Time Played: 20 hours
Platform: Nintendo Switch
There are two reasons someone might decide to buy Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The first is nostalgia, with three landmark 3D Mario games from across three different consoles to be relived and replayed on Nintendo Switch. The second is curiosity, for those who aren’t familiar with all three titles and want to experience what they missed.
In both cases, players should find something worthwhile here, with the first-ever 3D Mario game, 1996's Super Mario 64, sitting alongside the GameCube’s resort-themed Super Mario Sunshine and Wii’s interplanetary Super Mario Galaxy – as well as soundtracks for each game to be lazily enjoyed by themselves.
It’s a real treat visiting all three games, each with their own mechanics and controls unique to the platform they launched on at the time – though that does mean not all of them feel quite at home on the Nintendo Switch (more on this below).
These aren’t anything like remasters, and it can feel at times that Nintendo cut some corners to bring the games to market again without too much hassle.
Not that the games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars don’t play well – Mario is still synonymous smooth, satisfying gameplay, from his iconic triple-jump to the dives, dashes, and ground pounds that define his gamepad oeuvre. That hasn’t changed.
You are getting a graphical upgrade, too, with all three titles displaying in 720p in handheld mode and Sunshine / Galaxy displaying in 1080p in docked mode for a TV (albeit with some letterboxing for the 4:3 aspect ratio for Mario 64, and the cinematic aspect ratio for Galaxy).
The line we’re fed in the 3D All-Star’s announcement, though – “graphics updated to HD resolution and optimised for Nintendo Switch” – feels more true for the former point than the latter.
It's a me, your childhood
Super Mario 64 was the first Super Mario game made in 3D. While it doesn’t reach the heights of spectacle of later Mario games on superior hardware, it was a milestone in the early days of 3D game design, and it’s still lively and imaginative, from the talking Bob-ombs and elusive white rabbits to the magical paintings that host the game's varied levels.
Gradually unlocking the doors and corridors of Princess Peach’s castle is still a delight, and the polygonal visuals are more pleasingly blocky in HD than they are badly dated (though the 4:3 aspect ratio will lead to letterboxing on your Switch or TV screen).
What’s brilliant about playing the games in tandem, too, is noticing the returning imagery and ideas – whether that’s the return of mystical painting portals in Sunshine’s graffiti, the need to collect Power Stars / Shine Sprites / Star Bits, or Peach inviting Mario over to the castle (for cake, obviously) just in time for him to see chaos descend.
Sunshine was the first Mario game I played as a kid, and it’s been the game I’ve paid the most attention to this time around. What strikes me even now is how thematically consistent Sunshine feels across its many levels – a collection of waterfalls, beaches, boats, and lighthouses that put the game’s FLUDD spraying/hovering water-gizmo to fantastic use.
While cleaning up graffiti may not sound like the most gripping outline for a game, it’s made magical in Sunshine – which easily has the best storyline out of all three titles. (If you remember the reveal of Shadow Mario, you’ll know what I mean!)
Super Mario Galaxy was the only new game for me, and it certainly wins on visuals (not a fair contest, given it’s the most recent game). Launching Mario through space has a real thrill, and the perspective-twisting nature of its planetary puzzles feel refreshingly different from the rest of the All Stars trilogy.
In my mind, the motion-controlled ‘spin’ mechanic feels like an odd trade for the dive – and weirdly reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot – but it comes to life when holding both Joy-Cons separately, in docked or tabletop mode, when you can shake either controller to activate the spin.
Loading up the software on the Switch is very swift, as is jumping between titles, with the ‘–’ button offering a shortcut to controller layouts and the title screen for the other Mario games.
Not a seamless transition
Not all is well in the Mushroom Kingdom, however. There are a few areas in which Nintendo hasn’t done everything it could to optimize these games for the Switch and Switch Lite.
Super Mario 64 is still plagued by imprecise controls, largely when it comes to speaking to an NPC (Toad, a talking bomb, etc). You have to be in exactly the right position to see the ‘A’ prompt, and if you’re slightly out of sync you end up jumping over them instead. It’s a small thing, but still disappointing considering its multiple re-releases on different platforms. Surely this could have been fixed at some point in the last 25 years?
Super Mario Galaxy, meanwhile, was clearly designed for the Wii’s motion controls in mind. This is fine when playing in docked or tabletop mode, when you can move the Joy-Cons to change the direction of your trigger (for shooting projectiles or dragging Mario between stars). This doesn’t function nearly as well in handheld mode, where you’re forced to take your hands off the controls to tap and drag across the screen in the midst of the gameplay – something you’re also forced to do for menu screens, which simply don’t recognize d-pad or button inputs for selecting ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or the specific galaxy you want to travel to.
While it’s possible to complete each level in handheld mode, it breaks up what should be a seamless experience with awkward touch controls and a refusal to sync up with Switch-specific button inputs. Nintendo’s Co-Star Mode enables a second player can use a Joy-Con to fire Star Bits and grab enemies, but it’s a band-aid solution that doesn’t fix the issue when playing alone.
Super Mario Sunshine feels most at home on the Switch, largely due to the lack of touch controls, though I can’t help feeling that some quality-of-life improvements – namely, being able to skip tutorials or cutscenes, given so many people are replaying the game for the second, 10th, or 500th time – wouldn’t have been a huge ask.
It’s worth noting that each game supports a different number of languages, too, and it’s odd that Nintendo isn’t offering a unified localization experience across the 3D All Stars trilogy.
Shining bright – but not for long
The games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars are a brilliant addition to the Switch library, but the collection isn’t without its problems, and the 64 / Galaxy titles in particular don’t feel optimized for the Switch’s inputs. For anyone with a Switch Lite, there's no way to escape Galaxy's awkward touch controls either.
The lack of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a shame, too, while the inclusion of soundtracks to listen to outside of the games doesn’t really flesh out the experience very much. You are getting three games for $59 / £49 / AU$79, but given their age it’s not an outright bargain for that amount of money either.
The limited release schedule – pulling physical and digital editions from sale in March 2021 – feels needlessly restrictive, too. The result is a shakily-assembled trilogy that not everyone will be able to try out for themselves, particularly if they're waiting until the Switch becomes more affordable.
We expect it may be part of some master plan (or remaster plan) for these games, possibly with the older titles coming as free as part of Nintendo Switch Online when the service starts adding Nintendo 64 games to its emulator.
Until then, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a great way to get your nostalgia fix, or encounter these landmark games for the first time – and getting all three in one package deal isn’t to be sniffed at. It’s a shame, though, that Nintendo didn’t iron out all of the kinks before release.