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Review: Super Mario 3D All-Stars Shines Up Three Classics

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the new platforming compilation from Nintendo, looks at first glance like a cohesive collection. The three included games — Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy — represent the franchise’s first three forays into free-roaming levels. But it’s these games’ differences, both in their original development and in how they were adapted for this Nintendo Switch package, that really tell the tale.

Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64

The first 3D Mario game, Super Mario 64 went a long way in defining what movement should feel like and generally how polygonal games should work. It’s seminal. It’s a breakthrough. These things are still true.

But there’s no denying its age. Part of setting the groundwork for things to come is that, well, games that build atop these innovations have a head-start and take advantage of it. The controls were great for the time, but now? Even in the context of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and especially on a platform with a game like Super Mario Odyssey, the rougher aspects grate. It’s faithful. In that respect, it’s likely what players want, rather than something that feels “wrong” and breaks old strategies. But it’s something to keep in mind.

It’s also tougher to update. The Super Mario 3D All-Stars version of the game remains in a 4-by-3 aspect ratio. This is likely because of the technical challenges of widening an early game like that. Much has been made of the compilation’s emulation-based approach, but there isn’t another approach, outside of a full-scale remake, that would fix levels being designed without the assets to fill those spaces or platforming becoming too difficult if the camera is zoomed in to a cropped view.

What’s here, though, is nice! Interface elements are crisper than we’ve seen in Virtual Console releases. The resolution bump makes environments look nicer. The control scheme works well even without the original controller’s peculiar configuration. It also has a couple of fixes we didn’t see in the West, because it’s based on the Japan-only “Shindou” version. This Nintendo 64 re-release added more fixes onto the international version’s work, along with Rumble Pak support. It’s mostly the same and likely only speedrunners will care about those patches, so most people are just getting a stable version of the game with some force feedback.

Super Mario Sunshine

Super Mario Sunshine

Of the three remasters included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Super Mario Sunshine is the most conventional. It’s given a widescreen treatment, as it’s more equipped to handle it. Its controls are largely intact. The cinematics are still the old, low-resolution videos and they’re stretched, probably because they were never made in better quality. These moments are fleeting, and you’ll be wishing more of them were just done in-engine. They are what they are.

Sunshine is definitely the most divisive part of the collection. Some don’t like the F.L.U.D.D. water pack and what it does to gameplay. Some think the controls aren’t quite as tight and responsive as other Mario games. Maybe the music grates and repeats too often? Or the setting and conceit are too weird for you? None of this has changed, so if you had problems with the game, they’re still there. But as a result of these criticisms, many never gave the game a real chance. Between two games that have been potentially overplayed by a lot of Mario fans, Sunshine offers a different, potentially less stale campaign.

Visually, Super Mario Sunshine doesn’t have the flourishes of Galaxy to make the extra resolution feel that much better. It’s a flatter, universally-bright game. That remains here. It’s the sort of look that we’re used to seeing overhauled with lighting effects in games like the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess updates. Still, for something with limited ambitions, it remains safe and thoroughly playable.

Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy was already a thoroughly impressive game, aesthetically speaking, and the resolution bump alone does wonders for what was already there. While we wouldn’t say no to a full visual overhaul for the game, as-is, this is the closest Super Mario 3D All-Stars comes to a modern-looking game.

The biggest challenge for Galaxy was adapting to new control schemes. Playing with two Joy-Con most closely mimics the original Wii format. This scheme feels slightly off sometimes without the same sort of pointer controls, but it works fine. In Handheld Mode, the game relies on the touch screen to replicate the pointing and menu navigation, to the point that you can’t select menu options with buttons. It’s weird, since playing with a traditional controller when docked does allow these functions. It’s nice that touch controls are here! It often feels cool! Nevertheless, it’s strange that functions are removed when you undock.

Super Mario Galaxy was built for a TV, in ways that the other two games weren’t. Navigating the round environments, with the scene flips and the upside-down movement, is more likely to cause motion sickness when you’re closer to the screen. So note that if that’s ever been a problem for you! When docked, of course, it’s no more of a problem than in the original: still there, but not a major issue for most.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

The Rest

Outside of the three games themselves, there’s not a lot to Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The inclusion of a full music player with all three soundtracks is a welcome bonus, as it was in games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The Galaxy soundtrack is the clear star here. With its full orchestral recordings and sweeping themes, it’s so much of a standout that Nintendo still regularly uses its tracks at events and in promotional material. So it’s nice that it’s here, and it’s also nice to have access to the nostalgia of Super Mario 64‘s tunes. (If you replay Super Mario Sunshine in this collection and still somehow want to listen to those songs more, we’re not sure what to tell you.)

And that’s it! It’d be nice if Nintendo would acknowledge its rich history in a collection like this and include more supplemental material for these beloved games. It’s just not here. You’re buying a polished-up version of one of your favorite games, along with another game you probably like and then a third one that you could probably take or leave. No matter your ranking, that’s probably what you’re looking at here!

So rather than looking at what this collection could have been, it’s easier and simpler to see what’s here and decide if that’s enough for you. If one of these games is an all-time favorite, that even these marginal adjustments make them the best and most convenient versions could make a sale for you. There’s nothing here to “fix” them if you didn’t like them the first time. You get what you get, and Nintendo’s confidence in the core products isn’t unwarranted.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is available on Nintendo Switch until March 31, 2021.

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars

8

Food For Thought
  • Super Mario Galaxy still looks great, and every line of resolution you throw at it is a bonus.
  • We wish the collection revered these games as much as players do. A Digital Eclipse-style release with galleries and extra features would have been great, and this isn’t it.
  • Can we talk about the name for a second? All-Stars? A third of ‘em are definitely Shines.
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Graham Russell
    Graham Russell has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera as a Contributing Editor in February 2020. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.