Mario deserves a celebration with much more pomp and grandeur.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars includes arguably some of the best games ever made, all put together in one $60 package. On the basis of that alone, it’s worth buying. The chance to play stone cold classics such as Super Mario Galaxy, or games as important to the development of the medium as Super Mario 64, on a modern system, with no hassle, and on the go, is a fundamentally appetizing prospect. Inasmuch as you have any interest in platformers, Mario, or even just the evolution of video games as a medium, this collection is worth it.
Even if you’re only interested in one of the three included games, I’d argue it’s worth it to have a version of said game on a modern console; however, things get a bit tricky once you stop taking this package as a whole, and start to break it down into its individual constituents.
First off, let’s talk about the quality of the games themselves, before anything else. It’s astonishing how well they hold up. Super Mario 64 is obviously the most aged here, and has a lot of jank you will need to come to terms with at first. However, once you’re past the initial hump, it’s honestly astonishing how incredibly well it holds up today. Super Mario 64 is the direct forebear of just about every single 3D game on the market today – so the jank and roughness was expected, given that literally every game since has had a chance to build on it. What wasn’t expected was just how delightfully well the core design of the game holds up. Nintendo has arguably the best game designers on the planet – and it should come as no surprise that they were as inventive or creative while literally pioneering an entire dimension as they were in Super Mario 64.
"Even if you’re only interested in one of the three included games, I’d argue it’s worth it to have a version of said game on a modern console; however, things get a bit tricky once you stop taking this package as a whole, and start to break it down into its individual constituents."
That roughness can make it tough for a newcomer to jump in, however. Super Mario 64’s camera, in particular, is pretty bad, and the camera controls for the original game were mapped to the Nintendo 64’s four C buttons – meaning it was controlled digitally. In this Switch version, those C button controls have been mapped to the right analog stick as is, meaning you’re using an analog stick for digital camera control, which can cause a lot of frustration when things don’t work the way you are naturally inclined to expect them to.
These camera issues only get in the way of what, as I have already explained, is a game that holds up marvelously well in just about every regard. From its level design to the actual movement controls for Mario, Super Mario 64 has aged far better than most games of its era – and honestly, far better than a lot of games of subsequent eras too.
Super Mario Sunshine is a controversial game; it has been that since its initial launch, and is now widely regarded as the lowest point of the 3D Mario series. There are very valid reasons to have issues with Mario Sunshine, from its frustratingly obtuse objectives (which stand in stark contrast to how effortlessly and intuitively the other games in the series communicate what they expect from the player) to some extremely fiddly platforming – platforming that, to be honest, is made a bit worse because of Nintendo having to map Sunshine’s analog trigger controls to a console which lacks them entirely. So here we have those controls mapped to the right analog stick (again), with some complicated and contrived control schemes to achieve the varying levels of pressure you could achieve with Mario’s water backpack FLUDD.
Gameplay aside, there are other problems with Sunshine that very clearly mark it as a product of a time when Nintendo was in an existential transition, and not yet sure what direction the company would take in the future. For instance, Super Mario Sunshine remains to date the only Mario game with full voice acting (and yes, it is every bit as unsettling as you would expect), which is no better today than it was in 2002.
"From its level design to the actual movement controls for Mario, Super Mario 64 has aged far better than most games of its era – and honestly, far better than a lot of games of subsequent eras too."
But for all its considerable shortcomings, Super Mario Sunshine has a lot of merits that shine brighter now with the benefit of hindsight – it has some of the sharpest platforming in the series (once you get used to the controls, at any rate), with FLUDD being an extremely versatile addition to Mario’s repertoire of movies; it is the only Mario game to date to take place entirely in one location, and having a cohesive theme like that really adds to the game’s sense of atmosphere and charm. Delfino Island’s various locations make for some delightful sandboxes, and if and once you have made your peace with the controls, allow for some of the most expressive platforming in the series.
Sunshine, one way or the other, is definitely the weakest link of this package, however, at least in terms of the core game’s quality. There are obviously fans, and I am sure they will be delighted by the ability to finally play it on a modern system (Sunshine had been stranded on the GameCube until this release), and I am glad this update exists for them, however, if nothing else.
Which brings us to Super Mario Galaxy.
Super Mario Galaxy is arguably the greatest game ever made. It was widely acclaimed as that when it first launched, it was reinforced as that when its sequel (mysteriously missing from this collection) launched, and it stands tall even today, 13 years after its initial release. Super Mario Galaxy can almost justify the $60 for this collection by itself. It’s a remarkably special game, with impeccable controls and some of the best level design in the medium’s history. Super Mario Galaxy has some of the most stirring vistas in any game ever, brought to life by an ageless art style that holds up incredibly well, and one of the all time great soundtracks . It’s even the most story focused Mario game ever – and while obviously it’s no The Last of Us, it has some genuinely moving story developments centered around the new character Rosalina, as well as some surprisingly dark developments later in the story.
In every way possible, Super Mario Galaxy holds up. It could be released as is today, and it would still be better than most games currently on the market, including most of Nintendo’s own. It is a work of creative genius, put out by a development team at the peak of its powers, and it is absolutely unbelievable how incredibly well this game has held up, especially given how poorly most other games of that era aged. With Super Mario Galaxy, there are very few to no shortcomings I can nitpick at – it is an absolutely marvelous game.
"In every way possible, Super Mario Galaxy holds up. It could be released as is today, and it would still be better than most games currently on the market, including most of Nintendo’s own."
Thankfully, it’s the game that has gotten the most care in this package as well. Nintendo has updated the game’s resolution, and it is now running at widescreen (while maintaining its original 60fps framerate). The game’s pointer controls have been mapped to the Switch’s gyro (in console mode) and touch screen (in handheld mode). Neither are, to be honest, optimal, but the pointer controls were deemphasized enough in the original game to never feel too obtrusive to begin with – so their implementation in this new package doesn’t really detract from Galaxy’s underlying brilliance in any way.
Super Mario Sunshine has also seen some work. It, too, has been updated to run in widescreen, with some upgraded textures, and as mentioned previously, the controls have been rethought (to mixed results). Unfortunately, the rest of the upgrades are minimal – Nintendo has not, for example, taken this chance to update the game’s framerate to 60fps (the original infamously ran at 30fps, in spite of being marketed at 60fps all the way through to its release); however, even Sunshine’s barebones updates feel far beyond what Super Mario 64 got, which feels like an almost a direct dump. It’s not even running in widescreen, the updates to the textures and graphics are minimal to none, and like I mentioned earlier, even the camera controls haven’t been reworked from their original digital implementation. Super Mario 64 is also the original, N64 version of the game, missing all the improvements and additions that Super Mario 64 DS brought to the table.
This shocking lack of effort is actually endemic to this whole collection – I’ve so far stuck to discussing the games themselves, and the games are amazing, but if we are to view this as a collection of remasters, released to celebrate a milestone anniversary for the single biggest and most important gaming franchise there is, it comes up horrifically short. You don’t even need to view it as a celebratory collection, in fact – even compared to the recent Crash or Spyro releases, which remade the original games, gave them loving facelifts, and sold at $40, Super Mario 3D All Stars feels almost insultingly lacking in so many ways.
"I’ve so far stuck to discussing the games themselves, and the games are amazing, but if we are to view this as a collection of remasters, released to celebrate a milestone anniversary for the single biggest and most important gaming franchise there is, it comes up horrifically short."
Unlike many other legacy collections, there are very few to no extras here – you don’t get any bonus features such as save states, you don’t get any cool concept art, you don’t get any special features or insights into development, there’s really nothing other than the games themselves – and their respective soundtracks, which can be accessed directly from the main menu (and can even be played with your Switch in sleep mode, turning it into a makeshift portable music player. Nifty). And the soundtracks are amazing – you won’t find me complaining about the ability to listen to Gusty Garden Galaxy on an infinite loop. But it’s still disappointing that this is all we get – again, this is a full priced celebratory collection to commemorate a landmark milestone for the most important franchise in gaming. And this is what we get? Three games, two of which are barely touched up or updated, and no other content?
So this review is really a tale of two entirely opposing assessments – inasmuch as you just care about the core quality of the games, this is unbeatable value, because even without much in the way of updates, the games hold up, and are great to play through. If you look at it as a collection of re-releases, even without the whole anniversary celebration context, it comes up short, and looks positively offensive next to how great (and cheap) other similar releases have been.
Obviously, it’s still worth buying – as I said, Galaxy alone justifies the price of admission, and throwing in 64 and Sunshine on top of that is just overkill. But if it is worth buying, it is no thanks to any merits of this collection in and of itself – Nintendo is, ultimately, coasting off of the back of some amazing work it did more than a decade ago to sell what is ultimately a disappointingly barebones, facile celebration of gaming’s most important icon who truly deserves better.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
Three amazing games in one package is unbeatable value, especially when the games mostly hold up
Any pros to this collection is because of the original games, the collection itself is shockingly lacking - no widescreen for Mario 64, contrived controls for Mario Sunshine, no extras, and so on
The three games it encompasses are fantastic, so Mario 3D All Stars is still worth buying. However, Nintendo is, ultimately, coasting off of the back of some amazing work it did more than a decade ago to sell what is ultimately a disappointingly barebones, facile celebration of gaming’s most important icon who truly deserves better.