When Super Mario All-Stars debuted on the Super Nintendo, the box art depicted Mario dressed in a tuxedo with a magic wand in hand. That collection had Super Mario Bros., The Lost Levels, Mario Bros. 2, and Mario Bros. 3 all on one cart, and all updated to match Super Mario World’s sounds and aesthetic. That package was a special occasion; and it was magic.
That’s not the case for Super Mario 3D All-Stars, the 35th anniversary collection featuring Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. The box art is simply the three games with their respective box art, cropped to fit the Nintendo Switch case.
This collection raises the question: “How does Nintendo define an All-Stars collection?” Granted, it’s only the second one, but I thought it was by including our favorite Mario games as they originally played, but with a fresh coat of paint. That’s how Nintendo made Super Mario All-Stars feel special. But that’s not the approach Nintendo took for the 3D collection. First, it’s only some of our favorite 3D games – bizarrely missing 3D World and/or Mario Galaxy 2. Second, they’re not given a fresh coat of paint; just an aspect ratio upgrade with resolution enhancements. Nintendo didn’t even bother to update Mario 64 to 16:9. The only feature that’s special is the inclusion of the full soundtracks from the games.
I’m not suggesting updating the 3D games is as easy as updating the 2D games. It’s a heck of a lot more work and money. But this was supposed to be a 35th anniversary special and since Nintendo is known for taking their time and crafting great experiences, as we witnessed with Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I thought Nintendo would fully remaster these games and release them when they were ready. But apparently, letting us play generational 3D Mario games on the go and including the soundtracks was supposed to be enough.
Of course, the games themselves are remarkable no matter how we play them – with the exception of Sunshine. Super Mario 64, while stuck with archaic graphics, stands the test of time with tight controls and inspired level design that paved the way for every Mario game after it, let alone every 3D adventure game after it. It’s easy to beat after all these years and several playthroughs but I still struggled with missions I always struggled with. But running, jumping, wall kicking, and long jumping through these 15 playgrounds while searching for well-hidden stars amongst tricky puzzles and platforming feels as modern as any current 3D adventure game on the market.
It’s not a perfect port, though. I encountered a glitch in Dire, Dire Docks where the sliding poles didn’t load on the red coins level. And yes, I chose the correct level. I had to hard reset the game in order for them to appear. Besides that, I had zero problems other than the exasperating camera. This is the “Shindou Pak Taiou” version (A Japanese re-release version in 1997 that contained Rumble Pak support. Also, “So long gay Bowser” is gone.), so I don’t know if Nintendo made camera adjustments compared to the original 1996 American version (that camera wasn’t great either), but I don’t remember the camera being so unwieldy.
You can expect to enjoy star-hunting in portable mode, though. It’s like playing the DS version except with a control stick and the console is wider, of course. This is the way I envisioned playing Mario 64 when the Nintendo DS came around.
Then there’s the charmer of the pack, Super Mario Galaxy. Many regard it as the best 3D Mario game. I don’t, but I don’t blame anyone for saying it. Galaxy includes some of Nintendo’s finest level designs inspired by the weird limitations of spherical gravity. But it’s still easier than Mario 64. I never finished Galaxy the first time around because wagging the controller was obnoxious, but this time I hardly died and accumulated way too many lives when I finished. Perhaps that’s because I didn’t have to waggle the controller anymore. Spinning is now mapped to the Y button! That change alone makes the game more enjoyable.
Undocked mode runs smoothly but trying to catch bits while holding the Switch is a test of dexterity, so I prefer to play Galaxy docked. You collect Star Bits by dragging your finger across the screen and you can also fire Star Bits by tapping the screen. It’s very responsive and feels good but no matter which hand you use, you’re losing the ability to do something else. Most times it wasn’t cumbersome but times when you’re trying to catch bits while moving in the air makes playing and holding the Switch uncomfortable.
And then there’s Super Mario Sunshine. Mario Sunshine is the Super Mario Bros. 2 of the pack; it feels like it was supposed to be something else before it was a Mario game. I’ve always believed Mario Sunshine was a good game but not a good Mario game. Nevertheless, it plays fine – though FLUDD is missing some squirt features. Now it’s either full blast while running or full blast while standing still. But that’s all you need.
Sunshine doesn’t suffer in undocked mode, either. Docked or undocked, it’s still a nice looking game and the framerate, while still not as smooth as Galaxy seems better than the Gamecube version. If you loved it, Sunshine still dances with its tropical soundtrack, ludicrously large levels, and all the water shooting you could desire.
Look, you have to play these games. But if you already have these games and can still play them on their respective platforms or through Virtual Console, there’s no reason to buy this collection. You’re playing the, mostly, original versions of these games. The only reasons to buy Super Mario 3D All-Stars is if you’re a streamer wanting to play these games without emulators, you’ve never been able to play these games and you don’t own them, you don’t have the equipment to play them anymore (upgraded TV’s, etc), or you’re desperate to play these games on the go – though it is nice to turn the Switch screen off while you’re playing the soundtracks in undocked mode. But for Nintendo to proclaim this as an anniversary celebration for 35 years of Mario, this does not have the celebratory distinction or flair for such an occasion.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
It's tough because you should play the games, but this collection is only a must-have if you’ve never played them or have no means of playing the copies you own. Otherwise, the included soundtracks are not enough to make this 35th anniversary package feel special enough to warrant a buy.