In this series of 30 daily articles celebrating the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Super Mario, various members of the Nintendo Life extended family will share their memories and thoughts on the iconic franchise. Next up is reviewer and news contributor Tim Latshaw.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is technically a single-player game, but was often jury-rigged into a multiplayer experience whenever I showed it to a friend.
We'd huddle around the SNES, each claiming a character in the party and passing the controller back and forth so we could enter a single attack or item use when it was their turn. Ownership of the third character would often be negotiated and alternated on a round-by-round basis. This was often Geno, because his coolness was way too prolific to fall under the hands of just one player.
Perhaps this wasn't the most efficient way to go about playing the game, but it was one I didn't mind in the least. Super Mario RPG was such a fresh take on the Mario universe at the time that it begged to be shared. The fact it didn't see light in Europe until 2008 is a crime I would have cried out against in letters to Nintendo Power had only my younger, 1996 self been more globally aware at the time. Forgive me, my trans-Atlantic friends.
Before Super Mario RPG, our perspective into the world of the most famous fictional plumber was pretty flat, and not just in terms of dimensions on a screen. Just about all there was to know back then was that Mario and Luigi were the good guys, Bowser was the bad guy, and Peach/Princess Toadstool was the reason good had to beat bad. Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island did mix things up or add some backstory, but expanding the world was not really a central element of either's gameplay
So when Nintendo and Square's collaborative jam finally hit, the 3D rendered graphics were the initial bombshell. All these glorious-looking new areas to explore; an expansive world now connected by more than a series of world and stage numbers or maps of dots and squares. The Mushroom Kingdom set out before you actually felt like a kingdom!
But what was even more mind-blowing to me and my friends reveals itself right in the beginning of the game. You charge into Bowser's Keep with Mario in traditional princess-saving fashion, reach the boss for the traditional fight… but then he starts talking to you.
Yes, Baby Bowser gets a few lines in Yoshi's Island, but there was something much more magical about having a fully grown Bowser giving you attitude during the course of an actual fight. And of course he would have plenty more to say throughout the game, even as he ends up joining the party himself.
Lots of characters talk, of course, from Peach to the Toads to individuals you never see in any other Mario game, and so much of it served to expand our views on these characters and what kinds of realms the Mario games occupy. Many of these influences rippled out to help shape elements of Mario games down the line -especially cousin RPG series Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. For me, however, Super Mario RPG is where Bowser had his big break, casting off the mantle of being just the big, bad means to ending a game and truly becoming an essential part of the legacy.
Seeing the personalities of the Mario series' most beloved characters become molded and shaped over time has become one of my favourite parts of experiencing the series, and even the little shines they receive in the more traditional and less talky instalments are entertaining to see. Ever since Super Mario RPG, though, I always look toward Bowser with the most anticipation. Whether he's a villain, anti-hero or simple rival, the complicated relationship he has grown to have with Mario and Co. is a blast.
"I can't just be PALS with these cretins," Bowser laments during part of Super Mario RPG. "I've got an image to keep!" Ironically, this quote about sums up what the tyrant's image has become nowadays, the lovable jerk, and it's utterly fantastic.