Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review – All-Star Time Machine
Super Mario 3D All-StarsSeptember 18th, 2020
Mario has been there my entire life. I recently discovered that he is at least six years older than myself (though not canonically), and Mario is there among my earliest memories, playing Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Mario Land on Game Boy, and Super Mario 64 on Nintendo 64. I, like many of you, have tremendous nostalgia for the plumber. I can't turn that nostalgia off when reviewing something like Super Mario 3D All-Stars. But for the first time, in a new form, with a new controller, I can experience these games, and look at them with an entirely fresh lens with all of you.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a collection of the most well-known and respected 3D Mario games, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. At least two of these games are heralded as being among the best video games of all time. If you were a young child today with no memory of the time those games released, you would probably be entirely unaware of their legacy, and more than a little apathetic. This isn't because the games don't play well now, but instead, it's because the ideas and precedents that Mario has set time and time again have been copied and iterated upon by countless imitators. Mario set the bar for 3D gaming in general. So to tell you that these games are great would be reductive. You know. The readers of reviews like this know about Mario. Instead, I'm going to question my experience with these games in the year 2020.
As soon as I turned Super Mario 3D All-Stars on I started up Super Mario 64 and begun playing that one. I blinked, and I had 8 stars. I blinked again, 32. Before I knew it, I'd been completing each stage with all available stars, just blazing through the game, without the time to even stop and consider what I was looking at. Super Mario 64 is like glorious muscle memory and flow given digital life - if alchemists could bottle a feeling like this we would all be addicts. Super Mario 64 just feels natural, after starting the game you're in the first level within less than a minute, and a few minutes later you can be several stars deep if you know what you're doing. Super Mario 64, more than 20 years later, is still close to being perfect to play.
Then I jumped into Super Mario Sunshine - a firm favorite of mine in my formative years - and I was shaken by how much of a slog those early sections are. Watching the intro cutscene still felt magical, and then yawning through the FLUDD tutorial cutscene was a chore. Then follows Mario getting imprisoned. Then a scripted section in Delfino Plaza. And then there's the fact that each world in Super Mario Sunshine railroads you - you must acquire only the shine you go into the level for, no point in exploring elsewhere, and you must get the first seven stars from every world before moving onto the final area. This, immediately after the experience of flying through Super Mario 64 and even entirely skipping some stages before finishing Bowser, is like hitting a brick wall. It's jarring and absurd, in a game that is clearly designed to be, and begging to be, explored freely.
Super Mario Galaxy is somewhat of an improvement. The introduction manages to be more interesting, and more to the point, quickly getting you to Rosalina's Observatory after a bombastic intro involving Bowser ripping Peach's Castle out of the ground and taking it to the center of the universe. Galaxy isn't like the previous two Mario games, as it's a more linear adventure, with more streamlined, but more uniquely designed stages - some of which are introduced for only a single run through before being thrown away forever. This makes the experience of playing each stage more interesting and engaging than Sunshine's railroading, yet open and repetitive stages.
Each game has had the controls changed for Nintendo Switch. Super Mario 64 has the fewest changes, with the gameplay basically translated directly to the controller - the experience is similar to playing the game via Wii and Wii U Virtual Console. Super Mario Sunshine has had adjustments to allow for the digital triggers on Nintendo Switch - ZR is now to squirt water from FLUDD while moving, while R makes Mario stand in place. There are a few other minor changes, like third-person aiming being activated by clicking the right stick.
Super Mario Galaxy has had the most robust changes by far, being originally designed for the Wii remote. Now you can spin just by pressing a single button - but you can shake either the JoyCon or the Pro Controller to spin that way if you prefer. Also, regardless of using JoyCon or Pro Controller, you will be able to aim a pointer at the screen using the gyro controls - replacing the Wii's IR pointer - to collect star bits and shoot at enemies. The gyro pointer does necessitate a button being dedicated to centering the pointer, though. Things get a little more complicated in handheld mode - you'll need to use the touch screen, tapping to shoot star bits, and swiping to pick them up. You need to do this fairly often, and moving your hand off of the controls is very awkward. As such, I'm a little bit disappointed and decided not to play Super Mario Galaxy in handheld mode, sticking with docked play only. Still, combining the simple spin move with a Pro Controller is now my preferred way of playing, over a Wii remote combo.
The games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars all come with visual upgrades too - textures look sharper in many games, and the resolution certainly makes all of the games in the package look much nicer than they originally did. Super Mario 64 does still look fairly rough in places with a maximum resolution of 720p, but Super Mario Sunshine's summery and wavy visual effects work wonders to smooth over some hard edges on large screens. Super Mario Galaxy looked pretty wonderful even on the Wii, so the visuals here are nothing to sniff at. Having said all of that though, this is a world away from the full remakes of older games we've seen come from some publishers - and even Nintendo themselves with their All-Stars collection on the SNES. Though, I will say that these games are so closely tied to their physics and the way they play and look that too many changes could very well have been a detriment. Nintendo's light touch here is better than an aggressive overhaul.
After more and more time with the trio of games, issues with them arose in my mind that I had never before considered. Super Mario 64 still plays amazingly, but the graphics in many places are, well, dated, of course. I said I wouldn't have changed them too much, but it hasn't aged well, either. Super Mario Sunshine I used to herald as one of the best feeling games of all time. Mario spins and stops on a dime in Super Mario Sunshine, wall jumping and platforming through levels had never felt so precise and fresh to me. But now I've played Super Mario Odyssey, and I'm forced to give Odyssey more credit than I did before, and Super Mario Sunshine a little less. It has aged, not terribly, but it's not as nice as I remember, and unfortunately, the FLUDD's place in platforming often results in stages either being a bit more gimmick-focused or just slows down Mario's break-neck momentum.
Super Mario Galaxy is undoubtedly the game there is the least to complain about, but after the other two, it has a tendency to feel a little slow and restrictive in place - the more linear nature of the title is a weird comparison against the other two "open world" Mario games. But again, the level design in Galaxy is so tight it makes up for almost everything else. The only game that really outdoes Super Mario Galaxy at this is Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is mysteriously absent - and if I'm being honest, I can't help but feel like Super Mario 3D Land deserved to be in this collection, too. Their exclusion is baffling, as both of them have earned their place in the mainline Mario series as some of the best games in the legendary series.
Super Mario 64 has not aged gracefully. It doesn't look amazing, and even some of the jumping mechanics feel a bit uncomfortable. Despite that, playing it can take you back to a magical time and place, and everything is just as you remembered it. Super Mario Sunshine looks and feels good, but also stands out as being an odd duck, an unusual title in a near-flawless legacy. Super Mario Galaxy is a wonderful title, but one which was mostly outdone by its sequel. These are not perfect games anymore. But they were, at one point in history, perfect.
Going back again through these games from Super Mario 3D All-Stars has been a strange, wonderful nostalgia trip, one that I feel enlightened by, and also a little saddened. Playing these games in succession after talking about them exclusively in hushed whispers for years is like meeting your heroes and discovering they smell bad. These games are legendary, and they deserve the legendary status they've earned over the years, and these are undoubtedly the best official versions of each of them thanks to improved textures and controls - unofficial ports or emulators be damned. But even after all that, through all the smiles are memories that went through my mind as I remembered my late father buying me a Nintendo 64, these games aren't perfect masterpieces. But they are perfect encapsulations of where we were when we played them first, and the memories we connect to them.
Review code provided by the publisher.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars contains three legendary games, and this package allows you to experience all of them, the way you remember them. Whether or not these games hold up as competitive, contemporary pieces of entertainment is one question, but they do serve as an amazing time machine taking me to the moments I shared with friends and loved ones years ago, and this is a perfect way for you to form new memories with yours. This is three of the very best 3D platformers of all time, at their best.
- Three of the best 3D platformers of all time
- Each game is the best official version released
- Upgraded controls
- Improved textures
- Okay but seriously, no Galaxy 2 or 3D Land?