Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review — More Than Just A Pipe Dream
While it's missing a few bells and whistles, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a wonderful collection of some of Nintendo's most beloved classics.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars was one of this year’s worst kept secrets. Rumours were flying around as early as March that a collection of 3D Mario games would be hitting the Nintendo Switch at some point in 2020. Fast-forward to early September and the collection was finally announced with Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy (but not Galaxy 2) heading to the Switch.
Leading up to the collection’s release there was some discourse on the internet surrounding the notion that Nintendo had opted to simply tweak and emulate the games, rather than rebuild them from the ground up. Let me tell you though; this decision is absolutely fine by me. Yes, these ports are not perfect, they’re not rebuilt in the stunning Super Mario Odyssey engine, and they still have their little graphical issues, but that’s all part of the charm.
Super Mario 64 is an interesting and perfect example of this. The game has definitely been touched up. Jagged edges are less jagged, the text is less blurry, and environments absolutely look better while fundamentally still being a blocky, polygonal nostalgia-fest — this is exactly what I’m looking for. This is what going back to 64 should be about. The new version of Super Mario 64 did a fantastic job at transporting me back to 1996, letting me explore Bob-Omb Battlefield in all its glory, giving me the joy of running around outside Peach’s Castle, and reaching Bowser to spin him around over and over again. I think it would have been more of a disappointment had it of been fully remade from the ground up, simply because you’d lose that original charm.
The improvements to Super Mario Sunshine graphically are more striking than those of 64. Again, the textures aren’t perfect, but it really benefits from the boost to 1080p and the increased aspect ratio. Playing through Sunshine again for the first time in a few years felt like a fresh experience simply due to these enhancements. They’re so impressive that there are parts of the game that are almost unrecognisable compared to the GameCube version.
Arguably, Super Mario Galaxy was the game least in need of any graphical upgrades, being released most recently of the three. What Nintendo has done to the game, however, is very much welcome. Seeing the game in 1080p for the first time is a sight to behold and Galaxy looks like it could have easily been a game that Nintendo released today.
Although I bemoaned the idea of rebuilding Super Mario 64 from the ground up, one improvement I’m disappointed wasn’t made was with the camera. Rather than having the freedom to move it at will, Nintendo effectively just mapped the C Buttons to the right stick. As with the original, this can cause some awkward moments. There were times that I would have really benefited by shifting the camera around quickly. Instead, I had to tap the right stick 3 or 4 times, causing me to die. As I’ve said, I’m glad Nintendo didn’t give the game a complete overhaul but neglecting something as important as the camera when given this opportunity to adjust it feels like a bit of an oversight.
One of the questions going into the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars was how Nintendo would handle the motion controls in Super Mario Galaxy. The answer? Fairly well. Of course, the Joy-Cons have their own motion functionality built-in, so in docked mode, the translation was easy.
The translation into handheld mode was clearly a little harder. Nintendo almost certainly achieves the best results they could though, short of making game-changing alterations to Galaxy. The game makes use of the Switch’s touch screen as well as mapping certain moves to other buttons. Mario’s Spin Attack is remapped to the Y button, which is great, and touching the screen will either grab or throw Star Bits. The problem in using touch controls, however, is you then forgo the use of the right Joy-Con, making things feel a little awkward. Overall though, Nintendo needs to be commended for their efforts into making the trickier parts of Galaxy feel right at home on the Switch.
The presentation of Super Mario 3D All-Stars is also great. The landing screen is well designed, easy to navigate, and accompanied by a different piece of music every time you load it up. The 175 songs that are included are split into their three respective games on the home screen for easy access. The problem is, it’s hard to look at this screen and not imagine how much more it could have been. Despite looking great, it feels like a missed opportunity. This collection was revealed as a celebration of Super Mario’s 35th anniversary, and aside from the music, there’s nothing archival included.
The omission of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is also a bizarre one and one that definitely hurts the collection a little. From an outsider’s point of view, there is just no reason that this game should be left out and it’s not a complete 3D Mario collection without it. Galaxy 2 takes the beloved formula from the original and even improves on it in many ways, so to leave it out is just mind-boggling. Nintendo could have a trick up its sleeve when it comes to Galaxy 2, but the lack of transparency from the company just doesn’t sit right.
Let’s get to the crux of it though: Yes, the collection as a whole does have some minor flaws, but that doesn’t take away from just how good all three of these games really are.
Super Mario 64 is unbelievably 24 years old and one of the first 3D games to ever be released. Considering that it still holds up today, let alone as the masterpiece that it is, just shows what a feat of game design Nintendo achieved over twenty years ago. It still has its janky moments and there’s certainly some stuff in it that if it were made today wouldn’t make the cut, but as a whole, it’s still fantastic.
For somebody who grew up around the period of the N64, there was no better feeling than just popping out of the pipe at the start of the game and running around the castle grounds. Booting the game up on the Switch felt almost as magical as that first time way back when. The fact that I can play Super Mario 64 on my Switch, warts and all, is a feeling that just cannot be understated.
Then there’s Super Mario Sunshine, which is by far the most polarising of the three games in the collection. The game embodies the weird period Nintendo was having during the GameCube era. Yes, again, there are some bad design choices within it, but even still, it’s a blast. Isle Delfino and it’s surrounding areas are fun to explore and the addition of FLUDD is an interesting mechanic, although at times it can feel like more of a hindrance when compared to the free-flowing nature of the other titles. Sunshine is by far the easiest of the three to slate, and trust me, it can be very, very frustrating, but putting those frustrations aside, it’s still a great game.
Arguably the pick of the bunch, although not if you were to go by our definitive rankings, is Super Mario Galaxy. Galaxy is the game in which Nintendo took everything they had learned from previous Mario titles up to this point and almost, in my eyes, perfected them. The game added some awesome new mechanics, an amazing environment, a wonderful orchestral score, and motion controls (which I could take or leave) while still feeling true to the 3D Mario formula.
To this day, the music in Galaxy is some of the best Nintendo has produced. It adds to the grandeur of Mario’s big adventure through space and really helps make the experience feel special. There’s a reason Super Mario Galaxy is the sixth highest-rated game of all-time on Metacritic and the translation to the Nintendo Switch is just excellent.
Ultimately, this is what it all comes down to. There’s no denying that a few improvements would have been nice and some more archival footage would make Super Mario 3D All-Stars feel like more of a celebration, but each one of these games is still a masterpiece and that’s what it’s all about. The fact that in 2020, we can play three of Nintendo and Mario’s best titles in one handy collection, both at home and on the go, is wonderful. I for one am extremely happy this collection exists.