Retro Review WAR: “Super Mario RPG” (SNES) VS. “Super Mario 64” (N64)
It’s 1996, and Nintendo’s Super Mario RPG was released only four months before Super Mario 64.
Super Mario RPG on May 13, and Super Mario 64 on September 29.
Also in 1996, cows were big mad about something… I don’t remember what.
90’s Nintendo Finance 101: Mario = $ // Mario x 2 = $$
Nintendo was not wrong. Both releases went on to sell millions, even well after 1996. Search out either title and you will easily find a digital sea of articles praising each individual game with common keywords such as: greatest, of, all, and time. In summary, people liked them, and people bought the s**t out of them.
However, no one is here to argue the legacy of either of these Mario entries. I personally played both games, and personally beat both games… but it was 25 years ago.
Here’s a little secret about me: I like to leave things alone. Especially things that I have fond memories of, and it so happens that I have the fondest of memories of both Super Mario RPG and Super Mario 64. I personally did not want to replay either title, as I prefer my glasses rose-tinted. So, I broke my own rule.
My results: Surprised.
“Mario, please come to the castle. I’ve baked a cake for you. Yours truly, Princess Toadstool.” – Mario 64
That opening letter was all that was needed to set the story into action for Mario 64, and we liked it that way. Check out these actual times noted from powering on the console to actual gameplay:
00:01:06- Powering on system -> control of title character.
00:02:30- Title character enters first World Map.
00:03:06- Title character punches first goomba in the f***ing face.
“Help!” – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Even less dialog was required to establish the call-to-action on the SNES:
00:00:56- Powering on system to control of title character.
00:01:01- Title character encounters first enemy.
00:03:06- Title character punches first koopa troopa in the f***ing face.
Winner of the Power On to Gameplay Ratio: Both Mario RPG & Mario 64
Loser of the Power On to Gameplay Ratio: Every PS3, PS4, and PS5 title today.
Super Mario 64: Underrated & Frustrating Fun
I will be honest, of the two titles, this game made me more nervous to replay. Although I loved the game as a kid, I remember the graphics being choppy, the platform hopping pissing me off, but the gameplay being addictingly fun and full of heart. So, how did I feel after playing the game 25 years later? I thought graphics were choppy, the platform hopping still pissed me off, and the gameplay being addicting, fun, and full of heart. Stunning right?
Contradictory to how I feel about the occasional choppy graphics, I always found the color palette, art style, and aesthetic mood for each world within this game excellent. From the introduction of the gorgeous Peach Castle, to the larger-than-life Bob-omb Battlefield, every world has its own look, feel, and unique high-energy soundtrack for maximum distinction. Even the gut wrenching chaos of Tick-Tock-Clock is impressive visually, if you can manage not to puke from motion sickness.
As far as gaming mechanics, this game is still on point 25 years later. Mario is not as CQC proficient as Solid Snake with his jab-cross-kick combo, but every tool in his belt, from wall jumping, backflipping, and gliding after being fired out of a cannon serves multiple, puzzle-solving, purposes and never feel shoehorned in.
The only complaint, and a minor one at that, was the wonky 360-degree camera. I lost count of the times a well-timed platform-hop was thwarted by the camera spinning out of control, and leading to so many audible curse words that even Jolly Roger Bay blocked me from entry.
This was not the first 3D platforming game, but it was certainly emulated, all the way up to the end of the N64 era.
Winner of the Sensory Overload Award: Super Mario 64
Super Mario RPG: A 4th Generation Legend Battling in a 5th Generation War
The first Mario game to wear the RPG-label, and last Mario game to be published on the SNES, this title was a huge gamble for both Nintendo and Square. The big question from a marketing standpoint was: How do we make anyone care about this title when a bigger, flashier, and next-gen release is coming out in just four months?
Well, to start with, hiring Chihiro Fujioka (Producer of FFIII) and Yoshihiko Maekawa (Producer of Parasite Eve) to direct was a pretty solid choice. The script and story written by Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario’s Dad) was a healthy addition, and hiring Yoko Shimomura (too many titles to list) to write the score was just about perfect. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars may have been published by Nintendo, but this was definitely a Square game, and it worked.
Knowing the limitations of the SNES, Square did not set out to outdo Mario 64. Instead, it focused on what it did best: story, character, and heart. Also, until my recent replay, I had completely forgotten how many mini-games and side-activities help distinguish this Square-developed game from being remembered as Final Fantasy: Mario. Mini-game breaks such as traveling down the Midas River, the Mushroom Derby, and Beetle Racing were not complex, but they definitely helped to break up the usual SNES JRPG monotony.
Ironically, as Super Mario 64 was prepping to give our hero an audible voice for the first time in the franchise, Square played with the idea of Mario being a silent protagonist. The result, letting brand new characters like Mallow from Tadpole Pond, Geno from Star Road, and even letting long-time nemesis Bowser and damsel-in-distress Princess Toadstool develop from cliché set pieces to real characters with their own motivations. These characters, in my opinion, are the highlight of the game.
In conclusion, my only gripe to Nintendo is, why haven’t you used these characters again? Geno, Mallow, Smithy, the Mario-Princess Toadstool-Bowser team-up? Nintendo, we know you are fully aware the running gag that you can’t create new IP’s, but look at how many directions you could have ran within the Super Mario RPG universe! Mallow and Geno could have splintered off back when the iron was hot. Honestly, any reason to return to this world would have been acceptable.
Who is extorting your creative properties Nintendo, I want to talk to their parents.
Winner of the One and Done Lovable Character Introductions: Super Mario RPG
Who Won Multi-Console Mario Battle? The Fans
1996 proved that there was, indeed, room for two mega-release Mario titles. Personally, I was surprised upon replay to find myself having a bit more fun with Super Mario 64, but I had a lot less moments wanting to throw my controller across the room with Super Mario RPG. Both are excellent games, even in 2022.
Honestly, deciding on whether one title is better than the other, is almost like being asked if you prefer hot blonde princesses or cake: Either way you win.
Thanks for reading!
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This was a great trip down memory lane! Thanks! And the cake was great, too! 😉
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