The stars are all here!
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the first time Nintendo has released a collection of 3D Mario titles. While its naming convention follows in the footsteps of its SNES predecessor, Super Mario All-Stars, it lacks the obvious visual overhaul that made that collection stand out. This isn’t to say it is without its upgrades however, not the least of which is portability for two of these games for the first time. The question is, are these upgrades enough, and do these games still hold up all these years later?
Super Mario 64 by Neal Ronaghan
The phrase “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” comes to mind often when playing Super Mario 64. I’ve spent a lot of time since the original release in 1996 playing and thinking about this landmark achievement in video games. I was there back for Super Mario 64 DS, and I’ve picked it up on every Virtual Console it came to. For a long time, I always thought it was sublime perfection. After playing through it on the Switch in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, some of the shine has worn off, but dollars to doughnuts Super Mario 64 is still an immensely enjoyable game, almost as much so now as it was more than 20 years ago.
First off, Mario 64 might have the best glow-up in this collection. It’s not an overwhelmingly different upgrade, but it’s effective at nailing the ideal of looking not like it was, but how you remember it. Textures are improved. Text retains the charming font but looks cleaner and crisper. Sure, it’s not in widescreen, but it runs beautifully and looks as sharp as a Nintendo 64 game can look without more wholesale and widespread changes. In a perfect world, seeing Super Mario 64 be more intricately upgraded would be awesome, but, like I said to start this: It ain’t broke, so it didn’t need fixing.
The first handful of levels are still incredible. Bob-omb Battlefield and Whomp’s Fortress are incredible starting points. The variety on display through the ice, fire, and water worlds early on is great. A lot of the star challenges are clever and fun. Exploring the castle still has a charm to it, especially with the fantastic soundtrack. However, replaying it today leaves me with a few sour notes. Mostly, a number of late-game stages are rough. Tall Tall Mountain and Rainbow Ride are some of the worst offenders to me. Tall Tall Mountain is basically just several stars requiring you go up the mountain in almost the same fashion several times. Rainbow Ride is still whimsical and novel, but the structure of the level can get repetitive and punishing. It’s not all bad: a lot of the levels with dynamic changes like Tick Tock Clock and Tiny-Huge Island are still wildly enjoyable, but the farther the game went, the more frustrations I had.
Through it all, Super Mario 64 is still a great game, even in 2020. It’s almost impossible to separate the game from the importance and legacy, but whether you look at Mario’s 3D debut as a historical relic or a timeless masterpiece, it’s still a game worth revisiting today and Nintendo has never released a better version of it until Super Mario 3D All-Stars.
Super Mario Sunshine by John Rairdin
Super Mario 3D All-Stars represents the first official re-release of Super Mario Sunshine, likely the most oft debated title in the 3D Mario lineage. Of the three games included in this collection, Sunshine sees the most obvious visual improvements. Some of its underlying issues are still present, but on the whole, it's damn good to be back on Isle Delfino.
Apart from the obvious boost to HD that every game in the collection receives, Super Mario Sunshine is unique in that it gets brand new widescreen support. The hud has also been reformatted to fit this display and of course cleaned up for HD displays. Text and other 2D elements have also received an overhaul, but unlike Super Mario 64, all in game textures appear to be as they were at initial release. With that in mind I was absolutely baffled by just how good Super Mario Sunshine still looks. Remember that undulating, tropical, ocean water? Well it still looks incredible today. Apart from the occasional low resolution texture on the environment, Sunshine holds up remarkably well.
Super Mario Sunshine is largely built around usinging FLUDD, your water spewing backpack, to deftly navigate and clean up the environment. At the outset, FLUDD can act both as a water cannon and as a jetpack, enhancing Mario’s movement capabilities. The one major concern I had going into Super Mario Sunshine on Switch was how the GameCube’s analogue triggers would be mapped to the digital triggers of the Switch. On GameCube, a partial press of the right trigger would allow mario to spray water while moving. A full click would cause him to lock in place allowing the left stick to be used to aim the water spray instead. The solution for Switch however is simple and works perfectly. Clicking R reads as a full trigger click, while ZR registers as a partial press. It is quick, easy, and arguably works better than the original.
Outside of that, Super Mario Sunshine is largely unchanged. This is still the most difficult of all the 3D Mario’s, and that remains true here. Most of that is by design, but it's worth noting that the occasionally strange physics of the original are wholly intact in this release. This doesn’t quite feel like other 3D Mario titles, and while it's not too hard to get used to, new players should be ready for a bit of a learning curve. That being said, I had just as much, if not more, fun playing it again on Switch, as I did on Gamecube. Without a doubt, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the definitive way to experience this tropical adventure.
Super Mario Galaxy by Jordan Rudek
Super Mario Galaxy makes the space jump from Wii to Switch as part of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, and the HD visuals and portability of Nintendo’s latest console make for a warm welcome to both new players and those familiar with the game. Galaxy mostly does away with the larger, contained spaces of its predecessors, 64 and Sunshine, and instead sees Mario launching from one planetoid to the next that each contain more minute platforming and exploration challenges. For the most part, the result of this design shift is that collecting stars (60 to roll credits, 121 in all), feels more like a test of endurance rather than a measure of running and jumping skill. The use of gravity and upside-down visual perspectives are stretched to their limit, which certainly adds to the challenge but also the repetition. That said, the typical Mario charm and whimsy are on full display, with a magnificent soundtrack and vibrant visuals to match.
On Switch, the Wii’s pointer controls have been replaced with motion controls in docked mode and touch controls in handheld mode. What this means is that if you’re using a Pro Controller, you can press R to bring up a star cursor that allows you to make menu selections and collect star bits by moving the controller or a Joy-Con. A Joy-Con can also be given to a second player for use in Co-Star mode, where a friend can help you gather up star bits and even give Mario extra height on his jump. When playing portably, you can only move and activate the star cursor on the touchscreen. While none of these options hinder the experience overall, they do feel a little inelegant compared to the original Wii controls, but considering that the game was obviously designed with those in mind, the Switch version still works just fine.
Discussion of controls aside, Super Mario Galaxy has aged incredibly well. The focused gameplay and memorable presentation combine to create an excellent platforming adventure that feels both very different from 64, Sunshine, and Odyssey but also quite similar at the same time. The Comet Observatory hubworld grants quick access to all of the galaxies Mario can visit, but it also provides flavor in the form of Rosalina’s storybook chapters, Captain Toad, and even letters from Luigi guiding you to his next hiding spot. Even though the power-ups generally aren’t as interesting as in other Mario titles, the objectives in each stage make up for that. One of the most captivating elements of Super Mario Galaxy is how the galaxies change when you re-enter them in pursuit of a new star, and it’s this variety and variability that helps the game feel fresh every time you take a giant leap for Mario-kind.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is by no means a complete overhaul, nor is it as simple as a port. It’s not as straightforward as Super Mario 64’s virtual console release, or Super Mario Galaxy on Wii U, as the entries in this collection are indeed updates to the original games. Each game seems to have been treated as its own challenge, with different improvements and changes being put into each. Updated, sharper textures for Super Mario 64, widescreen support for Super Mario Sunshine, and diverse new control options for Super Mario Galaxy, each bring welcome additions to their respective games. While yes, the updates are restrained somewhat in their ambition, the end result is undeniable. Even if some elements show their age, this is without a doubt, the best, and most versatile release these three classic 3D platformers have ever received.