Let’s get one thing straight, right off the bat: Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a collection of ports containing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy for the Switch but they are not remasters. The only changes are that each game features dynamic resolution for handheld and docked modes and art for all three games has been upscaled, but not redone or enhanced in any way. Joy-Con rumble effects have been added, and Super Mario Galaxy has some Switch-specific control options. Nintendo has stated that each game has been optimized “for smooth gameplay experience” – more on that in a bit – but overall, these look and feel very similar to how they did on their respective original consoles. It should also be noted that the means by which Nintendo has chosen to port these games to the Switch is by emulating the old consoles, which explains a lot about the lack of upgrades. But for nearly all intents and purposes, the effect is the same.
So talking about the merit of the games themselves versus the overall quality of the collection gets tricky. As such, I haven’t set out to re-review these games because they haven’t changed significantly enough to warrant a new opinion, but I do want to give you an idea of what it’s like to play these old games on new hardware.
Before I even fired up this new collection, I have to say I was a little bit disappointed in the lack of effort Nintendo has put into it. When the original Super Mario All-Stars was released for SNES in 1993, Nintendo capitalized on the opportunity to create a “Mario Extravaganza.” Harnessing the raw power of the Super Nintendo, all three of the original NES Mario games received major overhauls: sprites were completely redesigned, backgrounds were redrawn with more color and detail, sound effects were upgraded, bugs and glitches were fixed, and (for better or worse) mechanics were re-tuned to closer resemble the feel of Super Mario World. All of these painstaking little tweaks, in addition to an entirely new Mario game (well, new for the US) were packaged up with the intention of delivering the best possible versions of Mario’s bygone adventures.
27 years later, the spiritual successor to that historic collection has arrived in the form of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, but it lacks the same spirit of celebration. This time around, we get Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, and… that’s pretty much it. Granted, 3D All-Stars also includes the soundtracks to each of the games included, for a total of 175 tracks, which is nice. But taken as a whole, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is about as barebones a package as you could get.
Even the physical packaging is lackluster, without so much as a manual included in the box – just a handful of screenshots stitched together on the inside cover. If Super Mario 3D All-Stars is truly part of a bigger celebration of Mario’s 35th Anniversary, where’s the fanfare? Why not put in the extra time to really make these games, err, shine? Also, the baffling decision to offer Super Mario 3D All-Stars for sale only for a limited time (until March of 2021) is absurd and feels decidedly anti-consumer.
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Regardless, it is remarkable to play these three games, which span a total of 11 years of Mario history, from 1996 to 2007, and see how each one is clearly based on the groundwork the previous game had laid, and yet each remains a truly singular experience. However, given Nintendo’s penchant for (selectively) rereleasing its older games, ponying up for Mario Galaxy or Mario 64 for the third time might be a tough pill to swallow at a $60 price, especially if only wanted to revisit one that you consider a personal favorite.
For further analysis, let’s take a look at each of these games individually.
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Super Mario 64, originally released on the Nintendo 64 in 1996, is easily one of the most important games in video game history as it essentially wrote the book on how character movement and camera controls work in a 3D space. In our original review, IGN gave Mario 64 a score of 9.8 saying:
“Not only does the game obliterate every platformer before it in terms of visual finesse, it plays just as well if not infinitely better than previous 2D incarnations of the Mario franchise.”
In Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario 64 runs in a 4:3 aspect ratio (with basic, black bars on either side) at 960×720 resolution in both docked and handheld modes. What’s of particular interest to Super Mario 64 super-fans is that the port included in this collection is the “Shindou” version of the original Nintendo 64 game. Essentially the International version, this is an update of the original 1996 code and features various bug fixes, minor gameplay tweaks, and a few fun little Easter eggs. Most notably, this version “fixes” the famous backward long jump exploit, which means speedrunners will have to stick to ROMs or the original 1996 carts if they’re looking to break world records. The controls are still super tight, despite a lack of any customization options, and feel right at home on a Pro Controller or Joy-Con.
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Even though none of the art has been redone, the upscaling means that this is certainly the nicest Super Mario 64 has ever looked (unless we’re counting PC emulation). Jagged edges have been smoothed and the picture quality is overall sharper and more vibrant. In 24 years, Mario’s most polygonal look has gone from groundbreaking to glaringly outdated, and all the way back around to downright charming as the blockiest version of our favorite plumber triple-jumps and wahoos through all 15 classic stages. As I did, I couldn’t help but pick up all the ways Super Mario 64 influenced games that came afterward: levels like Wet-Dry World laid the groundwork for ideas that would be seen again in Ocarina of Time, and the precision platforming of Tick Tock Clock set the stage for any number of end-game levels in subsequent Mario sequels.
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While most other mainline Mario games have been ported to at least a system or two, Super Mario Sunshine has been stuck exclusively on the GameCube for nearly two decades. Having it included in this collection is reason enough for Mario fans to celebrate.
Some of them, anyway – Super Mario Sunshine is easily the most divisive mainline Mario game of all time. Famously rushed out in order to have a Mario platformer available shortly after the GameCube launched in late 2001, Super Mario Sunshine was met with mostly positive critical reception. IGN’s reviewer awarded Super Mario Sunshine a 9.4, saying:
“This is my favorite single-player GameCube title to date. It’s completely captivating from the start, and I can’t rave enough about the tight controls. It just feels right.”
…But in the 18 years since its release, it has become one of the most derided entries in the series among fans. Naturally, this port isn’t going to change anybody’s mind.
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Here, it’s presented in a 16:9 aspect ratio and runs at full 1920×1080 docked and 1280×720 handheld. That upgrade does Super Mario Sunshine’s proto-vaporwave aesthetic plenty of favors. It looks fantastic, and our original review wasn’t wrong; Mario moves so fluidly in Sunshine (pun fully intended).
Pulling off a series of moves, like cartwheel flips to hovering to long-dives back to triple-jumps, feels so seamless and smooth. It’s disappointing that even on a console that was released 15 years after the GameCube I still saw occasional bouts of slowdown – it’s absolutely not as egregious as the original version, which was seriously hampered at certain points.
No additional control options are available here, which is a shame because a lot of gripes come from Sunshine’s lack of inverted controls in certain perspectives. The original used the GameCube’s analog triggers to control water pressure, but that seems to be largely glossed over as the Switch’s triggers are digital and don’t allow for that sort of finesse. (This could have easily been included but, for some reason, Nintendo has not made the Switch’s official GameCube controllers fully compatible with this collection.) So, those hoping for an opportunity to customize Sunshine in order to give a fair second shake will be disappointed. Mostly, it’s a shame that Sunshine’s overall concept isn’t nearly as strong as intergalactic long-jumping or capturing the souls of your enemies to navigate levels.
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As far as I’m concerned, Super Mario Galaxy is the best 3D platformer ever made and is damn near worth the price of admission in this collection on its own. Originally released for the Wii in 2007, Mario Galaxy earned a 9.7 from IGN, and our reviewer had to this to say about it:
“It harkens back to the N64 classic with nostalgic faces and places from the Mushroom Kingdom, but it also re-invents the franchise with new space-themed mechanics and fresh Wii-enhanced controls.”
Remarkably, this is just as true today as it was 13 years ago – maybe even more so, especially when you consider all three games back to back as they’re presented in this collection. This is a fully realized version of Super Mario Galaxy. Presented in 1920×1080 docked and 1280×720 handheld, it really benefits from the upscaling from the original’s 480p on Wii. The art here isn’t as detailed as Super Mario Odyssey’s, but could almost go toe-to-toe with the Switch-native Mario in terms of art direction and sheer spectacle. The minor slowdown seen in the original version is nowhere to be found so all that’s left is pure, joyous platforming.
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The port of Super Mario Galaxy also offers control options for different styles of play. I spent the majority of my time playing on the Pro Controller, which felt perfect considering Galaxy was designed to be played with a Wii Remote and Nunchuck. You can point a Wiimote cursor just as easily with the Pro as you can with Joy-Con, which is the most obvious one-to-one with the original Wii controls, but you’ve got the added space to maneuver across the controller and the triggers feel really great when used to pull off some essential moves. Some of the trickier tilt-based levels are made a bit easier by using the Pro Controller, but thinking back on the original version, I think this will probably be a welcome change for most.
Handheld mode does get a little weird, as you use the touchscreen in lieu of a straightforward cursor. This control scheme works for the most part, and ultimately succeeds in making Super Mario Galaxy work as a portable game, but there are a couple of caveats. It actually makes some portions, like levels focused on pull stars or sling pods, significantly easier as all you need to do is tap and hold to attach Mario to these objects as opposed to positioning the Wiimote cursor quickly and accurately. In fact, I used handheld for any level with a timer – it’s that much easier to navigate in this mode. Moving around in general, however, is hampered by the touchscreen. You have to take your right hand off of the face buttons to swipe over luma, the secondary collectibles in Galaxy, which brakes the flow because you’re not able to jump or spin at the same time. Not the most ideal way to play, but an easy compromise to have arguably the best Mario adventure with you on the go.
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To break it down simply, this collection consists of one historical relic, one noteworthy experiment, and one bonafide masterpiece, all delivered in a convenient $60 package. The overall lack of bells and whistles make Super Mario 3D All Stars a bit of a disappointment, but taken as individual works, the games speak for themselves. While I would have loved to have seen a collection more worthy of Mario’s long and winding career, Super Mario 3D All-Stars does just enough to satisfy a longtime fan like myself, but misses the mark by not providing any of the updates and extras that would have really made this collection of classics sing.