When I first heard tell of a Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection being released for the plumber’s 35th anniversary, I was over the moon. I conjured up all sorts of fun ideas that could be used to really show love for these games. Maybe a model viewer? What if they threw in a little Mario 64 level creator a la Super Mario Maker 2 (okay, this one’s kind of a pipe-dream)? Even just some quality of life improvements or re-done textures would’ve been great. By now you know we got none of these things, and were instead served a lukewarm hack-job of ports for a bizarrely time-limited window and sporting a price of $60.
There’s not really an argument concerning the quality of the following titles themselves. For this reason, I’m planting my flag here: This is a review of the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, not of the games within. To save time, know that I hold a fondness for all Mario titles, and think they’re worth playing and re-playing based on their individual merits alone. For now, let’s focus on how they’re handled in this bundle.
Most people would attest that Super Mario 64 has aged like fine wine, what with its ground-breaking 3D movement, freedom of exploration, and world-class level design. But if you were seeing it here for the first time in Super Mario 3D All-Stars, you probably wouldn’t believe them. This port does nothing to improve (or harm, to be fair) the original experience. Textures remain largely untouched, the camera is still a struggle, and there are even some odd seams between a few parts of the level geometry. The aspect ratio is also, bizarrely, not adapted for widescreen.
The whole time I was playing, there was a thought in the back of my mind: I know Nintendo can do better than this. And I was right, evidenced by the fantastic Mario 64 DS redux that came out the better part of a decade ago. Heck, I would’ve been thrilled if that was the port we got here — at least I’d actually be able to play as Luigi. But instead, Nintendo opted for the route of lowest possible effort, and the collection suffers for it.
Next up is the problem child of the series, Super Mario Sunshine. I have a lot of nostalgia for this one, having played it the most of any 3D Mario game as a child, so I was resolute that I would enjoy it more than most claim to, no matter how barebones the port was. To my dismay, the problems with Super Mario 3D All-Stars’ version of Sunshine are apparent in the first five minutes.
Not only does the game run at an inconsistent 30 frames per second, with frequent stuttering, but it also has the makings of a lazy port in the first lines of dialogue. When F.L.U.D.D. is explaining to Mario how the game’s controls work, there are gaps in dialogue during the naming of most of the buttons (i.e. “Press the R button” becomes “Press the … button”). This kind of obvious lack of effort permeates the whole game, down to a lack of quality of life improvements regarding the abysmal blue coin hunts and inability to invert F.L.U.D.D.’s controls like the original had.
On top of all this, there’s just Super Mario Sunshine being kinda… Super Mario Sunshine. My nostalgia goggles were whipped unceremoniously from my face when I fought the same mini-boss for the third time within 10 minutes of starting the game. The dated cutscenes and laughable voice-acting were quite a way to start the show. Then there’s the hover-pack, which completely trivializes the entire platforming experience and leaves what challenge remains at the hands of what is essentially a Mario-themed third-person shooter. When I say all these games are amazing, just remember which one I’m talking about least-of-all.
Finally, we have Super Mario Galaxy, by far the most well-off title in the entire collection. It runs at 60 frames per second, works brilliantly with gyro controls in docked mode, and runs at a higher resolution that really makes the graphics pop. This is one of the finest 3D Mario games ever made, and this is exactly the kind of treatment it deserves. The only nitpick I can point out is a lack of dithering on some of the lighting, which creates strange “banding” on certain images.
But man, let me speak some more on Galaxy. What a game, seriously. I hadn’t actually played it since release, since every time I got the itch I would just play Super Mario Galaxy 2, deeming it the superior game. But Galaxy captures that essence of being the first of its kind, with its thoughtful hub-world and endearing plot. There are minor annoyances, like Mario’s tendency to run in circles on smaller planets as the game tries to aid with some of the awkward traversal. But everything about it: the level-design, difficulty curve, and mechanics, had me remembering what I loved so much about 3D Mario games in the first place.
Overall, how do I feel about the games themselves? They’re fantastic, one-of-a-kind can’t-be-missed experiences (remember which one I mean this least about). Is this the best way to experience them? For Galaxy, absolutely, but as far as 64 and Sunshine go, there are better, more nefarious ways of experiencing these games in the modern age. But if you’re looking for a package of excellent games you can play on the go, this is, unfortunately, your only bet. It breaks my heart to see these games finally released from the prison of outdated hardware, only to be trapped again in a lackluster collection of ports.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a lackluster collection of three (mostly) excellent, timeless games. Nintendo has shown us what it can do when the effort is put in with 2004's Super Mario 64 DS, so the lack of attention afforded here stings all the more.