Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review (Switch) – Bare (Dry) Bones

For a company whose prestige is so forged in the fires of nostalgia, Nintendo has a strangely unsympathetic relationship with its own legacy. It will gladly, and regularly, deploy the iconography of its past in order to stoke the coals of our collectively coldening hearts but substantial preservation and access are withheld.

The pedigree of the brand is well preserved through mystery and limited availability of its historical titles but the Disney Vault business model is long dead and access is now king (or princess).

Long live content.

With Super Mario 3D All-Stars Nintendo has paradoxically granted that much-needed access but also attempted to maintain its gilded withholding. It’s a collection that is simultaneously celebrating and underserving the enormity of its contents, offering up a reasonably priced and gorgeous bundle marked with unforced errors. It is undoubtedly worth owning for any Nintendo fan but the princess remains in yet another castle.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review

The rub about a collection of games this good is that even the least effort imaginable to bundle them would still produce something worth owning. My hesitation with this bundle is that Nintendo knows this too and while a far, far cry from the toxic allegations of laziness, it does leave me a little wanting. Still, the (dry) bones of Super Mario 3D All-Stars are impeccable – three of the best games ever made, spruced up for one of the best consoles ever made.

It’s all presented with the clean, venerable aesthetics of a museum collection which is a choice that you’ll either adore or loathe. The crisp gold-lined UI and minimalist presentation lend the collection a degree of sophistication which is somehow both inline and at odds with Nintendo’s typically jubilant vibes. A melding of aesthetics that worked for me, celebrating the childlike wonder of the titles while respecting their place in gaming history. Hovering over a game in the main menu will pull up an information card complete with the launch date, system and a little blurb about its historical relevance in the industry.

This main menu/virtual viewing hall also plays tracks at random from each of the game’s scores which are included in the collection. While the ability to listen to any track from these three iconic soundtracks is nice it’s also ultimately superficial. You can’t customise the tracks which play in-game and you don’t get a download code to actually listen to these scores in a way that a regular human would. All you can do is sit in the main menu and vibe.

And that’s all she wrote, folks. The three games, which we’ll get to in a second, and an awkward music delivery system is the grand celebration of 35 years of gaming history. These are mostly fantastic ports but as a celebratory collection, this pack feels incredibly bare. Again, it’s that mildly detached way that Nintendo treats its own history. As though porting (or emulating) these games to the Switch were more perfunctory chore than a commemoration of history.

For all the issues with the Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition ports on the Wii, that collection was at least packaged in such a way as to reflect the importance of its stature in games. The soundtrack was on a CD and it included a booklet full of concept art and insights into the creative process. A tantalising and rare glimpse behind the curtain, a chance to see the magic happen.

If the recent Gigaleak of old Nintendo assets proves anything it’s that the appetite for this history is insatiable and while safeguarding the mystery is well-intentioned it is running counterintuitive to both game historians and consumers.

The Wii family’s Virtual Console made a good run of it but the Switch, despite its tremendous popularity, has a less than stellar legacy library option in the Nintendo Online catalogue. Even then we are only treated to select games from over two decades ago, barely a scratch on the generations worth of games the Virtual Console offered before it. These frustrations are two-fold, both on a consumer level but also from a preservation perspective. We, of course, want to play these games, to give Nintendo another ten dollars for Ocarina of Time or whatever your poison is, but it extends beyond consumerism. It’s about the conversation of history that the industry is largely happy to withhold or outright ignore.

Forgive the ramblings of a cynical critic but Super Mario 3D All-Stars is the perfect catalyst for this conversation. Making these three games available is undoubtedly a good thing, but with this little fanfare and a seemingly arbitrary time restraint on when it can be purchased, it begs the question – why are these not simply available on the eShop?

As a collection Super Mario 3D All-Stars fails to adequately celebrate its namesake but given how little access to Nintendo’s historical library we currently have on the Switch I am loathe to look this particular horse in the mouth.

And make no mistake, having access to this particular lineage of Mario titles on the Switch is still a gift. Super Mario 64 pioneered a genre and has received a near flawless upgrade onto the Switch. To get the near part out of the way first though, unlike Sunshine and Galaxy, 64 doesn’t run in 16:9, leaving a rather unappealing black box around the whole game. On the go, this isn’t much of an issue but docked mode really highlights this unfortunate framing.

Regardless, the actual game itself looks gorgeous. The updated texture work is seamless and the core loop has barely aged at all. 64 offers such a unique, fever dream landscape of levels and iconic Mario-isms, it is the fundemental title of the package and is worth playing for both its historical relevance and longeitivty.

Fast forward a generation and we land on the widely divisive Super Mario Sunshine. As a longtime defender of this one, it is hugely satisfying to see Mario’s tropical adventure receive such a glow up. Any improvements made to 64 are obvious and Galaxy‘s initial release brushed right up against HD anyway but Sunshine‘s impeccable art direction is often lost in the muddy texture work of the Gamecube. Super Mario 3D All-Stars finally gives Sunshine its due though with a nicely blown-out 16:9 ratio and massively improved textures.

Sunshine has aged remarkably well and feels the most “modern” of the games included here. The bones of Odyssey are evident in the focus on narrative, sense of place to the levels and fully functioning 360 camera. Sunshine is often the forgotten middle child of the 3D Marios but the port to Switch gifts its sun-drenched hub world and compelling platforming with a second lease on life. The unique control method of the Gamecube’s trigger for FLUDD has been mapped to the two right-hand triggers with ease too.

The third of our 3D lads is Super Mario Galaxy, a universally beloved title that now showcases the inherent limitations of Nintendo’s motion control fixation era. In Super Mario 3D All-Stars these controls have been somewhat successfully recreated when in docked mode but handheld is far from ideal.

To use any of Galaxy‘s motion-control systems you’ll need to touch the screen, taking one hand off the game’s actual controls to do so. This presents an issue with both physical balance of the system, which isn’t exactly light in one hand, and a disruption to the flow of the game with jumping and spinning stalled while touching the screen.

Docked mode played with either Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller sidesteps this nicely with organic integration of both controllers motion capabilities but handheld is a major frustration. Imagine a port of Galaxy that used a collection mechanic similar to Sekiro, simply hold down a face button and have all the star bits in your vicinity sucked in toward you.

Small adjustments to better reflect the thirteen years of console changes since its release would go a long way here. Combined with some awkward tilting of the console to emulate steering sections and Galaxy bears the brunt of history’s unkind indifference to motion controls.

Galaxy‘s handheld wobble aside, it’s still an impeccable platformer that showcases some twisted and brilliant level design. The spherical planet walking and gravity puzzles are as engaging as they were on release and the overall presentation is perfection. Like the other two, no amount of small gripes can detract all that harshly from the experience of actually playing these games. They are, and likely always will be, all-stars.

In turn, though, the shortcomings of the collection itself gnaw at the edges of the overall package. Whether it’s Galaxy‘s controls, 64‘s aspect ratio (which, given the emulated nature of the game, makes the lack of full screen even more puzzling) or the overall lack of special features, behind the scenes information or even basic collectable art books and the like, it all feels slightly lesser than you’d want for such a collection.

The illusion Nintendo crafts around its history and games through manufactured secrecy only works as well as it does because of the prestige embued in the few things it does choose to share with us. With this latest collection, the illusion threatens to dissipate, as though they faltered on the bargain we collectively agreed to. These games are still every bit the works of art Nintendo want us to believe they are and the restorations are gorgeous, but if they’re going to be walled off in the museum, it could at least have a gift shop.


Super Mario 3D All-Stars was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a digital code provided by the publisher.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Pros
Three of the best games ever made in one bundle
Beautifully updated texture work and ratios
Sleek UI and presentation
Cons
Lacking in special features
Super Mario Galaxy's motion controls in handheld mode
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James Wood
James literally cannot recall a time in which video games weren’t a part of his life. A childhood hobby turned adult fascination, gaming has been one of the few constants.

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