In the early 90s, Super Mario All-Stars was among the first titles to suggest that important old console games, such as early 2D Super Mario Bros. series: should not be stuck on outdated hardware that originally hosted them. The collection also popularized the idea that old games could be improved with new technology, while still preserving their original intent.
Now, 27 years later, widespread backward compatibility and regular remasters (including those from Nintendo) have made that concept more rigorous than groundbreaking. Therefore, Super Mario 3D All-Stars feels strangely anti-climatic.
On the one hand, it’s a collection of three of the best 3D platformers ever made (well, two and a half of the best, at least) in a format that’s more easily compatible with modern TVs and the conveniently portable form of Switch factor. On the other hand, that’s pretty much all it is.
Other classic game collections seek to prove their worth with new game features and digitally preserved historical artifacts. Super Mario 3D All-Stars it’s a much simpler collection, where Nintendo has done a little more work than the minimum amount of work needed to get these games running on the new hardware.
Get in control
Super Mario 3D All-Stars [Switch]
To be clear, Nintendo has made an little more than throwing some old ROMs in a new Switch based emulator. The user interface and game instructions in each game, for example, have been updated to specifically reference the Switch controls. (For example, the introduction screen of Super Mario 64 says “Press +” instead of “Press Start”). There’s also a pause menu that lets you quickly switch between the three included games or read a single-page reference for Mario’s controls.
All-Stars 3D also updates old Nintendo control schemes to work with Switch Joy-Con and Pro Controller. In Super Mario 64For example, camera movement that was mapped to the four C buttons on the N64 is now controlled by tapping the right analog stick. It seems a bit odd, especially in situations where a more flexible and freely rotatable camera would be welcome (as we’ve seen in recent unauthorized PC ports). In general, however, the game’s default camera programming usually still offers a useful, cinematic viewing angle without much player interference.
Super Mario Galaxy it needs a little more refinement to replicate the functions of the original Wii Remote. For one thing, Mario’s all-important spinning fist move can now be performed with a tap of the Y button, in addition to normal controller shaking. This is a welcome change that increases the accuracy of crucial gameplay action and eliminates the need to constantly shake the entire Switch while playing handheld.
Without a Wii Remote, however, it is more complicated to move the “star” cursor on the game screen (used to collect and shoot fragments of stars and grab certain objects in the game). In docked mode, the cursor scrolls according to very small movements detected by the controller’s tilt-sensitive gyro. It’s not as accurate or intuitive as the Wii Remote’s IR Pointer, but after some practice it’s generally pretty accurate.
In portable mode, however, you control the star cursor by tapping or sliding your finger across the screen. This is a rather awkward question, requiring you to temporarily remove one hand from the Switch’s physical controls for a short time while supporting the Switch’s entire unbalanced weight with the other. It might be the best possible solution for a difficult use case, but most importantly it reminds us of some of the most awkward moments of tapping the 3DS touchscreen.
Aside from these minor tweaks, these games work and look almost exactly like their original counterparts (up to 30fps retrograde frame rate on Super Mario 64 is Sunlight). I say “almost” because the games feature what Nintendo describes as “improved image resolution” on the more powerful hardware of the Switch.
The effects of this change are most noticeable on Super Mario 64. There, original UI elements like pixel block text have been replaced with fonts that look fluid on an HD display. And while enemies and objects in the game still appear in their original, comically low-polygon patterns, their sharp edges now appear as charming retro.
Where is it Super Mario 64 it suffers is in its environmental textures, which don’t appear to have been redesigned to appear sharper on high-resolution screens. Therefore, grass fields or rocky mountains look smudged and muddy clutter on a big screen TV in a less than eye-catching way.
Sunlight is Galaxy handle HD transition better, with fewer apparent artifacts that look out of place after upscaling. Sunlight it also feels a little less claustrophobic, in a 16: 9 aspect ratio that fills the screen.
All in all though, there is no global graphic overhaul here to give the same “wow” factor as seeing the 16-bit versions of Mario’s 2D enemies in the original. All Stars. Through a swamp standard upscaling, Nintendo simply managed to match these games to the decidedly SD images in your memory.
Reinterpretation of the classics
Small changes aside, the question remains: How do Mario’s first 3D adventures hold up after 13-24 years of advancement in 3D game design?
Super Mario 64 it is still an absolute classic that has introduced the wider world of fast moving and unobstructed games into a 3D space. The game’s environments may seem a bit sparse and empty from a 21st century perspective, but the open courses are still a masterclass in player-centric design, filled with little touches that gently guide players to the hidden objects they need to find. And while some of the game’s challenges seem a little simple now that analog sticks aren’t a new control paradigm, All-Stars 3D it’s a perfect opportunity to relive them.
Super Mario Sunshineon the other hand, it continues to be frustrating. The game has many interesting ideas, among which stands out the nozzle that sprays water, a talking backpack called FLUDD, which gives Mario a more precise mid-air movement than ever. Playful use of a sun-drenched visual design also infuses the process with a strong sense of place.
That said, SunlightThe gameplay itself feels less focused than ever in 2020. The play areas feel overcrowded and often lack a strong sense of direction that even dictates where players should go next. Controls also feel a bit mushy and inaccurate for the Mario series, especially in the bonus areas where FLUDD’s hover nozzle is briefly removed. The camera also seems less accurate than necessary, usually operating on an unguided rotation that requires constant fiddling to point in the right direction.
Super Mario Galaxy summarizes the best of both of these previous games. While the 2007 game’s gravity-bending mechanics can get confusing (especially when the camera goes upside down compared to Mario), it also allows for a lot of experimentation with new environment shapes and interesting and challenging platforming situations.
Jumping between small individual planetoids allows the game to maintain infinite innovation and a steady pace of new ideas. And the spinning punch introduced in this game allows for easy momentum control towards the end of a jump, ensuring precision on landings that was lacking in jumps in previous Mario 3D games.
Is that all, folks?
Great as at least two of the games in All-Stars 3D it’s hard not to dream of what this collection could have been. The inclusion of Super Mario Galaxy 2, which expanded some of the best ideas of its predecessors, would have completed the package, for example (and mirrored the selection of four games in the original All Stars). Even a complete overhaul of game graphics could have been a showcase for the past 24 years of advances in 3D rendering.
More than that, however, a collection like All-Stars 3D it would have been a great occasion to celebrate Mario’s recent history. In-game extras like concept art, developer interviews, or even playable prototype areas could have given fans a new appreciation for games that many players likely feel have already been picked. And while the ability to play each game’s soundtrack within the game is nice, the included songs aren’t hard to find on the internet.
It might seem insignificant to ask for more from a $ 60 package than to pick up some of the greatest 3D platforming games ever created. At the same time, such great games deserve more respect and attention than the slapdash collection Nintendo has put together here.
- Still some of the best examples of 3D platformers you can find.
- The controls are generally well suited to the Switch.
- HD upscaling makes games as refined as your memories.
- Playing these classics on a laptop for the first time.
- The original graphics show their age in places.
- Super Mario Sunshineare the frustrations of control.
- Virtually none of the extras expected from classic game collections.
- The absence of Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Verdict: Buy it if you missed one of these classic games for the first time or if you want to relive them in a more convenient form.