Nintendo has a lot to be proud of. Its heritage and stature in the video game industry is unrivalled, and the firm has presided over some truly significant moments in the relatively short lifespan of the medium. It goes without saying that the video gaming landscape would be near-unrecognisable were it not for the NES, SNES, Mario, Miyamoto and – more recently – the insanely-popular Wii.
However, as the saying goes, pride comes before a fall. Nintendo has every right to feel pleased about what it has achieved over the past few decades, but when that feeling of accomplishment is permitted to spill over into overconfidence, it's the goodwill of gamers that is inevitably going to suffer.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow us to introduce you to Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition for the Wii.
At first glance, one might assume this is a licence to print money; a lovingly compiled celebration of Mario’s most renowned exploits over the past quarter of a century, aided by exclusive pack-in items and a swanky commemorative box. Where do we sign, Nintendo?
Alas, the reality is rather less appealing. As Nintendo states so clearly on the back of the packaging, what is offered here is Super Mario All-Stars, which was released on the SNES back in 1992. What you’re essentially paying your hard-earned cash for is nothing more than a lazy ROM-dump of a cartridge you probably already own, and if you don’t then you can most likely obtain it for considerably less than of this compilation’s asking price.
Of course, this criticism hits stormy waters when you consider the high quality of the games included. The original Super Mario Bros. remains a solid-gold masterpiece in the pantheon of video gaming, and the third NES outing is rightly regarded as one of the finest pieces of interactive entertainment of all time. Granted, series imposter Super Mario Bros. 2 (released in Japan as Super Mario Bros. USA and based upon an unrelated Famicom title called Doki Doki Panic) and Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels aren’t quite as essential, but they’re still thoroughly playable games in their own right and certainly shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
Because this collection is a direct lift from the SNES All-Stars, the visuals are of a higher standard than the NES originals. Purists may decry the lack of authentic 8-bit graphics, but the touched-up aesthetics are colourful and vibrant, making excellent use of the increased 16-bit colour palette. These revised editions also offer the ability to save progress in-between play sessions – something that will come as a massive bonus to the busy grown-ups who matured alongside these classics but no longer have unbroken hours to devote to actually playing them.
Sadly, it’s at this point that the positives end. Four Mario classics on one disc might sound great, but Super Mario World’s omission is unfathomable, especially when you consider that Nintendo produced a Western-only pack-in edition of the SNES All-Stars collection that included the fourth Super Mario adventure. Why Nintendo didn't choose to use that updated instalment as the basis for this version is anyone's guess.
Come to mention it, the cavernous storage space afforded by the DVD format could easily have allowed for the inclusion of other instalments, too. Who wouldn’t have loved to have seen Yoshi’s Island make the cut, or Super Mario Land on the Game Boy? Why not offer fans the ability to play the enhanced GBA edition of Super Mario Bros. 2, or give them the opportunity to see how the 2D classics compare to the near-legendary Super Mario 64? When you consider that the latter is already available on the Virtual Console (along with Super Mario World), the omission is especially grating. It would have cost Nintendo nothing to include them, and this paltry compendium would have been improved immeasurably.
There’s a criminal amount of unused space on the DVD, and no convincing reason for it. Surely it wouldn’t have taken much effort for Nintendo to dig into its archives and include other items of interest, such as TV commercials, interviews and other behind-the-scenes content? Sega’s recent retro compilations for the 360 and PS3 did exactly that, and these bonus items enriched the experience considerably. Given Sega’s track-record for exploiting its past glories – some of which aren’t worth recalling at the best of times – the fact that it has managed to out-do its old rival in this regard goes to prove how shoddy Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition really is.
With the selection of games (or rather, the lack of) leaving a sour taste in the mouth, it falls to the physical bonus items to pick up the pieces. Lamentably, these also represent a missed opportunity. The cheap-looking, staple-bound 32-page booklet is interesting for a short while, but the asinine one-sentence developer comments offer up nothing that we didn’t already know about. You’ll glance at it perhaps once or twice before shelving it forever.
The soundtrack CD is equally disappointing. Only 10 actual music tracks are included, and hardcore fans will almost certainly question the uneven selection of songs. Many classic Mario tunes are missing, and the ones that have been picked don’t always leap out of your speakers in a flurry of nostalgic aural bliss. All the more puzzling is the superfluous inclusion of sound effects from the series; while these might be useful if you’re after a replacement message tone on your mobile phone, they hardly make for pleasurable listening. A CD can hold 74 minutes of audio, and the one bundled with this collection doesn’t even fill half of that potential running time. It’s almost as if Nintendo couldn’t be bothered to make the effort – something that perceptive readers will no doubt notice is becoming a common theme for this sorry package.
Speaking of laziness, we would never forgive ourselves if we didn’t mention the handicapped nature of the European version of Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition. As you may or may not know, the European television standard is known as PAL. Compared to the North American NTSC standard, it uses extra scan lines for a more detailed picture, but the ‘refresh rate’ consequently runs slower (50Hz as opposed to 60Hz, which is the refresh rate of NTSC).
Back when the SNES was doing the rounds, PAL gamers were usually saddled with big black borders at the top and bottom of the screen (a result of the additional scan lines not being used by the console) and a slower speed – usually about 17%, in fact. These days such issues are largely irrelevant as pretty much every TV sold in Europe over the past decade is capable of displaying a 60Hz signal. However, Nintendo has stuck with the original 50Hz speed for this release, which essentially means that Euro players are getting an inferior product to their American and Japanese counterparts.
Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition is a prime example of what happens when a highly-esteemed developer decides to push out a product with the minimal amount of effort. Aside from protecting its own profits, we can see little reason for Nintendo to leave Super Mario World and Super Mario 64 (both of which are available on the Virtual Console) off this disc, and if the firm were truly serious about creating the definitive history of its most famous mascot, why didn’t it go the additional mile and put on Super Mario Land 2, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario RPG and a whole host of other notable titles?
To cap it all off, the bonus items are entirely pointless. Even dedicated followers of the portly plumber will have difficulty getting excited over a flimsy art book and a CD that is good for one listen and no more. If you really feel the need to discover Mario’s origins then our advice is simple: download the first and third games from the Virtual Console and leave this sorry excuse for a ‘celebration’ on the shelf.