‘Super Mario 3D All-Stars’ Review: Classic Platforming, Underwhelmingly Packaged
Nobody forgets their first Super Mario game. Whatever console generation marked the moment you bought into what Nintendo was selling, there was a Super Mario game waiting. From 1985's original Super Mario Bros. on the NES to the most-recent new game in the series, 2017's Super Mario Odyssey on Switch, there have always been incredible wonders in waiting for those willing to just pick up a pad.
And the appeal of these platformers has never (or at least rarely) been Mario himself. He's the very definition of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none as he's flitted between professions ever since 1981's Donkey Kong. It's all about how these games play, the creativity they exude, and their willingness to introduce new items and options in one level and wholly do away with them in the next. The best Super Mario games simply never stop giving as they take you from Peach's inevitable kidnapping to a showdown with the big brute himself, Bowser.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars wants to do for the mascot's post-1996 3D adventures (at least, the first three of them) what 1993's Super Mario All-Stars achieved for the series' first four 2D side-scrollers. But whereas said Super Nintendo compilation featured 16-bit remakes of Super Mario Bros. to Super Mario Bros. 3, 3D All-Stars adds practically nothing to its featured games. You might say this is less a barebones and more a dry-bones offering, and I'd appreciate the reference, thank you.
If you come to this compilation expecting nothing more than the opportunity to play Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy on your Nintendo Switch, you're in luck: that's what you're getting. The games are all in HD now, of course, and Sunshine's been adjusted to fit a 16:9 ratio (Super Mario 64 has not, so you get a black border still), but there's a distinct shortage of bells and whistles about Super Mario 3D All-Stars. These aren't remakes, or remasters - they're the games you played 24, 18 and 13 years ago, now united on a single console. And if you've never played them before, great: now you can without digging through ebay for dusty old consoles.
Super Mario Galaxy feels perfectly at home played docked, with a Joy-Con in each hand. As a Wii game, originally released in 2007, the flick-a-wrist motion controls carry over seamlessly, and Star Bits can be hoovered up with ease (and just as easily fired off into a Goomba's face). But in handheld mode Galaxy is a more tricky customer, as it forces you to use the touch screen and motion controls for several interactions. I'd have liked to have seen Galaxy optimised fully for Switch, doing away with these demands - but I suppose there is something rewarding about registering a great Ray Surfing time when you're wafting your Switch from left to right.
The odd accidental nudge of the right analogue stick as you swipe a finger across Galaxy's still-gorgeous visuals isn't that big of a nuisance, but it is a reminder that you're not playing this genuine classic in the best way possible. This is a Wii game forced onto the Switch, rather than a Wii game adapted to properly fit it. And the same can be said of Sunshine, which suffers just as much from a persistently annoying camera and frustratingly finicky controls as it did on GameCube. Before picking the 2002-released game up again for this coverage, I couldn't remember the last time I'd shouted in exhausted exasperation at a video game. Now, I sure can.
Super Mario 64 is maybe the most natural fit of these three, for handheld play. Its chunky looks might betray the 1996 game's age, but the quick-to-click controls and a camera that actually goes where you need it to make it an effortlessly enjoyable experience some 24 years on from its debut. It's still a thrill opening that first locked door in Peach's castle, and the game's iconic level designs retain their break-you-in-slow seductiveness. Super Mario 64 felt groundbreaking in the mid-1990s, and its countdown-free tempo mixed with pulse-quickening challenges when you want them feels pretty special today, too.
Sunshine, on the other hand, has long been a divisive entry in the Super Mario series. I've started it on GameCube a few times over the years and always wound up annoyed - and so far, with 3D All-Stars, my experience has been the same. It's the weakest selection here, and I'd much rather spend time in the Space Junk Galaxy, casually careening between lumps of debris, or slip-sliding with my penguin pals on Cool Cool Mountain, than spend another moment with it.
Sure, Gelato Beach is very pretty in HD, and Sunshine's Switch port really showcases the great results Nintendo EAD achieved some 18 years ago, in making this game such a looker. But no amount of stunning scenery can make up for the constant irritation that is Mario's movement and his (near-)constant companion, FLUDD. We're just... Look, at this point, I'm never going to click with the water-spraying sentient backpack. I hate how Sunshine controls, so very, very much. To go from the elegant simplicity of Super Mario 64 to this, I can't begin to fathom the conversations that must have gone on at Nintendo. That Mario's designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, himself commented that they "should have designed the game differently" after Sunshine's release says it all.
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So if Super Mario Sunshine was your first Mario game, maybe you have tried to forget it? Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy make this set, and Sunshine's sure there, too, should you be a player who gets along with it. (I know you're out there, because I see the tweets.) Super Mario 3D All-Stars also includes the soundtrack to each game, which is neat - but it'd be neater still if you could download the songs, to play off your Switch. And that's the package, really: three games with three accompanying OSTs, yours for a penny shy of 50 quid, assuming you can find a copy.
Which leads me to a final point, worth making. Well, two points. The distribution for the physical release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars has been poor, with reports of retailers cancelling pre-orders for customers as they cannot guarantee receiving stock. I'm not sure what's happened there, but it sounds like Nintendo underestimated the demand for having games like Mario 64 and Galaxy playable on a current console. Then there's the bizarre limited-release model for the compilation. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is only available until March 31st 2021, at which point no more physical copies will be produced and the game will be removed from digital storefronts. Inevitably, this has alerted scalpers looking to buy now in bulk and sell at a tidy profit when the product's withdrawn (and some are already trying their luck, selling pre-order copies of the game at way above RRP on ebay).
Neither of these negatives is a factor on the score below - but they're headaches that Nintendo needs to address, and the company's silence on why it's discontinuing 3D All-Stars is baffling. We can speculate, of course - perhaps Nintendo 64 games like Super Mario 64 are to be added to the Switch Online Service? Nintendo, at least so far as I can recall, hasn't been selling the NES and SNES games that are on the Online Service at the moment; so that could be a factor in the limited availability. Maybe N64, GameCube and Wii games are all coming to Switch early next year, in a big Virtual Console extravaganza that may or may not tie into Switch Online's offerings. Whatever the reasoning, actively creating scarcity for a hugely in-demand product sits very uneasily with me.
Back to the review though, and I don't know what more you expect me to say, really. Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy are not only two of the greatest Mario games ever, they're two of the greatest video games ever. Each brims with ideas, with intelligent and intuitive design, and with an irresistible pull on the player to get through just one more level before calling it a night - which then becomes one more, and another, until your Switch battery dies. Even without anything extra added, and the non-native-platform awkwardness of Galaxy appreciated, they're essentials. Super Mario Sunshine is also included.
Pros: it's Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy on your Switch
Cons: Super Mario Sunshine is here, too
For fans of: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine (you monsters)
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is released on September 18th for Nintendo Switch - and is only available until March 31st, 2021. Review code was provided by Nintendo. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scoring system here.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo