Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Reviewing this game is a bit of a strange task. I went into Super Mario 3D All-Stars with a lot of familiarity – I’ve played all 3 of the games included in this collection before, and I know how I feel about them already. They’re pretty much identical to the original versions too, barring a few small tweaks. This presented a bit of a challenge. Do I rate this game based on the quality of the games alone, or do I rate it based on how well it updated them to modern standards?

The latter might prove to be a fairly short review – this collection doesn’t remake anything from the ground up, and these games are brought back exactly as you remember them. But that’s not the main worry for some people. Many fans have expressed concern over the limited window in which you can purchase the game. It’ll only be available until the end of March 2021, so future Switch owners will miss out on the chance to play these games unless Nintendo brings them back in some other capacity. This isn’t ideal, and I see no reason why Nintendo couldn’t keep the game as a digital-only purchase if they wanted the anniversary to feel like a special limited-time thing. The fact that it’s already one of the highest-selling games of 2020 shows why Nintendo have made this choice though. It’s one of the most hyped games of the year, and it’s easy to see why people are rushing out to buy it. However, I think they would have rushed to buy it regardless, because all the games in this collection are absolute timeless classics.

The amount of quality content in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is absurd. Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy – these are games that were incredible when they first came out and they’re still some of the best gaming experiences today. In many ways the games in this collection shaped the gaming landscape and inspired countless other adventures. They pioneered features that have been commonplace for years, and they propelled the platforming genre forwards with innovative ideas. And they do it all so seamlessly that you forget you’re playing a video game sometimes – these games transport you to another world where childlike wonder and unbridled joy take the forefront. Loading up this collection for the first time transported me back to Christmas day as a young kid, anxiously waiting in front of the TV to play a brand new Mario adventure. And still, decades later, these games are just as fun as they were back then.

Personally, I prefer that they’re mostly brought back in their original state, because these aren’t games that need much improvement. Sure, the camera controls can be troublesome at times and certain tweaks could have been made in a few areas, but in my opinion any flaws these games have are essentially nullified by how much fun they are to play. Some people have called Nintendo lazy for releasing this game with minimal updates, and if these were games of lesser quality I might agree. It would have been bizarre to rework the graphics or gameplay when the original games still stand tall above many modern titles as examples of true, quality gaming that other games should strive to achieve. And despite the glaring omission of Super Mario Galaxy 2, there’s an insane amount of value in this package. If you can look past a couple of strange choices from Nintendo regarding availability, this is easily one of the best games on Switch. So rather than focus on somewhat questionable business decisions, I want to discuss what makes these 3 games such a triumph.

Time to travel back to 1996.

First off, Super Mario 64 is a prime example of a game that refuses to age. Despite the obviously-dated graphics, this game has an enduring retro feel that truly never gets tiring. From the bright, bold aesthetic to the classic music and character designs, this game is an exceptional masterpiece. Everything about this game just feels iconic, like you’re playing through a beautiful relic of a wondrous golden age, and in a way that’s exactly what this game is. 

Some fans might be disappointed there’s no widescreen update, but it didn’t really bother me personally. 64 pretty much looks and plays exactly as it did back in 1996. None of the bonus content from the DS version is present, but that’s not really a major downside as most of it is unnecessary. The original version is the ideal way to play the game, so it’s no surprise it was brought back in its entirety here. 64 was the first game I played in this collection and I completed it from start to finish for this review in a couple days. Collecting all 120 stars doesn’t take as long as completing the other games if you know what you’re doing, but that’s because absolutely none of your time is wasted here.

Each corner of the game’s 15 worlds has secrets to discover, and Peach’s Castle in particular is littered with hidden areas and little quirks that make it one of the most iconic areas in video game history. Exploring it and discovering new worlds in hidden paintings was awesome when the game first came out and it’s still great today.

The game opens outside the castle in an open field where you can get to grips with how Mario controls. This is a smart choice for a game that controlled very differently to anything before it. After all, it would have been easy for a drastic change like this to confuse players back in 1996 if it wasn’t done well. Thankfully, the controls in this game are buttery smooth and masterfully crafted. Every single move in Mario’s arsenal feels natural and it all flows together so perfectly. It controls so well that I honestly can’t believe some modern developers are still putting together games with clunky controls in the current generation. Mario’s first 3D foray got it right on the first try, and countless big-budget games since then have tried and failed to keep up with it.

Mario controls like a dream in this game.

Each course is relatively small compared to the sprawling worlds of other titles but they have a laser focus on gameplay above all else. Skilled players can triple jump across the courses making their own route through the level outside of the intended path while newer players can take their time, and that makes returning to this game once you’re well-acquainted with it such a great experience. A lot of the platforming in this game is fairly easy – some levels may have tricky jumps but there are often simpler paths to take. If you want to test yourself you can experiment in all kinds of wacky ways and truly make the level your playground. As each level is a sandbox rather than a linear set of platforming challenges, this game feels like a true adventure that puts freedom above all else. You can tackle stars in different ways and visit worlds in whatever order you want as long as you’ve progressed enough to unlock new parts of the castle.

Each of the game’s fantasy worlds are distinct and memorable in their own right and the music adds to the atmosphere of the game, ranging from the submerged, soothing music in Dire Dire Docks to the gloomy bass and driving percussion in Hazy Maze Cave. Each world sticks to a unique theme and you’ll explore everywhere from an ancient pyramid to a snowy mountain and even inside a giant clock. You can even determine the speed at which obstacles move by jumping into the clock at certain times. Every level feels like a mini adventure all by itself and they’ve inspired countless other variations on similar themes since the game came out.

Cool Cool Mountain, a classic Mario level home to penguins and snowmen.

Super Mario 64 kicked off a new era of video games, and in the years to come so many more classic titles were released – games that still hold up today just like this one does. To me, it’s the most important game Nintendo has ever released, and it also happens to be one of the most enjoyable ones too.

Now, some people probably already knew a lot of what I just said. Super Mario 64 is decades old and it’s pretty well-known how influential the title was. Super Mario Sunshine, on the other hand, is a bit less impactful and a bit less respected too. It didn’t quite have the same ground-breaking innovation of 64, but it took the series in a completely different direction.

Rather than focus on Mario’s acrobatics and offer up levels with carefully crafted platforming, Sunshine gives players a ridiculous water jetpack and basically invites them to abuse the game’s sandbox in whatever ways they can. The premise is that Mario goes on holiday but ends up having to clean up the mess made by the mysterious Shadow Mario and his magic paintbrush. Mario finds F.L.U.D.D, a dousing device that can spray out water in various ways, and from there the island is basically your playground. This new mechanic could have backfired if it wasn’t done right – it’s a stark contrast to the tight, simple gameplay of previous titles, and it completely changes how the game is played. However, in my opinion the gameplay is just as excellent as the game before it.

This guy had a bit too much to drink.

With F.L.U.D.D, you have a crazy amount of options in how you go about traversing the games’ exotic vacation-themed levels. The long jump from 64 is gone, but the hover nozzle means it would be irrelevant anyway as you can easily travel further by squirting out water below you to propel yourself forwards. There’s more verticality in how Mario can move and the levels accommodate this – Ricco Harbour is full of hanging construction beams and tall boats that encourage you to climb up high, and Noki Bay suspends you over precarious cliffsides and giant towers made of seashells. There’s even a nozzle for F.L.U.D.D which lets you shoot straight upwards like a rocket.

Despite this, the platforming is still a challenge because it’s designed with these abilities in mind. And when your powers get taken away in certain levels you’re forced to adapt to classic Mario platforming again, and no hover nozzle can save you if you slip up. These levels can be brutal – much harder than anything in Super Mario 64 at times – but they’re a great change of pace and showcase just how different this new playstyle is from what you’re used to.

F.L.U.D.D is truly what makes this game so fun though, and it lets you embark on each mission at your own pace and create your own path. It’s a joy to experiment with Sunshine’s gameplay and blast across the island resort, and I discover new things every time I play through it. Delfino Plaza serves as the perfect hub world to toy with Mario’s new movement, and I can spend ages messing about in it without getting bored. It’s full of secrets and interesting challenges, taking the concept introduced in Super Mario 64 with Peach’s Castle and expanding upon it. You can see other levels on the horizon too, which makes the whole world feel more alive. There’s even an in-game holiday guide which highlights all the attractions on Isle Delfino while serving as a way to see your progress in each area.

Exploring Isle Delfino is always a ton of fun.

This Switch version also has a more modern resolution and it looks fantastic because the game’s art style was so clean and stylised already. It hasn’t been reworked in any major ways, but it’s nice to play it again with a slightly updated look. There’s one thing that holds it back from being the perfect port though, and that’s the lack of analog triggers on the Switch. In the original game you can hold the Gamecube controllers trigger down to spray water and how hard you held it down determined how powerful the spray was. Here, Nintendo was forced to use two different buttons for the spray – one for standing still and firing, and one for spraying on the go. It took some time to get used to and I don’t think it’s quite as good as the original because you lose a bit of the precision with controlled sprays, but it’s not a big deal once you adapt to the new system.

Super Mario Sunshine is also a little rough around the edges when it comes to certain levels in the game. Anyone who’s played it before is probably dreading going through the watermelon level again, or the sand bird level, or the nightmarish lily-pad level, or even the aptly-named Corona Mountain. These severe spikes in difficulty can be frustrating, but most are optional unless you want all the Shine Sprites in the game. And while I may never look at a watermelon the same way again, these levels are definitely satisfying as hell to finally beat.

If you played Sunshine before this might be a familiar sight.

Ultimately, Super Mario Sunshine manages to rise above any small flaws it might have and remains an incredible platformer today. It stands alongside titles like 64 despite having none of the same ground-breaking influence simply because it’s such a well-made, entertaining adventure. The island theme is unique and inventive, with levels taking place in hotels, theme parks, sunny beaches or tranquil hillsides. The music is upbeat and catchy, and the gameplay is extremely addictive. It inspires your creativity and lets you have free reign over an imaginative island sandbox. I absolutely love it, and it’s amazing to be able to play it anywhere I go with the Switch.

This leaves us with one more game to talk about: Super Mario Galaxy. With Galaxy, Nintendo once again reinvented 3D Mario’s gameplay, proving how unafraid they are to take the series in bold new directions and innovate with brilliant ideas.

Galaxy made motion controls in a platformer fun, and they translate surprisingly well to the Switch. I was worried they’d be intrusive at first but moving the controller around to pick up star bits or glide through space actually feels fun and natural. The spin move Mario learns has been mapped to the Y button so you no longer have to shake your controller any time you want to spin, which improves the gameplay even more.

Despite being the most recent of the bunch, this is the game in the collection that benefits the most from the updates Nintendo opted for. It feels fresh and exciting despite being over a decade old, and it looks great too. I know I probably sound like a broken record because I love the art style in all 3 of these games, but Galaxy’s graphics don’t look like Wii graphics at all. The modern resolution does wonders for this game and it’s genuinely very pretty to look at.

Nothing more satisfying than picking up a power star.

The gameplay is a bit floatier than Super Mario 64 but retains most of Mario’s original moveset. Since the game is set in space, gravity plays a big factor in the platforming. Thankfully, the camera is the best it’s ever been in a Mario game – it’s always centered on the most important part of the screen and rarely loses track of Mario, which is impressive because you’ll often find yourself spiralling around spheres suspended in space and darting across different galaxies. Despite all of this you never feel overwhelmed and you never lose sight of where to go or what to do. The physics in this game are excellently designed and the new mechanics introduced are fantastic. For example, if you long jump off a planet you can swing around to the other side, and some levels see Mario switching between walking on the floor and walking on the ceiling. Nintendo really went all out on the space theme and threw as many ideas as they could into the mix.

This game is also more cinematic than the average Mario game by a long shot, and the presentation is superb. It has a grand feel, with bigger bosses than we’ve ever seen before in a Mario game and huge galaxies stretching out across space. We even get some epic cinematic moments as Mario launches from planet to planet.

The environments are more creative and varied than ever before too. Despite how well-executed Sunshine’s singular theme was, this game is more akin to 64 where every world is based on different areas. You’ve got a desert level, water levels, and the haunted mansion just like 64, but Galaxy turns things up a notch and truly goes all out with its level design. You’ll ascend giant cakes, leap across an 8-bit Mario, travel through a world where fire and ice collide in a beautiful fusion, and so much more. Every galaxy brings something new to the table and executes it perfectly.

The wondrous worlds in Galaxy never fail to delight or surprise you.

The game is a lot more linear than the ones before it though, so don’t expect to be able to toy with the game’s mechanics quite as much as 64 or Sunshine. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though – while those games benefit greatly from giving the player more freedom, Galaxy’s missions are all so polished you don’t really need the ability to experiment with an open sandbox. Galaxy knows exactly what it wants you to see and do, and every level hits you with so much creativity and whimsicality you’ll never get bored.

Like I mentioned before, this game found a way to make motion controls feel fluid and fun in a platforming title. It doesn’t force it on you at all times, especially now that the spin move is easier, but it’s used regularly enough to make it a major aspect of the game. It’s reassuring then that most of the levels that feature motion controls utilise them in novel, enjoyable ways. You’ll roll Mario on top of a ball like a circus performer or steer a manta ray down a watery racecourse by tilting your controller around, and it all just works. You’re not having a workout by shaking your controller constantly or struggling to get the game to detect your actions. It’s a pretty laidback game at times and it’s just as smooth to control as the games before it, and that’s a remarkable feat for a game that was originally designed with the Wii remote in mind. Admittedly, it doesn’t work as well in handheld mode. You can touch the screen to perform certain actions but it breaks up the pace a bit more and can be harder to control. It’s not unplayable by any means, but I’d rather play it the standard way.

Furthermore, the soundtrack in Super Mario Galaxy is immaculate, with a fully orchestrated assortment of tracks including soaring instrumentals and modern renditions of classic tunes. You can listen to the full soundtrack in the game’s menu, as well as the other game’s soundtracks too. It’s a nice addition and I like that every time you load up the menu a random track from any of the featured games will play. It’s a fun little quirk and gives the collection a bit more charm (not that these games are lacking in charm).

All the music from this trio of games is included on the menu.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars may not be a perfect collection. The limited availability will prove to be troublesome for people, and the miniscule amount of updates these games received here won’t be enough to sway some players. However, these aren’t games that needed modern remakes to be worth replaying. They’re already amazing, and it’s awesome that we can play almost all of Mario’s 3D catalogue on a single console now. If you’re a fan of these games and you want to relive the experience of playing them all again, it’s the easiest recommendation in the world. And if you haven’t played some of them yet, you’re truly missing out. They’re expertly crafted, exceedingly fun and full of vivid imagination, and thanks to the convenience of this collection, you can swap between them with ease.

There’s a huge amount of content here, and it’s well worth the asking price for any Nintendo fan looking for something to sink their teeth into. This isn’t nostalgia talking – all of the games in this collection are essential gaming experiences that still play immaculately today. In my opinion, 3D Mario is the pinnacle of Nintendo gaming over the years, and it’s exactly what games should be all about – creative, fun adventures that transport you to other worlds where you can just enjoy yourself for hours on end. Getting to replay them on Switch was an absolute pleasure and I’m certain I’ll be returning to this collection for many years to come.

Dani Cross

Updated: Sep 16, 2020

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