Review by Matt S.
On the one hand, the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection brings three of the greatest examples of the 3D platformer to the Nintendo Switch. Mario 64, alone, is such a monstrously influential, powerful, important game that it will be found in the art galleries of the future (assuming humanity actually survives to reach a future. Jury’s out on that). On the other hand… lordy did Nintendo go cheap on this collection.
It’s a difficult one to review as a result – do we review the quality of the games themselves, or do we review the quality of the emulation and the general effort that went into the collection? Either perspective is valid, but will yield some wildly divergent opinions on the quality of this package.
One benefit of bringing these three games together as a collection has been to see just how similar they really are to one another. With five or six years between each of these three releases, players never really had the opportunity to tire of the formula, but while Mario dons a water tank in Sunshine and does his dynamic planet-hopping in Mario Sunshine, the core structure and progression through these games really does remain the same. It’s the kind of progression that works, even for people like me who don’t usually get invested in platformers, because the little self-contained levels hand out the rewards rapidly enough and allow you to go and do something else if one particular challenge is annoying you at the time.
All of these games remain very, very playable, and that’s particularly impressive given how experimental Nintendo has been with control inputs over the years. The Nintendo 64 controller was infamously designed with Mario 64 in mind, but Mario 64 plays just as nicely with the Switch inputs now. Galaxy has its motion controls, but Nintendo wisely limited their application then and they manage to avoid being tiring in today’s context too. Either the touch screen (when playing in handheld mode), or simple shifts in the controller (when playing docked) is low-pressure and comfortable. Often we talk about certain games “aging” (just try and play Goldeneye 007 now, or one of those early-era horror events like Resident Evil or Silent Hill). The Mario games, meanwhile, have a genuine timeless quality to them. They still look great as examples of aesthetics over technical wizardry, and they are still compellingly playable.
So, if you’re even vaguely a fan of Mario games, this collection checks boxes by giving you access to three of the best on your modern console. If you haven’t played any of these three for any reason, then you owe it to yourself to remedy that. In this regard All-Stars is a triumph; there aren’t many people that shouldn’t buy into it.
It’s hard not to be disappointed with the port quality, however. Nintendo has fiddled around the edges to change button inputs to suit the Switch controllers, for example, but otherwise these are very pedestrian ports of the respective games, and after having so many excellent retro compilations in recent years, for Nintendo of all companies to undercut itself like that is surprising.
There’s a better version of Mario 64, for example. The Nintendo DS had a full port of Mario 64, complete with a bunch of minigames that were almost more entertaining than the base game. There’s no sign of that version here. Mario 64 also hasn’t been optimised for widescreen, and while that doesn’t bug me (plenty of other retro compilation games are no different in that regard), it will bug others. I’m no expert on emulation by any means, however, while all three games run perfectly playable, there’s also plenty of good insight out there into how poorly optimised they have been if you’re interested in that.
What I find fascinating is that Nintendo released Super Mario All-Stars (the SNES compilation of NES-era Mario platformers) on the Online service for subscribers a couple of weeks ago, and in playing that I was reminded of just how substantial they were as remakes. Some people were put off by the changes made to the physics and visual style, but All-Stars offered a top-to-bottom reenvisioning of each of the games, and while working in 3D is a different matter, 3D All-Stars is quite the different vision. Mario All-Stars felt like a deluxe celebration of the heritage of one of the most important icons in video games. Mario 3D All-Stars feels like something being dropped on us out of some kind of obligation to make these titles playable, and while the included soundtracks are lovely, my Nintendo Switch isn’t a music playing machine and there are other things Nintendo could have done to turn this into a proper celebratory package.
And yet, as cynical as you can get about this compilation, there is still such joy in playing all three of these games. Whether it’s the rush of sheer nostalgia that comes with replaying Mario 64, as Nintendo firmly stamped the value proposition of the Nintendo 64 with something of breathtaking scope, or the expansiveness of Mario Galaxy, 3D All-Stars had me smiling like a kid, whistling the iconic music all over again and re-exploring all the nooks and crannies that I used to think I was so clever for discovering when I was younger.
And that’s the problem with reviewing 3D All-Stars. All three of the games have historical worth, remain highly playable today, and are ported competently enough that they work. You’re not going to suddenly find Bowser unbeatable because bugs have trashed what was once a great game. However, this is Nintendo’s most valuable property and mascot, and it’s amazing that the company didn’t do more with this package than they have here.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb
The critic was provided a code for the purposes of review.