The recent surprise Nintendo Direct celebrating the 35th Anniversary of Super Mario was something of a spectacle. Wall-to-wall Mario announcements from the welcome drop of Super Mario All-Stars for SNES on the Nintendo Switch Online service to the likes of Mario Kart Live solidified the fact that everyone’s favourite plumber is still going strong. Booting up Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a surprisingly hollow experience in comparison, opening on a plain (but admittedly svelte) menu screen with three classic 3D Mario game ports to pick from and three basic soundtrack players to go along with them. It’s less fanfare than I would typically expect from Nintendo, especially when games like Super Smash Bros Ultimate are veritable Nintendo libraries, but that initial disappointment aside we’re really here for the games, aren’t we?
Growing up I never had a Nintendo 64 so most of my experience with the console, and with Super Mario 64, was by way of my neighbours. Despite having almost nothing else to do with these people, I remember going to their place on weekends and just sitting in their living room for the entire day so I could finish the game (being young was wild, honestly). Even if I hadn’t had that opportunity, the game didn’t exactly fade into obscurity after the N64 left the market – it would later be ported to the Wii as a Virtual Console game as well as released as a remake of sorts on the Nintendo 3DS.
Official releases aside it’s also no doubt been emulated to hell and back on every device imaginable. Point is, if you somehow haven’t played Super Mario 64 at least once already and you own a Switch, then this collection should serve as a handy way to get acquainted. On the other hand, if you have (and you probably have) then you’ve seen all there is to see already. It’s sharper here, for sure, with nice clean lines, far less muddy textures and a higher-res UI. It’s also still in the original 4:3 aspect ratio though, and devoid of any other meaningful changes. It’s exactly the level of care you would hope to see if and when Nintendo does eventually decide to add Nintendo 64 games to the Switch Online service and nothing more, which isn’t a shock but does set appropriately tempered expectations for the rest of this package.
Out of the three games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, it’s Super Mario Sunshine that benefits the most from being a part of the collection, for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s one of the two inclusions that gets full widescreen support to match modern displays. It’s also much better-looking in HD than the original version, albeit disappointingly stuck at the same 30fps refresh as ’64. Unlike the next game in this trilogy, it also comes from a more ‘traditional’ platform in the Gamecube, meaning the controls translate quite painlessly to the Switch. Sunshine also sold less than half of either of the other two games in all their respective lifetimes, meaning it’s the one here that punters are least likely to have played before.
That said, Super Mario Sunshine is arguably one of the weakest of Mario’s entire catalogue of 3D platformers. I may be crucified by die-hards for making that claim, but even those that loved it the first time around have probably forgotten how horrendous the game’s camera is (arguably one of a 3D platformer’s most vital elements) and how overly gimmicky it can be. It also loses a tiny wrinkle in translation with the loss of the Gamecube’s analogue triggers which means fine control of Mario’s F.L.U.D.D. device is gone. When the scale is made up entirely of Mario games it’s impossible to have a ‘bad’ end, but Sunshine is definitely on the opposite side to the likes of Odyssey and Galaxy.
Speaking of, Super Mario Galaxy is easily one of my all-time favourite platformers and so this is the piece of the 3D All-Stars package that I was most excited to revisit. The good news is that the game is exactly as inventive, charming and gorgeous as I remember – even more so now with the requisite HD upscale. Galaxy’s gravity-defying, planet-hopping action is still fantastic, and I loved being back aboard the Comet Observatory with Rosalina. As with the other two ports though, there are some caveats here, mostly to do with the game’s controls.
Like most of Nintendo’s first-party Wii titles, Super Mario Galaxy made creative use of the then-unique properties of the Wiimote’s gyroscopic sensors. As players controlled Mario in the traditional way with the Nunchuk attachment, they could point an on-screen cursor to control environmental elements and pick up Star Bits from a distance. Thanks to the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers, that all carries across perfectly when playing in TV or tabletop mode. In handheld mode though, Nintendo has implemented touchscreen controls as a replacement, which are cumbersome and annoying to use at best. It can occasionally be fun to swipe around the screen to pick up Bits, but constantly having to take a hand off of the controls and attempt precise inputs, especially in some of the anti-gravity sequences, just doesn’t feel good. There’s also the matter of the game not looking quite as sharp in TV mode as I’d hoped, which isn’t a huge complaint but when you compare it to how incredible Galaxy looks running in 4K through an emulator it’s a reminder of the limited capabilities of the current Switch hardware.
Probably the most bewildering thing about this collection is that Nintendo would intentionally limit the sale of the game to their current fiscal year and not a day beyond. Both physically and digitally, 3D All-Stars will cease to be sold after March 31, 2021 (though current owners will obviously still be able to play and/or reinstall beyond that date) for some unknown reason. It’s a move that reeks of the kind of forced scarcity that Nintendo is accused of regularly, and if the preorder buzz online is anything to go by it’s working. Who knows, Nintendo may come out with a good enough reason for the move at some point, but for now it kind of stinks. Factor in the omission of the well-deserving Super Mario Galaxy 2 from the conversation as well and it’s hard not to be at least a little disappointed in this release.
At the end of the day, despite being barely more than basic ports this collection of three absolute classics is a decent value proposition for Switch owners looking to relive some of Mario’s most prolific 3D outings. Each game in the set has its shortcomings though, whether by design or in making the leap to Switch, and the whole thing is delivered with a lack of fanfare that seems uncharacteristic of Nintendo – especially when it’s the 35th Anniversary of Mario being celebrated. For Switch owners hoping to pick up a great package of platformers either for the first time or for the sake of nostalgia, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is still a no-brainer, it’s just disappointing that it can’t shake its ‘cash grab’ vibe.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher