Nintendo and Super Mario go together like peanut butter and jelly. Yeah, you can have one without the other. But they still belong together.
So it goes without saying that Switch owners should pick up Nintendo’s new Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. It’s three of the best Mario games in history – yeah, even Sunshine – together in one package that, thanks to the unique design of the Switch, you can bring with you wherever you go.
For that reason alone, this $60 package is worth a buy. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Super Mario 3D All-Stars contains exactly what’s promised: Three Mario games: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. That’s it. That’s all you get.
“Come on,” you think, letting loose an exasperated sigh. “Isn’t three incredible games enough?” Yes! It is! Like I said already, if you’ve got a Switch then you really ought to get this package. But it’s just the three games, with no enhancements beyond control tweaks to make them Switch-friendly. You do get the ability to play any of the three soundtracks while your Switch is idling, but that’s it.
For a package that’s framed as a celebration of Super Mario’s 35th anniversary, there’s not much partying going on. It’s hard to complain about these old games simply existing on Nintendo’s latest (and super-popular) console. But if you’re hoping for archival peeks behind the scenes or Easter egg-y additions like bonus games, this ain’t it.
Since the newest of the three titles in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is already 13 years old, let’s tackle this by running through what you’re getting. Especially for younger readers who missed out on Nintendo’s GameCube and Nintendo 64 generations, there’s historical context here that matters.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
When the Nintendo 64 launched in 1996, Super Mario 64 was released alongside the console and it came as something of a revelation. For the first time, the mustachioed plumber existed in a 3D world. All the puzzles and platform jumping unfolded across not just X and Y axes, but a Z axis as well.
It was a game-changer, literally. Mario 64 plays like no other game that came before it. The adjustable camera that rotates around Mario in 90-degree increments feels archaic compared to modern 3D games that give you full control over the camera. But in 1996, a year before Sony introduced the industry’s first dual-stick controller, Nintendo’s chunky camera flips still changed the way we conceived of Mario gameplay.
Super Mario 64 is like the Jimi Hendrix of Mario games.
The 3D All-Stars version doesn’t change a thing about the camera, or anything else. And that’s fine! The 90-degree flips take a little getting used to, but Mario 64‘s gameplay has aged remarkably well. It’s a product of Nintendo’s superb level design, and the imaginatively designed worlds they exist in. (The penguin slide is still an asshole, though.)
Like most Mario games, you’re on a quest to save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. The setting this time is Peach’s castle, a labyrinthine collection of corridors and rooms adorned by very little furniture but tons and tons of hanging art.
Each piece of art is your gateway to another level. While the castle, which serves as a hub, offers secrets of its own to uncover, you spend most of your time jumping into paintings and chasing the discrete challenges you find in a never-ending pursuit for Power Stars. There are six to be found in each painting’s world, and part of the fun lies in figuring out how to actually get them.
Super Mario 64 is like the Jimi Hendrix of Mario games. If you’re discovering it for the first time in 2020, features like the hub world and the Power Star chase might not feel particularly new or fresh. But it’s still a superstar among superstars. This was the first time a Mario game introduced any of these ideas. Not only did it change what future Mario games looked like, it influenced tons and tons of Mario-inspired games and series, too.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
This is a weird one, and a game that’s still the subject of much debate among Nintendo fans. Super Mario Sunshine was the second 3D Mario game, and the only one released for Nintendo’s GameCube. It’s also, crucially, not a story about Princess Peach being kidnapped.
Sunshine sees Mario, Peach, and friends heading off for a vacation on the tropical Isle Delfino. But when they arrive, they discover the island is covered in patches of glowing toxic sludge. Soon after, Mario obtains the F.L.U.D.D., a robotic backpack that can shoot out jets of water. He uses it to clean up some of the sludge, but is arrested almost immediately (no joke!), under the suspicion that he’s been tagging the island with graffiti.
As you can probably tell already, there’s more story unfolding here than you’d typically get in a Mario game, with some limited voice acting (exposition!) and even spoiler-worthy twists (that I won’t reveal here, don’t worry). The game’s opening teases the presence of a Mario double as the likely culprit behind the graffiti, and therein lies Sunshine‘s central mystery.
Sunshine feels like an experiment to push the notion of what a 3D Mario game can be.
It’s not just story that makes Sunshine different, though. Mario’s F.L.U.D.D., which is short for Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device, and the presence of all that toxic sludge changes the nature of the puzzles you’re solving. The F.L.U.D.D.’s jets have two positions, allowing you to use it as either a jump-extending jetpack or a water spray device. The backpack only carries a finite amount of water, though, so you’re constantly having to monitor your water level and find a way to refill when it gets low.
Sunshine may have been only the second 3D Mario game, but there’s not been any Mario game from Nintendo like it since. In hindsight, it feels like an experiment to push the notion of what a 3D Mario game can be in new directions. For that reason, it’s become a divisive game among fans of the series. But it’s still superb.
Unlike both 64 and Galaxy, Super Mario Sunshine gives you full 360-degree control over the camera. The 3D All-Stars release unfortunately sticks with the original controls completely, right down to the awkward setup for aiming and firing your F.L.U.D.D. But the original game was designed with an awareness of that control scheme, so it’s more something to get used to than it is something that breaks the game.
Sunshine also has some truly wild level design that immediately ups the ante on what a post-Mario 64 game can do. The unhindered camera and improved processing power of the GameCube allows for bigger, more detailed worlds to explore, starting with the excellent hub town of Isle Delfino.
Forget any of the mud-slinging you’ve seen directed at Super Mario Sunshine. It’s still an essential Mario game, and it shines just as brightly in this Switch collection as it did almost 20 years ago.
Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
If you’re looking for a “best” option in the 3D All-Stars package, this one gets my vote. Super Mario Galaxy is one of the best games released for Wii and, generally, one of the best Nintendo games ever.
As the title suggests, this third 3D Mario game sends Nintendo’s beloved plumber off to outer space. Galaxy takes us back to the familiar setup of a kidnapped Princess Peach and a marauding Bowser family that’s hellbent on ruining Mario’s good times.
This time, the princess has been whisked off to the center of the universe. To rescue her, Mario has to restore power to a Comet Observatory by collecting a series of Power Stars that are scattered across 42 different galaxies. The observatory may not be mobile, but it still serves as the hub that Mario uses to reach each of those galaxies.
The back-to-basics approach starts and ends with the story and basic construct of a Power Star chase. In all the ways that matter, though, Super Mario Galaxy is something entirely new. The level design leans heavily on the unique properties of outer space, so the gravitational pull of the various land masses you visit becomes a regular consideration.
Super Mario Galaxy is one of the best Nintendo games ever.
As a Wii game, Galaxy took full advantage of the older Nintendo console’s motion controls. Those have been adapted — and in some cases improved — to play nice with Switch, but they’ll still be a stumbling block for those who would rather control their games with thumbsticks and buttons.
When you’re playing Galaxy on a television-connected Switch, the Joy-Cons take the place of the original Wii Remote and Nunchuk attachment. Mario’s unique-to-Galaxy spin move is no longer dependent on shaking the controller. You can do that but you can also, in a blessed upgrade, simply press Y instead. Other motion sense dependent features, specifically some of Galaxy‘s bonus challenges, require you to use your Joy-Con like a pointer.
In handheld mode, most of the motion sensing features are punted to the touchscreen. This can be tricky sometimes if you’re not using a stylus, since your fingers aren’t the most precise instruments to use in a game that generally demands precision. I’ve spent almost all of my time playing the Switch version of Galaxy in handheld mode, however, and I still find it preferable to the old Wii setup. I never played more than a couple hours of the original game because the Wii controls were so specifically not my thing.
The only tricky bit is the camera, which goes back to the Mario 64 approach of rotating in 90-degree increments. It’s not a major issue in Galaxy, though, because so many of the levels and puzzle sequences employ an intentionally fixed camera that moves with you and automatically shifts its orientation around each new challenge.
Summing it all up
All three games in the package look and run great on Switch. Galaxy and Sunshine fare the best, as significantly newer games that were both built in a post widescreen TV era. Mario 64 is (thankfully) not stretched to fit the Switch screen, but the original 4:3 presentation leaves you with black bars on each side and makes the overall experience feel a little more constricted.
It’s really not a big deal, though. Once you start playing, it easy to fall under Mario 64‘s spell all over again. It holds up very well, as do Sunshine and Galaxy. All three of the games in this package have aged remarkably well, and all three stand as a testament to the timeless appeal of classic Nintendo games in general. Even in 2020, with newer and fancier Mario games to choose from.
It’s a shame Nintendo didn’t do more to up the 35th anniversary celebration vibes in this collection. As I told you up front, though, Super Mario 3D All-Stars remains a superb collection of gaming classics and a must-own for every Nintendo-loving Switch user.