It’s hard to imagine what the videogame landscape would look like without 3D Mario. Super Mario 64, especially, influenced the entire direction of 3D games, and the likes of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy made big impacts of their own. Such historically significant games need to be preserved and made available as readily as possible.
Super Mario 3D All Stars is, for the most part, does a decent job of that preservation. This isn’t a collection of remakes or remasters; it’s the original versions of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy running in an emulated form. It’s not an attempt to polish up old games for a new audience or to redesign them for modern tastes, expectations, and technological advances. Such things have their place, but 3D All Stars exists to remember these influential games exactly as they were, regardless of how well they have (or haven’t) aged. It’s a collection of snapshots on time, made compatible with current hardware but in every other way preserving these games’ legacies exactly as they were.
From a historian’s perspective, that’s a wonderful thing. It’s fascinating to be able to look back on classic games from today’s perspective, to trace their influence and put everything that followed into context. As much as I like a good remake, they serve a different purpose. To have ready, convenient access to a game like Super Mario 64, as close to its original state as possible, is a great thing—even if its a game that might seem clunky or outdated by modern standards.
This is also a wonderful thing from a nostalgic perspective, too. If you grew up playing Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, or Super Mario Galaxy, being able to revisit them years out decades later and see exactly what you remember can be a delightful, comforting thing. This can be true of a faithful remake, too—just look at how successful Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 was in channeling exactly that sense of nostalgia—but there’s nothing quite like the original thing.
The trade-off is that if you’re not coming at it from a place of nostalgia or historic curiosity, Super Mario 3D All Stars is a tougher sell. There’s little in the way of additional features other than a built-in music player, and the games running at a higher native resolution is the full extent of any visual improvement. Whatever flaws the original games had, they have the same here, and only made more apparent by how far things have come in the years since.
Iconic and influential though Super Mario 64 is, its camera is a nightmare to deal with. Sunshine and Galaxy fare much better, but they still have their own aging issues, be it Sunshine‘s uneven platforming or Galaxy‘s awkward motion controls. Without the benefit of nostalgia, playing old games requires patience and a willingness to accept issues that have since been solved. Even Super Mario isn’t exempt from that.
But even if they haven’t aged as gracefully as one might hope, there’s still a great sense of fun and creativity at the core of the games in Super Mario 3D All Stars. Whether it’s diving into paintings in Super Mario 64, cleaning up gunk in Super Mario Sunshine, or hopping from planet to planet in Super Mario Galaxy, there’s plenty of timeless fun that’s worth putting up with some frustrations to experience.
Super Mario Sunshine is something of a black sheep among fans, but it’s the real highlight of the package for me—it’s such an unusual direction for Mario to take, and full of so many interesting ideas, even if they aren’t always executed perfectly. And while Sunshine might be its highest point, that spirit of innovation runs right through the 3D Mario series, more so than its 2D counterparts, and this collection puts that clearly on display. Despite their shared DNA, 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy are wildly different games, and the trip through them is a joy to take.
There’s one notable absence from the collection, though: Super Mario Galaxy 2. One of the high points of the entire Super Mario history, and a game that, being relatively new, doesn’t run into quite the same problems from its age as the older games do, it seems like an obvious candidate to include in Super Mario 3D All Stars. I can only assume this is because Nintendo has bigger plans for it—a standalone, more feature-rich re-release, perhaps?—but it’s nonetheless a little disappointing to not have it included here.
And then there’s the elephant in the room: 3D All Stars‘ limited release. It’s been released as part of Super Mario 35th Anniversary celebrations, and will be removed from stores once the festivities conclude at the end of March next year. Anyone who’s already bought it will be fine, and will retain access to it, but you won’t be able to buy it any longer. It’s a Disney-esque gatekeeper approach to keeping history locked down, which is a real shame to see in a medium that’s already so bad at preserving its own history in a useful, accessible way. I can only hope that, come March 31, Nintendo decides to make these games available in some other way.
But if you can pick it up before it disappears from shelves, Super Mario 3D All Stars is a great collection of genuine classics. Super Mario 64 is one of the most influential games of all time, and Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy have plenty of their own innovations to explore; to revisit these today, in their original, unaltered forms, is fascinating. They haven’t all aged as gracefully as one might hope, so be prepared to bring a bit of patience or some rose-tinted glasses, but there’s plenty of history, fun, creativity, and nostalgic joy to be found in Super Mario 3D All Stars.
Super Mario 3D All Stars is developed and published by Nintendo. It’s available for Nintendo Switch (reviewed) until 31 March 2021.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.