Super Mario 3D All-Stars sounded like a pipe dream when it first leaked all the way back in March, but it’s for real, and while it does very little to modernize its offerings, the compilation is a delight all the same. Three fantastic and unique pillars of the 3D platforming genre are packed into one cartridge: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. A fitting celebration for Super Mario Bros.’ 35th birthday, each featured game holds up wonderfully on Nintendo Switch. Together, the trio showcases the wide range of mesmerizing adventures and endearing gameplay that iconized Italy’s most famous turtle-busting plumber, even though the collection itself could have done more to refine the games for today’s audience.
Frozen in time
When you first start up Super Mario 3D All-Stars, you’re greeted with a quick animation showing off a bit of each game, and from there, you can jump into whichever title you’d like. Players will immediately find that, instead of full remakes akin to recent Crash Bandicoot and Spyro revivals, Nintendo opted to almost totally preserve the original experiences. There’s no new content whatsoever in any of the three games, and outside of necessary button reconfigurations, resolution boosts, and some touched-up textures, the games look and play exactly as they always have.
Nintendo hasn’t elaborated on its motivation for taking this path, be it a desire to cut development costs and time, to showcase Mario’s development over the years with true-to-form snapshots of his past adventures, or a simple recognition that these masterpieces hold up so damn well that they don’t even need updates to compete with other video games in 2020. Regardless, Super Mario 3D All-Stars reflects a combination of them all. Whether or not that’s okay is up to you.
The main drawback to Nintendo’s approach for Super Mario 3D All-Stars is that, while these games are indisputable classics, none of them were perfect when they first came out. Obvious, correctable flaws and opportunities for improvement have been left at the curb. Fortunately, these small flaws do very little to dull the magical overall experience, but if you’ve played these games already, there might not be enough to incentivize a return trip.
Holding up strong
Since Nintendo is so insistent on preserving original experiences in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, it’s important that those experiences hold up. I’m pleased to report that each game is just about as incredible as when I first played them, even though Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine left potential improvements on the table.
Super Mario 64
The first king of 3D platforming, Super Mario 64 was a behemoth launch title on Nintendo 64 in 1996. It’s not quite as regal by modern standards, but it’s still a fantastic game whose worlds, challenges, and charms are colorful, memorable, and undeniable. The downside is its clunky controls; specifically, the game camera is still locked, and having to clumsily control the locked camera with the right stick just rubs salt in the wound. However, it’s not a deal-breaker.
The game’s translation to Nintendo’s hybrid console mostly went off smoothly. The resolution boost makes Super Mario 64’s many edges appear a bit sharper, though I wish Nintendo had unlocked the camera and smoothed out movement. Additionally, although there’s plenty of content with 120 stars to collect, I would have loved if Nintendo had somehow worked in extra levels from the (arguably superior) DS remake. I’m just not sure what more the collection gains by having Super Mario 64 exactly as it was in its early days. Nonetheless, while this title in particular may have been better suited for a ground-up remake, there’s still a lot of fun to be had with Super Mario 64.
Super Mario Sunshine
A wonderful tropical adventure brimming with personality and catchy tunes, Super Mario Sunshine thrives behind its unique water-based movement and challenging extra levels. It’s by far the most divisive 3D Mario title, but for me, it’s my favorite GameCube game, my favorite Nintendo game, and simply one of my favorite games of all time. And it holds up wonderfully on Switch, aside from a few handheld frame rate dips. Even without analog triggers, Super Mario 3D All-Stars takes advantage of the Switch’s extra shoulder buttons to carry controls over quite naturally.
However, there is a dark side to Super Mario Sunshine. While the game is about to earn millions of new fans, many others will be bothered by a handful of obtuse design decisions. Frustrating levels such as the infamous pachinko mission, arbitrarily hidden blue coins, and very little freedom in how you progress will leave many to ignore Super Mario Sunshine in favor of the games that it’s sandwiched between.
Once again, Super Mario 3D All-Stars missed an opportunity to patch things up — the pachinko level could have used an overhaul, an optional Blue Coin location guide would have been appreciated by many, and letting players progress by earning a certain number of Shine Sprites rather than requiring that they complete seven missions in each world would have made for a more welcoming experience. I personally love every second of Super Mario Sunshine, but if you haven’t played it before, it’s tough to know which side of the divide you’ll land on.
Super Mario Galaxy
In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy marked Nintendo’s Wii revolution with a captivating star-trotting adventure. On Switch, it’s as addictive today as it was 13 years ago. Vibrant planets and stunning galactic backgrounds look great thanks to the resolution bump, and Wii motion controls are adequately retooled with button presses for spin moves and, depending on the mode you play in, touch controls or the right stick of the Pro Controller for Wii pointer controls.
Super Mario Galaxy is a whimsical, exhilarating experience. Fantastic platforming, dozens of unique galaxies, and a touching backdrop with Rosalina’s story make this one of the most memorable Super Mario games ever. It’s not my favorite title of the bunch, but it certainly came in with the least room for improvement. Super Mario Galaxy is easily as marvelous today as it was back in 2007.
An all-star outing, but what could have been?
Three of the best 3D platformers ever made, all in one portable package. Even without Super Mario Galaxy 2, that’s tough to beat. While Super Mario 3D All-Stars could have done more to bring its games up to speed, at the end of the day, each one of its included titles is better than the vast majority of what you can find on the Switch today. That’s not a knock on the Switch library — it’s an acknowledgment that this is a monumental series, full of distinguished adventures that every gamer should experience.
Although nothing here is likely to change your opinion on any of the titles, most people who have played these games don’t need any convincing. Each game holds up very well and shines behind its own compelling strengths. It’s hard to imagine what could have been — a fully revamped Super Mario 64, tweaks to a few of the more painful aspects of Super Mario Sunshine, or some fresh levels in Super Mario Galaxy, for example. But despite some disappointment with how little was done to enhance these games, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is ultimately a convenient, fun collection that enables you to take some of the best 3D Mario games wherever you go and swap between them with ease. It doesn’t get much better than that.
A review code was provided by the publisher.