Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review
It was just two weeks ago that we officially learned about Super Mario 3D All-Stars and in that time I’ve been digesting 24 years of 3D Super Mario games. I’ve been overwhelmed, underwhelmed, felt nostalgic, and have discovered a newfound appreciation for one of the games (guess which one). This collection has at least two games that at one time have been considered “the best of all time,” and a perhaps misunderstood entry that now, under a different lens, might shine a bit brighter.
Nintendo’s decisions around what Super Mario 3D All-Stars is and how it’s presented has received a mixed reaction from Mario fans in the last two weeks. Remake, remaster, ports? What this collection of games could be and should be has been discussed to death. These three games have essentially been chosen to be presented in their – what I call – optimal original form. They’re the same games they were, just with small updates and minor quality of life changes to their presentation and function. The games themselves mostly remain unchanged. This “pure” presentation speaks to the quality of the games, but because they’re so untouched their blemishes are even more apparent.
Super Mario 64 was a launch title for the Nintendo 64 and released in 1996. At the time its 3D graphics and analogue stick controls were groundbreaking and changed the way games were made for years to come. Mario 64 is also different from previous Mario games, abandoning the world structure from all 2D games and instead allowing you to pick worlds and levels as you see fit. The levels themselves are also open-ended and filled with more puzzles than previous games.
Out of all of the games in the collection, Super Mario 64 has received possibly the least changes. It is the oldest; this shows you the strength of the core game but also where it’s flaws are now even more evident.
Super Mario 64 is presented just as it was in 1996, albeit in high definition. That means the game retains its 4:3 presentation and perhaps more annoyingly it doesn’t fill the screen at the top and bottom. Textures have been cleaned up both in resolution and filtering, and there are some tweaks to Mario himself, but other than that it’s the same Mario 64. Things like Mario going low-poly when zoomed out look weird in HD, but hey at least they fixed the horrible font in the game.
Where Mario 64 shows its age the most is in the camera. The original “Lakitu” camera hasn’t stood the test of time at all. It’s been bested by other Mario games and everyone else. Lakitu is not only holding a camera – he is also the camera, and you can only move 45 degrees at a time. On the N64 the camera controls were on the C-Buttons. They’re now bound to an analogue stick, and it just doesn’t behave how you’d like. While in Galaxy and Odyssey the camera only needs to be tweaked and prodded into position, the camera here needs constant attention. There’s a closer viewport near Mario, but that’s no good either. Ironically, had the game been given a widescreen presentation, that might have made things more tolerable.
Super Mario 64 remains a turning point in video game design, but it was among the first and has since been topped by its successors. While this version here on All-Stars is preserved as is, I’d love to see Mario 64 get a full-on remake — but I could be waiting another decade for that now.
For 18 years I have felt a particular way about Super Mario Sunshine; like many others, it’s not my favourite 3D Mario title, and it’s certainly not as game-changing as Mario 64 or awe-inspiring as Super Mario Galaxy. Still, in the last two weeks, something’s changed with Sunshine and me. Super Mario Sunshine as presented both in All-Stars and out of the shadow of Super Mario 64 on its own is something different.
When Sunshine was released, it was a whole six years after Super Mario 64, and people just wanted more of that on their GameCube. Instead, we got Mario on vacation, on a blurry tropical island with a water shooting machine stuck on his back. F.L.U.D.D is an interesting mechanic, and it still seems crazy to build a whole game around the idea, but here we are. Sunshine also contains levels without it, and they feel like a prototype Galaxy at points. Sunshine, unlike Mario 64, has been granted the privilege of filling your entire screen in beautiful 16:9.
The bright colours and locales of Isle Delfino have never looked better, and you can see more of it too with the blurry “heat” in the distance either pushed back or just not as apparent now. Although, each of the game’s worlds are far too big to have such poor checkpointing as this. Going all the way to the entrance in 64 is fine because the worlds are small, whereas in Mario Sunshine it’s just a bit more annoying.
The game’s HUD now is smaller and pushed out to the edges. You wouldn’t think this would do much, but the game’s average camera now is more tolerable because of this change, and the game’s platforming and perspective are also improved. One change you might not like is that Nintendo has flipped the controls for spraying water. In the GameCube version, you would click down the trigger all the way (now replaced with R, with ZR for moving and spraying) and then push back on the stick to aim up; it’s now been flipped. For me, it’s more natural and something I struggled with on the GameCube, but it’s going to upset some, and there’s no option to invert it. It does seem like if you’re going to take liberty with your own game and change something, you should at least give people the option to change it back. Isn’t that what this collection is about – being authentic? Why allow this one change and not change anything else?
Mario Sunshine also reveals an issue with all these games; it saves so much and takes too long to do it. Get a blue coin? Save. Pickup a different nozzle? Save. Shine Get? Save. Super Mario 64 is the same, and so is Galaxy. Games today save automatically so you don’t even have to think about, but you can feel the age in Sunshine the most because of its frequency.
The All-Stars version of Sunshine has allowed me to see the game in, ahem – a new light. It’s the most improved game here in the collection, and worth a second look.
After almost the same length of time between Mario 64 and Sunshine, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy. When the Wii was revealed people were worried Nintendo had gone off their rocket, but Super Mario Galaxy showed they still had something and despite the addition of waggle and pointer controls you still have one of the best games of all time.
Let’s get one thing out of the way – Super Mario Galaxy is simply a masterpiece of game creation. From the beautiful worlds to the sweeping grand music and the tight gameplay, Super Mario Galaxy is the Mario 64 sequel we all wanted. The idea that each “world” is a different galaxy with a distinct feeling was so good they stretched it out to two games (more on that later). As Mario launches from the hub into the Galaxy, the grand music takes over, and you bounce around doing stuff in the best way possible. The Wii might have only output at 480p but look at what it was hiding. Nintendo’s art style and direction here is brilliant. The game at 1080p looks like it could have been made only a couple of years ago – not a decade ago.
However, because the game was on the Wii, there’s something we need to talk about, and that’s the game’s controls. Yes, the rumours are correct, you can now press Y to use Mario’s spin move. It would be great if that were the only thing we had to talk about, but there’s two more. Handheld play requires the use of the screen for almost any onscreen interaction, such as using the touch screen to collect Star Bits. This constant taking your hand off the controls to touch the screen is annoying, and I would have loved to have seen Nintendo perhaps add an “absorb” function so Mario could suck the bits in. Authenticity, right?
In TV mode things are a bit more complicated. If you’re playing with a Joy-Con you can waggle it to spin Mario and collect bits or use the “pointer controls” which can be triggered by tapping R. Sadly, you have to use the pointer controls for all menu interactions. Those with third-party controllers with no gyro are left out in the cold. If you’re playing with a Pro Controller, you can still use the gyro controls for pointing, and it works surprisingly well. Still of all the games in this collection, Galaxy is the only one to compromise how you play it — and that’s a bit disappointing.
You can now understand why Super Mario Galaxy 2 isn’t included, as the controls there would be even more of a problem than the first game’s to adapt. If Nintendo doesn’t want to go to the effort to improve the controls for this game, it’s not going to do it for the second one – it’s a shame. Some might argue is Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a better game…
Now, what about the package as a whole? Well as you’ve no doubt deduced by now, Nintendo’s intention here is to present the games mostly as they were originally, just with a modern wrapping. This means that outside of the games themselves, there’s no options, no settings, nothing to tweak. You do get the three game’s soundtracks included on a bare-bones menu.
I will give it some credit, this has to be the fastest loading game possibly ever. You click the icon and within 2 seconds you’re on the menu. Nintendo is letting the games speak for themselves.
We can lament what could have been, how much more Nintendo could have done with these games and the collection in general. This week we’re all time travellers, and when you travel to the past it’s best not to change anything, although sometimes if you knew you could make things better – wouldn’t you?
Nintendo seems intent on showing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy as they were, warts and all – just in HD and playable on the Switch. Does the camera in Mario 64 kind of suck? Yes, it does. How has Sunshine come out best in this? I’m not sure. Are the controls for Galaxy here a bit of a problem? Maybe. But despite all this, you’ve got three tremendous games which are all still a ton of fun.
+ Three of the best Mario games, and two of arguably the best games of all time
+ Super Mario Sunshine somehow is the most improved game here
+ All of these games are just a joy to play and experience again
- Super Mario 64 deserves a full remake at this point, it's earned it.
- Super Mario Galaxy has compromised controls in handheld, and the pointer just isn't the same without a Wii Remote.
- Barebones menu and presentation. Where's the documentary or docs on the development of the games?