Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review: Familiar Roads Still Lead to the Stars

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review: Familiar Roads Still Lead to the Stars

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a good reminder how far and wide the 3D Mario games take us.

Some time after the launch of the SNES, Nintendo brewed up a tantalizing offer to combat stiff competition from the Sega Genesis. If customers bought a SNES, they got both the acclaimed Super Mario World and a mail-in rebate for Super Mario All-Stars. All-Stars contained the first three Super Mario games for the NES, all of which were visually upgraded with 16-bit graphics and music. It also has the once-mysterious "Lost Levels," a notoriously difficult 8-bit Mario game that had previously never been released in the West. It was a pretty amazing deal for the time.

To that point, I'd spent the better part of the early '90s hounding my parents to let me buy a SNES with my painstakingly-saved money. (Minus whatever handfuls of change my younger brother stole for cigarettes.) The All-Stars offer finally swayed them. All-Stars arrived some weeks later on a warm Friday afternoon in May 1993. I was in grade 8, and I had a major writing project due on Monday, but I spent the weekend playing All-Stars. I desperately scribbled out the project on Sunday night. I still count it amongst the worst things I've ever written. I somehow managed an A-.

Twenty-seven years later, Nintendo has resurrected the "All-Stars" title and applied it to a new collection of three retro Mario games: Super Mario 64 for the N64, Super Mario Sunshine for the GameCube, and Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. I no longer have tests or assignments to worry about—just deadlines—but I can still feel that familiar rush of warm memories wash over me as I jump from the imaginative worlds of Super Mario 64 to the topsy-turvy worlds of Super Mario Galaxy. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a tight collection that lets players appreciate how Mario has evolved across his 3D adventures; there are marked differences between the included games that are easy to observe now that they're freely available to play side-by-side. Until now, I don't think I've ever noticed how Nintendo pushed hard to innovate with each 3D Mario game. This newfound sense of wonder makes up for 3D All-Stars' lack of extras—but not entirely.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars contains the three aforementioned games, plus their collected soundtracks. Each title has been gussied up for the age of HD, and the polish suits Mario's colorful, expressive worlds. Super Mario 64 is obviously the biggest winner in Nintendo's clean-up efforts. The game's still built out of simple polygons, but character models and backgrounds now look much sharper and cleaner. Faraway objects and enemies no longer look fuzzy and ill-defined. Textures have higher resolution, as do background illustrations like the pictures of the Boos in the haunted house level. I'm often hesitant to go back to N64 games because they look intolerably muddy by today's standards, but Super Mario 64's upgrade makes it much more pleasant to look at.

I admit, I would love to see Nintendo give us a full upgrade for Super Mario 64. I want a restoration effort like the 16-bit glow-ups the original NES Mario enjoyed in the original Super Mario All-Stars collection. At the very least, I had hoped Nintendo would include Super Mario 64 DS in 3D All-Stars. It's a rich, meaty upgrade to Super Mario 64 that adds new characters, new enemies, new worlds, and new gimmicks. Most people who played it love it, though its touchscreen-based control scheme made it a bit awkward to play. I think it'd thrive on the Switch, which has much better control options than the DS. Alas, no Super Mario 64 DS.

I will say Super Mario 64 is still excellent (Editor-in-Chief Kat Bailey wholeheartedly agrees), and it's still easy to see why it revolutionized 3D platforming. Some of its mechanics are a bit archaic, e.g. traveling through a hub world to reach seperate levels, each of which is hidden within a painting. Still, when I started up 3D All-Stars and booted up Super Mario 64, my heart was swept back to the night I brought my N64 home. As soon as Mario leapt out of the pipe that spits him out onto Princess Peach's courtyard, I found myself running, jumping, flipping, and climbing trees for the sheer hell of it. Movement is joy in Super Mario 64. There are moments where the camera acts up—3D All-Stars does not add 360-degree camera movement to games that previously lacked it—but most of the levels are so well-designed that it hardly impacts the flow and pace of the exploration. Super Mario 64 was a marvel when it came out in 1996, and it's still a delight to play today.

"Here's your baby, ma'am. Did you know he respawns if you chuck him off into the void at the edge of the level? Isn't that cool?" | Nintendo

Next in the collection is 2002's Super Mario Sunshine: three magic words capable of whipping Twitter into a froth. I think 3D All-Stars will open everyone's eyes to the truth, which is that Mario Sunshine is perfectly alright. Granted, I still don't like it; I don't like the tropical setting, I don't love FLUDD's water-shooting mechanics, and the only good thing about the Piantas is how Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door turned the race into a Mafia family.

That said, revisiting Super Mario Sunshine made me appreciate how Nintendo took a creative risk with the game. FLUDD's ability to shoot powerful jets of water completely changes up Mario's platforming abilities—save for the extra-tricky challenge rooms where Mario must reach the end of a platforming gauntlet without the aid of the water pack. I admit, I don't like these rooms either. Nethertheless, I can't say Mario Sunshine is bad or worthless. Mario Sunshine is an admirable experiment from Nintendo, even if it just doesn't click with me.

Super Mario Galaxy is the star of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, both literally and metaphorically. This might be the single most requested Wii-to-Switch port—barring Super Mario Galaxy 2, which is unfortunately not on this collection. (Boo to that.)

"HURRGGGHHHBBLLL oh man, I am never drinking ever again, I swear to God and Rosalina." | Nintendo

Super Mario Galaxy came to the Wii in 2007, putting an end to 3D Mario games' five-year drought. Nintendo had already demonstrated it likes to fiddle about with Mario's 3D adventures, and Super Mario Galaxy literally flips Mario 64's platforming on its head. Many of the levels in Mario Galaxy see Mario run and fly between small planetoids suspended in a fantasy version of space where characters breathe freely in the upper atmosphere and the stars shine down in a rainbow of colors. Super Mario Galaxy's levels offer innumerable whimsical playgrounds, and I was glad to discover I still get a weightless, almost breathless feeling when hopping off the edge of a planet and winding up on its backside, or on a whole new planet.

It's still possible to use the Wii version's motion controls via the Joy-Cons, but handheld users have to touch the Switch's screen where they previously pointed with the Wii remote. For example, Mario latches onto blue "pull stars" when players tap on them, and he can collect stray star bits the same way. It's a decent workaround, but I would prefer if star bits around Mario automatically gravitated towards him.

Super Mario Galaxy is another example of Nintendo tearing down 3D Mario and building him back up again. It's arguably the company's most successful attempt, too. Mario Galaxy is still a gas [giant], people still clamor for Super Mario Galaxy 2, and they're justifiably peeved that Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn't on the collection.

El-ahrairah. | Nintendo

Super Mario Galaxy 2's omission brings up a problem with 3D All-Stars: it doesn't contain a lot of extras that feel like they should be here. The cleaned-up graphics are a big plus, though there are diminishing returns from game to game. (Super Mario Galaxy has always looked great.) There are also full soundtracks for all three games, and that's a nice addition. Listening to Super Mario 64's soundtrack again makes me appreciate what a masterful job Nintendo composer Koji Kondo did with it.

Some of the omitted "extras" shouldn't even count as extras, though. There's no option to change your controls in the game's main menu, nor are there sound options. I love Charles Martinet's interpretation of Mario, but all his "Woo hoos!' and "Wa haas!" kind of drown out Super Mario Galaxy's magnificent orchestral soundtrack.

Nevertheless, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a tasty, convenient collection. It offers three great 3D Mario games that are otherwise parked on their systems of origin. Sometimes I forget how long ago Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine came out, so I'm genuinely curious to see how kids react to them in an age where the awesome Super Mario Odyssey exists. I still think Super Mario 64 is excellent, but maybe I'm just old and blinded by nostalgia.

Maybe not, though. Now that I've had a chance to examine Mario's earliest 3D games side-by-side, I find I'm appreciative of how many opportunities Nintendo took to break our expectations—and even break gravity itself. Now I wish more than ever Nintendo would employ the same creative boldness to its near-static 2D Mario universe.

The Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection could stand a few more extras. Customizable controls would be great, as would sound options, design documents, or artwork. When you think about everything the original All-Stars offered—three graphically upgraded Mario games, plus a "lost" game—3D All-Stars is a bit lacking. That said, the games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars still hold up today. I'm surprised how fun Super Mario 64 still is, and Super Mario Galaxy remains one of the heroic plumber's best outings. As for Super Mario Sunshine, well, that's still up to personal taste.

4/5

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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