Three titles from Mario’s back catalogue are available on Switch for the first time. But only for a little while.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundles together Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy in one collection. But they’re not remastered or remade in any way; the collection’s description promises “updated HD graphics” and while that isn’t a lie – the games do display at HD resolutions – it doesn’t go very far into bringing the titles into the modern age.
Let’s start with the earliest title first: Super Mario 64. Originally released on Nintendo 64 back in 1996, this is a game that sorely shows its age. 24 years ago, it might have been the best Mario game we could ever imagine. But today, it’s almost unplayable. Its blocky visuals can be forgiven, but Mario’s imprecise movements and the god-awful camera controls cannot. Players have some control of the camera – which was revolutionary at the time – but now its limited movement really impedes enjoyment of the game.
Thankfully, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, both more modern in comparison, fare somewhat better. Super Mario Sunshine released on Gamecube in 2002 and feels leaps and bounds ahead of Super Mario 64. It’s one of the most highly regarded games in Mario’s back catalogue, and playing it again now it’s not hard to remember why. Its graphics still hold up fairly well too, especially when playing handheld; the Switch’s small screen is a forgiving angel when it comes to graphical fidelity.
The same is true of Super Mario Galaxy, the newest game in the collection. A Wii title from 2007, it almost passes for a modern title in terms of its graphics. The problem with Galaxy, though, is the translation of its original motion controls. While you can mostly use regular controls when playing on Switch, there’s an odd mish-mash of occasionally needing to use touchscreen when handheld, or motion when docked. It’s not immediately clear what input is needed from you either, which leads to a bit of disparity when playing.
HD Collections have become commonplace in recent years: we’ve had Mega Man, Kingdom Hearts, Street Fighter, Castlevania and more. We’ve become complacent with the extra features many of these collections have – graphical options, screen resizing, extra features and more. Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundles in the soundtracks of all three games, which is a nice touch – there’s over 170 tracks altogether, so it’s not to be sniffed at.
But there’s little else; there are no art galleries or concept art to flick through, and there are no options to tweak. It’s not so much of an issue for Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy, but Super Mario 64 retains its old 4:3 ratio. Many players will prefer this, ensuring the game is as sharp as can be, but for those of us who find black bars an ugly distraction, the option to stretch the screen would have been a welcome addition.
We don’t need to talk in detail about the gameplay of each of the three titles; this is a collection that’s aimed squarely at players who grew up with these games, who have fond memories of early 3D Mario. And from a nostalgic perspective, they do exactly what they need to do. Galaxy‘s annoying controls aside, it feels at home on Switch, as does Sunshine; they’re easy games to pick up, even if you have no past experience with them. Super Mario 64, on the other hand, is hard for even the most ardent fan to enjoy. We do have very fond memories of the title, but we still feel it was better left in the past.
The hardest thing to stomach about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, though, is Nintendo’s incomprehensible decision to make it a limited release. Both the digital and physical version of the game will only be available to purchase until 31st March 2021. Nintendo states that this decision was made “in special recognition of the Super Mario Bros. 35th Anniversary”, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot come up with even one reason that would make sense. All it serves to do is make the physical version of the game an overpriced relic once stock of it runs out. It’s great for people who managed to buy it during its window of availability, sure – but what about people who are yet to become Switch players? Why should future gamers be withheld from the experience? There’s time for Nintendo to walk back this decision, but who knows whether they will.
On the whole, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a decent collection. It doesn’t try to impress with extra features or fancy padding; it simply puts three games from the past in a simple collection for old fans to enjoy. But without even the slightest of tweaks aside from a resolution boost, Super Mario 64 is painful to play. Sunshine and Galaxy, on the other hand, are a joy to revisit, but they’re still a pretty hard sell when the superior-in-every-way Super Mario Odyssey is much more readily available.