Why does a Mario game always have to be a platformer? That's a question I threw out back in the SNES days, back when Super Mario World first came out. Granted, I did love that game something silly, but I was really wondering, at the time of the system's launch, if more would be done, or if we would just get sequel after sequel.
And it looks like Nintendo proved me wrong. They released a number of great Mario adventures that went off the beaten path, including a kart racing game (Mario Kart) that would evolve into a franchise of its own, a Mario Paint game that provides hours of creative entertainment, and, best of all, a collaboration that would introduce Mario, as well as his friends and enemies, into a role-playing format.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a collaboration with Square Soft, a company that had produced some excellent RPG's for the SNES in its time, including Final Fantasy II and III, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger, among others. But it's their grasp on the Mario universe that made Seven Stars so spellbinding. It's taken something that's so recognizable and yet twisted it around so that it follows role-playing tactics, and yet remains just as delightfully fun to kids as it is to RPG addicts.
Granted, since that time, Square, through their new partnership with Enix, moved on to bigger things, as they broke away from Nintendo to work with Sony on even more legendary RPG stuff. But they eventually came back and made amends with Nintendo to produce a number of projects, including the recently released Theatrhythm and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS, with more to come.
But let's focus on the magic of Mario. For their last SNES project, Square really did some wonderful things for the system, producing gorgeous 16-bit graphics that made Mario's universe look more detailed than anything the Mario World games could do. The isometric setting really gave Mario and his friends room to move around in 3D, while still pertaining focus on the action at hand. As a result, it was new, but something that you could easily get into regardless.
The battle system didn't require any major brain work either. Sure, there are more intricate spells as the game goes on, as well as the introduction of new playable characters into the fold – including Bowser. That said, Square managed to remain steadfast with its gameplay style, and it continued to be rewarding, even with the turn-based approach. Some of the later battles are actually the game's better ones, taking advantage of the included Nintendo SA-1 chip technology, which, at the time, was revolutionary.
Square also worked its magic on the game's soundtrack, keeping familiarity with tunes while also presenting a sweeping epic tone. Credit Yoko Shimomura for that. This composer worked on a number of games over the years for the company, including Parasite Eve, Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts, and managed to make Seven Stars pack a wallop on the music front. Some of the sound effects are also quite good, and well worth a listen.
And for those of you keen-eyed players, there's also a secret or two hidden well within the game, including the ability to (temporarily) play as 8-bit Mario if you go through the right room later in the game. While these may not have been as memorable as, say, the warp pipes in the original Super Mario Bros., they were still a treat for whoever discovered them.
If you somehow missed out on the original game – or you're just not crazy about paying a hefty price for a boxed copy on the SNES – relax. It's available for a meager 800 points ($8) on the Wii Shop Channel, and well worth every penny if you're either a fan of Mario or classic Square adventure. And that's what makes it a perfect Game of Summer – memorable and, at the same time, affordable.
We'll see you next week for another Games of Summer!