Well, that all happened quickly, didn’t it? It was only a fortnight ago that Nintendo was announcing its long-rumoured compilation of 3D Mario games, and now here we are reviewing the ruddy thing already. Some of you will have already made up your mind about Super Mario 3D All-Stars before even opening this page, but there are still a few interesting things to discuss here so let’s-a-go, as the man himself puts it.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars bundles together three of Mario’s most iconic three-dimensional adventures: Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. All three raised the bar for the platforming genre when they were first released, and all three remain immensely playable today – even if the constant slew of imitators over the years means they don’t feel quite as innovative as they used to.
The games are presented in a fairly bare-bones manner; there’s an extremely brief intro video that you’ll completely miss if you sneeze (like we did the first time), and then you get to choose which of the three games you want to boot. There’s also the option to play the full official soundtrack albums for each game, which is a nice touch – it even lets you turn the screen off so you can pop headphones in and listen to it on the move, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does.
That’s pretty much all you get, though; choosing one of the three games boots you straight to its title screen, and from that point on it’s Mario time. Each title has been tweaked to some degree, and while we aren’t talking anything revolutionary like fully-remade character models or anything like that, each tweak is still useful for the most part. It probably makes sense to talk about each game individually, so let’s do that.
As the oldest game in the compilation, Super Mario 64 is probably the one whose upgrade is most impressive. It may have only been upscaled to 720p here, but the fact it originally ran at 240p means you’re getting a nice clean upscale at three times the number of vertical lines. The result is a brilliantly clean-looking version of the game, although this new clarity does expose some of its previously well-hidden tricks; for example, you sometimes see Mario’s head lose a lot of detail as he moves further away from the camera, which would have been disguised on a blurry old CRT telly.
Speaking of detail, it isn’t just the polygonal elements of the game that get a sharper side. Nintendo has taken time to redo all the sprite-based elements, too, and it’s this move that’s probably the most noticeable upgrade. All the text is nice and smooth, the counters for the number of lives and stars you have are sharp, and even stuff like snow falling during the winter stages looks much better.
This is the first time we’ve seen Nintendo go to this much effort with a Nintendo 64 game. Even when it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console, which upped the resolution a little, all the text and other sprites were jaggier than a Piranha Plant’s dentures. Even if you were the sort of dodgy type who played it on an emulator with some ludicrous pixel count, most of the time the sprites would still look rough; now they aren’t, and it really helps complete that HD feel.
It’s also worth noting that, as had been speculated, we can confirm this absolutely is the Shindou edition of Super Mario 64. This was a re-release in Japan that basically took the American version with its extra voice clips, translated it back to Japanese, added Rumble Pak support and removed the “so long, King Bowser line” (and yes, that’s definitely what he said).
It’s essentially the definitive edition of the game, and – while this is something that only the nerdiest of nerds (like us) would care about – the fact that it’s been translated again means this is the first-ever official English language version of the Shindou version, rumble and all. And in case you need further proof, press the ZR button on the title screen with Mario’s face and the background will be replaced with a cool tiled display showing his face loads more times: this trick was only in the Shindou version.
One final thing to note with Mario 64 is that, as with the other games in this package, you can’t reassign the buttons. You can hit the Minus button to bring up a list of controls but these can’t be changed, so if you’re the sort who was hoping to jump with A and attack with B you’re out of luck: it’s B and A to jump, Y and X to attack. For some this will be natural anyway, for others it’ll take a little getting used to, but after a few accidental jumps, you’ll get there (we did).
Moving onto Super Mario Sunshine, it’s a 1080p upscale here, but this time Nintendo has also extended the borders of the game to make it widescreen (it was 4:3 fullscreen before). This gives everything a more epic look and really makes the game feel a lot more modern than it would have if it had big black borders down the side like Mario 64 does. The text and HUD have been given an upgrade too, meaning everything all looks nice and crisp here as well.
The big question around Sunshine’s controls was how Nintendo was going to get around the GameCube’s analogue triggers. The reality is, it never really needed to, since there was never actually any serious analogue shenanigans going on. Before, the more you pushed down the R trigger the more pressure Mario would use to spray water while running, and if you clicked the trigger all the way down he would stop and aim more precisely. Because there are so few situations where you'd want anything but full pressure, all Nintendo’s done is map the running and standing water controls to the R and ZR buttons. Some will mourn the lack of analogue spraying pressure, but it really presented us with no problems during our playthrough.
Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that Nintendo has un-inverted the cameras. In the GameCube version, if you used the C-stick to rotate the camera or used the control stick to aim your water spray you may have struggled because Nintendo had inverted the X and Y axis respectively. This has now been undone, so unless you’re a Sunshine die-hard, the new controls will come a lot more naturally to most people. It does mean, however, that anyone who actually does prefer playing with inverted sticks, especially an inverted Y axis, is now at a disadvantage because there’s no option to change it back to the way it was.
Finally, there’s Super Mario Galaxy, arguably the best of the three games on offer here. Much like Sunshine, Galaxy gets the full 1080p treatment, and even though it was already in widescreen the fact it runs at 60fps (the other two run at 30) means you can immediately notice the step up in quality when you move over to it from one of the other two games.
Galaxy was going to be the trickiest of the three to port over to the Switch because it relied so heavily on the Wii’s pointer controls. With those gone, the Switch has to rely on the internal motion-sensing capabilities of your controller of choice, be that the Pro Controller or the Joy-Cons. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses; using the Joy-Cons feels a bit more natural because it's the approach which is most like using a Wii Remote and Nunchuk; however, while the Pro Controller takes a little longer to get used to, it eventually feels a bit more stable.
Whichever interface you use, the lack of a sensor bar means your cursor does occasionally lose track of where it’s supposed to be pointing, so the R button has been assigned the sole purpose to resetting your cursor and putting it back in the middle of the screen. Hold your controller straight, hit R and you’re good to go again. It does break the immersion a little, but it’s the best that could be done given the circumstances. Incidentally, this does also mean you can’t play the game in docked mode with a third-party controller that doesn’t support motion controls.
There is one other way to move the cursor in Galaxy, and that’s by playing the game in handheld mode and using the touch screen. This is a novel way of doing things and it’s certainly the most accurate, but it’s not very practical at times. When played with motion controls you can sweep the cursor across the screen to collect star bits while still running and jumping around as normal, but when you use the touch screen you have to take your hand off the buttons, making your progress a bit more stop-start.
(Incidentally, bear in mind that that because of this, if you're playing on a Switch Lite and don't have another controller handy, you need to use the touchscreen: there's no option to use motion controls for aiming the cursor in handheld mode without connecting a separate set of Joy-Cons or a Pro Controller.)
One addition that’s certainly more positive, though, is that Nintendo has also taken the action of flicking the Wii Remote and mapped it to the Y button. This means you can perform Mario’s spin attack and trigger Launch Stars by simply pressing the Y button instead of flicking your wrist each time like a maniac. The motion controls are still there too, in case you want a bit of Wiimote nostalgia, but for those who didn’t like gesturing to attack, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you no longer have to.
So that’s all three games; each one looks better than it ever has in an official Nintendo release, and each has received a few tweaks here and there that by and large enhance the experience. It would be remiss of us, though, to ignore the fact that we could have had so much more in this package outside of the games themselves.
We now live in an era where the Sega Ages collection regularly gives you a wide range of options and different versions of each game, sometimes even new versions that fans have never played before. Meanwhile, the likes of Digital Eclipse are regularly churning out fantastic compilations for things like Street Fighter, Samurai Shodown, Mega Man and SNK’s pre-Neo Geo library, all of which are crammed with behind-the-scenes artwork and interviews. Heck, even "video game nasty" Night Trap got the museum treatment with its remarkable special edition.
Outside of the soundtracks, which are admittedly welcome, Super Mario 3D All-Stars gives you none of this. There’s no concept art, no ‘Iwata Asks’-style chat with the developers, no digital manuals... you don’t even get to apply screen filters or choose a border for Mario 64, which is pretty much the bare minimum these days when it comes to retro remakes of 4:3 fullscreen games. And, while we can appreciate that keeping Mario 64 and Sunshine locked at 30fps means they're faithful to the originals, it would have been nice to see them boosted to a smoother 60fps, which must surely have been possible for a company as huge as Nintendo. In so many ways, it feels like an opportunity was missed here to truly celebrate these incredible games and update them for a new audience.
That’s the thing, of course: they’re still incredible, even if they aren’t supported with similarly stellar bonus content. If you’ve never played any of these games before, especially Galaxy, you can go ahead and add an extra point to the score below; these are three iconic titles, each special in their own way, and with a total of 482 Stars and Shines to collect across all three games, there’s maybe nearly 100 hours of gameplay in here before everything’s fully completed (especially if you haven’t played them and don’t know how to find each one).
We’ve had an absolute blast playing through these three gems all over again, especially now they look sharper than ever. It’s a shame that the presentation is practically barebones with no bonus content beyond the soundtracks, but there can still be no denying the quality of the games on offer here. This is the Beatles’ Greatest Hits of the video game world, and is an absolute treat whether you’re reliving it in HD or discovering it for the first time.