ron, Aug-22 2008

Stoic VC Friday

So how about this: seeing as I already said everything I want to say about Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, I'll just talk about the relevant VC game that was released today.
Super Mario RPG is the foundation upon which the Paper Mario series and the handheld iterations Mario&Luigi: Superstar Saga and Partners In Time were built.

It's-a-him, Mario, starring in his usual grand quest to save the abducted princess. This time it's an RPG though, where platforming plays only a faint supporting role.
As usual on back-catalog.net, the above image is supremely clickable, leading to yet more of its kind!

While there are clear visual differences, this grandfather already includes the major unique traits of the series, most prominently the precisely timed button presses that will enhance your attack moves or help your defense. This adds an extra layer of engagement onto an otherwise traditional stat-driven, turn-based RPG combat engine. Its implementation is quite simple here, and the feedback the game gives you about how well you did isn't as good as in later games, but even so it makes regular encounters that little bit more interesting.
In terms of variety of different motions, Partners In Time probably does it best. That game seems to be all about correctly reading the enemies little taunts and anticipating which attack they're about to do. And just when you have all current enemies completely figured out, you're moving on to another area and everything's different again.
The foundation is already there in Super Mario RPG, even though not as strong.

Group attacks such as this thunder spell can just as well be boosted with a well-timed button press. The timing differs between moves, and as your characters level up and gain more special skills, there's something new to adapt to every hour or so.

The game's RPG system is reductionist but solid. Each character is already cast into a specific role. Your customization is limited to picking a bonus at level up, to bolster either your physical stats, magic, or hit points. Equipment is very simple too, with just a weapon, one piece of "armor" and an accessory to wear. Paper Mario's idea of badges that require badge points is still absent from Super Mario RPG.
Its greatest strength is the sheer variety of the locales along the journey. In good tradition of Mario games, realism is a non-issue here, and the designers were free to create strange, improbable places. Unfortunately it takes a while before that aspect really starts off.

Here, have a world map. As you can see, Super Mario RPG is quite substantial.

As far as availability on the Virtual Console goes, Paper Mario is the preferable pick. It has better writing, stronger cutomization, and is overall the more rounded, more beautiful, funnier game. If you're done with Paper Mario though, and loved it, Super Mario RPG is the next best thing in line. Considering the length of the game, it's also among the better values on the Virtual Console now.

Recommended.

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