Super Mario 3D All-Stars: It’s-a 3D, Mario!

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The manner in which legacy and retro game releases have been handled on the Nintendo Switch this generation is, to be honest, pretty scattershot. We have the excellent Nintendo Online service, which appears to have ramped back up a bit recently. We have retro collections, like the Double Dragon and Kunio-Kun collection, compilations from Capcom, SNK, SEGA, Atari, and Konami; and we have the full remasters, like the Spryo Collection or Link’s Awakening. Every one of these titles have their pros and cons, but at the end of the day, all can provide some fantastic access to storied games of yore.

Then we come to Super Mario 3D All-Stars. Containing three of the most genre-defining platforming games in their respective eras, collected here to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the intrepid plumber. I think that’s an important point to note, and we will touch on that more later in the review. Mario 3D (as I’ll be referring to it) straddles the line between retro/legacy compilation and full remaster. There’s certainly been some significant work done here, but it’s subtle tweaks weaving throughout the experience, as opposed to a ground-up rebuild of the games. Those tweaks do elevate the experience of these games in a measurable way, and Mario 3D contains the now definitive console version of each adventure.

LET’S PAUSE FOR A MOMENT

Before we dive into the (literal) painting, a quick purple-gorilla-in-the-room check. Yes, I know about and acknowledge the version of 64 that’s been floating around the internet community, and yes, you can emulate Sunshine and Galaxy. Is it a better experience? I think that’s subjective. It’s certainly different. I will be examining this collection on its own merit, and not comparing it to anything else unofficial. That’s not to say I won’t be highlighting features or changes I wish had been considered, but those points would have been salient and arisen even without the counterpoint of the other options out there.

THE COLLECTION ITSELF

As far as compilations of legacy games go, this one is fairly straightforward. A menu boots to each title. You can also select and play the full released soundtrack from each game, which is quite a nice addition. I especially thought the ability to turn off the screen and just have the Switch act as a music-serving device was a nice touch. All games should do this (Zelda, I’m looking straight at you here)!

The Japanese-released official soundtracks being included is an awesome addition to this edition.

That’s about it. It bears mentioning that the physical and digital releases have limited windows of availability (until March 2021). If I may speculate, these are really, really amazing titles, and in many ways, not that far removed from Odyssey as far as Mario experiences go. I think there can be such a thing as too many Mario games on the market at once, so if Nintendo is eyeing up Odyssey 2 for 2021, this move makes sense. I think this isn’t something to freak out over.

SUPER MARIO 64

This is the game on this list that has some significant nostalgia for me. I received an N64 the Christmas of 1996 (my senior year of high school), along with Wave Race 64 and Mario 64. Mario 64 hadn’t been a sure thing, but my uncle was finally able to secure a copy in Alabama a few days before Christmas (what diligence, Greg, thank you!), and it made it just in time. This game was also a notable part of my personal gaming history, since I beat it about an hour after Christmas dinner (after playing all day) and pissed my Mom off to no end, until I explained to her I still had so many more stars to find. It was literally gaming magic. The analogue movement, the camera, the feel, and the music. That music. Dire, Dire Docks still gets me.

Mario 64 looks clean, bright, and beautiful. Playing on the Switch is a dream!

That said, I’ve put a lot of my nostalgia aside for the N64. The lineup is pretty weird across the board, with a supernova of a top 10 list, containing some must-experience games, and then dropping off to coasters once you start getting into the teens.

Mario 64 is definitely one of the highlights of the catalogue. It was truly revolutionary in its time, and it set the bar for the then-emergent 3D platforming genre. That gameplay still holds up perfectly today. The version contained in Mario 3D is scaled up to 720p, but it’s not just a simple upscale. From what I can see, all of the sprite-based elements (HUD, coins, etc) have been redrawn in HD, which makes a much more polished presentation vs. the previous version. The assets are still wonderfully polygonal in that mid-90s aesthetic, but much less aggressively jaggy. 

The frame-rate is locked to 30 FPS, and while I do understand the desire to keep the experience close to the original, I feel like this is where Nintendo could have hedged a little bit more. Widescreen? Nah. Border options? Totally, why aren’t they there? Better HD textures? No, I want 64 Mario to still look like itself… but 60 FPS? That should have been a thing.

I’ll give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt, being a Japanese company that honors the past, and making their smash 4:3 hit from the 90’s into a widescreen game could certainly have been viewed as disrespectful to the original game, especially considering that it’s an anniversary release. They did go further with our next game, however, so it’s really unclear (and probably will be forever) what the thought process was here. Regardless, Super Mario 64 is a true classic, and must be played!

SUPER MARIO SUNSHINE

Oh, Sunshine. This game is definitely the odd plumber out of the mainline Mario franchise, though I feel in a post-Odyssey/Cappy world, FLUDD is a little less bizarre. Released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube, this was the first Mario game that truly established the current “look” of Mario. It’s a weird game, to be sure, but still a really fun experience, and it’s never looked better than in Mario 3D. The water on Wave Race 64 was cool, but this was mind-blowing at release, and it’s no wonder it was heavily featured by the water-pump mechanic.

Super Mario Sunshine has had the most work done to it of the collection. First, it’s scaled up to 1080p, widescreen, which actually makes this game so much more playable. The original had a very crowded HUD with all of the information being quite large (for legibility on a tube TV), and in Mario 3D, I finally feel like I can see what’s happening. The controls have been tweaked to modernize the feel and account for the lack of analogue triggers on the GameCube controllers (oddly enough, GameCube controllers aren’t supported like they are in Smash. That seems like it’d be a no-brainer. Ah well, we can hope for a patch, perhaps!). The main noticeable change made was de-inverting the camera, which makes going back to the original version of this game very hard today.

There was reasoning behind the conversion to 16:9 for Sunshine. The original always felt enclosed by the HUD. Now it’s expansive.

So, how does it play? Amazingly well. It looks stunning, sounds great, and while some of the tweaks made to account for non-GameCube use (deleting voiceover button names, for example) are a little odd, it doesn’t really detract from the overall experience. Personally, I’ve had this game since launch, but it never really grabbed me the way the other Mario games did. I think after Cappy, this game fits in the Mario multiverse much more seamlessly than it did in 2002.

SUPER MARIO GALAXY

Super Mario Galaxy is widely regarded by many as the best 3D Mario game of all time, and indeed, one of the most creative platformers ever made. It was also the game I was most excited to see included in this collection, as I could never really engage with the Wii motion controls for platforming/adventure games. Fret not, as Galaxy has been updated with some seriously clever control options to address the lack of a Wiimote.

First off, the visuals: Galaxy, originally presented in 480p, has been beautifully upscaled to 1080p, and runs silky smooth on the Switch. I did experience an occasional hitch here or there, and it does look like it bumps the resolution down slightly in busier areas, but that’s typical of games this generation, and I barely notice it anymore unless I’m critically examining a title. The big quality of life improvement here for me is changing the waggle-to-attack mechanic to a button press. YES! There are still motion controls associated with the gameplay, regarding the starbits and cursor, but since the JoyCons aren’t IR, you can have them resting comfortably in your lap vs held up and pointed at the screen. So, so much better.

No waggle to attack? To quote Mario, “Wahoooo!”

The other options to deal with the cursor and other motion controls are using the touchscreen (the only option in handheld mode, unfortunately) or tilting the pro controller or the entire Switch. This definitely places the ideal method of play as TV with floating JoyCons, but it’s entirely doable to play this handheld. You get used to it very quickly, even though it’s not the most graceful option.

This game is stunning, and while it grabbed me when I originally had a Wii, I never felt drawn in due to the waggle controls (much the same for Skyward Sword). I’m looking forward to starting a new save file on this game and really digging into it in the coming weeks!

It’s worth noting that Galaxy 2 wasn’t included. It may seem odd, but there’s a multitude of reasons this could have happened. I would speculate that it was a time/budget/planning cost issue, personally. The coronavirus pandemic has tipped over every industry, and yes, these are emulated, mostly, but it still takes work, and manufacturing deadlines and delays are a real thing. I anticipate we will see it eventually, in some form. That said, it didn’t spin me up quite as much as the first Galaxy did, so it not being included is a minor quibble.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, we come to it. Is this a good collection? Yes, I think so, absolutely. Even more so if you have yet to experience any of these titles. These three Mario adventures are outstanding games, and while 100%-ing them isn’t something I would necessarily recommend to anyone (I’m looking at you, *&%$ing blue coins in Sunshine), they will still provide hours upon hours of platforming Mario fun. 

Is this a lazy release? No. I’ve never seen anything released from Nintendo that didn’t have significant thought put into it. Just because we, as fans, may disagree with their creative decisions, doesn’t make it lazy or wrong (to be clear, keeping Mario 64 4:3 was most certainly a creative vs. technical decision, based on the context). 

I’m far from a Nintendo apologist, but as someone who has worked in the mainstream entertainment industry on hard deadlines for huge projects, I understand the real challenges that creativity and execution face in those situations. Not being able to do everything you want is the expectation, not the exception. This is a collection that honors Mario’s legacy, polishes up the edges in smart, appreciated ways, and brings these games to a new audience. Now, what about those Zelda games?

Platform – Limited Nintendo Switch eShop Download, Limited Physical Release at Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Walmart, Play-Asia $56.99 w/ code NDEAL (follow @Nintendeal for updates!)
Publisher– Nintendo
Price – $59.99
Genre – Platforming
Size – 4.9GB

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