they survive the destruction of their ship.

You may notice that I haven’t really touched on playing it at all. It’s very much akin to all of the turn based RPGs on the SNES. You’ll take turns issuing commands to your characters then waiting as the enemies do the same. They streamline a lot of the more complex systems out so you’re left with basic attacks, items, and super moves that are unique to each character. There’s rarely big damage on either side so there’s no real threat of losing. The minor twist is rhythm based attacks. If you hit the button at just the right moment, you’ll do bonus damage. The alternative works too; if you time your button press right when an enemy attack lands you’ll take minimal or no damage. It’s something that’s been carried over into the other Mario RPGs, but it’s not terribly fun here.

Captain Johny Fight

Super Mario RPG is just a fun, breezy ride through the Mushroom Kingdom. It takes the general concept of the Mario Universe and just has fun with it in a way that’s fairly rare nowadays. Company’s prize lore bibles now, but this was during a nascent stage where Square was able to just run with it. Maybe that’s why it’s not being brought forward onto the Nintendo Switch (gotta break out the Wii U for this) which is a damn shame. It’s a perfect game for quarantine, something light and enjoyable to break up the heavy life stuff. All hail Prince Mallow.

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