The Mario series laid the foundation for many different games and remains the gold standard for several genres. While Mario is celebrating his 35th birthday, it was almost 25 years ago that Nintendo helped usher in the 3D platformer with Super Mario 64. The 3D Mario games have consistently remained high quality since that game's release, which is why the announcement of a Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection was met with excitement.
But how do these classic games hold up after so many years? Are Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy still the great platformers that they were considered to be when they first released? Let's look at these three games as individual titles while also judging this compilation as a comprehensive collection.
Super Mario 64
For many people, Super Mario 64 was the birth of 3D platforming. This Nintendo 64 launch title reinvented the typical Mario formula. Instead of running through a level from start to finish, players had full worlds to explore in an effort to find Power Stars. The ultimate objective is to collect enough Stars to face off against Bowser. And this Bowser fight is a much more physical encounter than past games, requiring Mario to swing him by the tail and toss him into explosives. It's not exactly an easy feat, as I'll explain in just a moment.
With a 3D plane to play with, Mario gets a substantial increase in his arsenal from his 2D days. Fortunately for Switch owners, the controls easily translate from the N64 to the new console. In fact, the Switch Pro Controller proves to be a wonderful way to play, allowing players to easily perform long jumps, back flips, and triple jumps. The analog sticks on both the Switch Pro Controller and the Joy-Cons also make it easy to walk narrow areas or slow down whenever necessary.
Super Mario 64's biggest weakness is easily its camera. It was considered bad in 1996 and has aged like 24-year-old spoiled milk. It is a truly wretched system where it can't be freely rotated. Instead, it rotates around Mario in bursts. And worse, if there's an object obstructing the Lakitu holding the camera, he'll just remain stuck in place. If you're trying to make a precision jump or make a turn while wearing the Flying Cap power-up, it can often be an active hinderance. The camera also gets in the way during those aforementioned Bowser fights, as it will spin around along with Mario as he swings Bowser by the tail, making it almost impossible to aim for the bombs.
Outside of the camera, Super Mario 64 still holds up as a fun platformer. It shows its age in places, namely with the camera and the visuals. Sadly, Nintendo doesn't go all the way with the optimizations. This is not a full 16x9 upgrade, but as long as you don't mind the smaller screen size, this is a fun time capsule for Mario fans.
Super Mario Sunshine
Full disclosure: I had never played Super Mario Sunshine before. This was released during my college days when I was less focused on video games. This marks my first time playing it and it absolutely feels like the stepchild of the Mario series. It's different in a lot of ways and it goes farther than just the FLUDD backpack, though that's a big part of it.
The first thing that popped out at me was the voice acting. First off, there's so much more voice acting than I would have ever expected out of a Mario game, just because I'm so used to Mario characters speaking through text bubbles. There is a lot of voice acting and all of it is terrible. The delivery comes across as stilted, awkward, and out-of-place. Worse, it eats up a good chunk of the introduction. Whereas the other 3D Mario games will have you up and running within a minute or so, Sunshine's introduction runs for nearly ten minutes.
Once the lengthy intro is out of the way, Sunshine turns into something unlike any Mario game to this point. In some ways, it follows the standard 3D Mario formula. Mario can still perform his different jumps and must collect the golden MacGuffins. However, the key mechanic involves using a water-filled backpack called FLUDD. Players must use the backpack to wash away sludge throughout Isle Delfino and weaken enemies along the way. Stomping enemies will only get so far, since the main idea is to weaken foes by spraying them with water. It's totally unlike anything the mainline Mario series had done to that point and unlike anything Nintendo has attempted with it since.
For that, it's hard not to admire Nintendo for taking a bold chance with Sunshine. Is it the best Mario game? Oh, lord no. The spraying mechanics feel crude, the hovering doesn't feel graceful, and the idea of having to refill the water tank constantly feels like a chore. On the positive side, the 3D All-Stars collection takes advantage of having multiple shoulder buttons, dedicating a button to standing and spraying and a different one for spraying on the run. It's not the best of the series, but even the worst of the 3D Mario games is still a pretty good game overall. I did have a good time with Sunshine and it's the kind of bold chance that Nintendo rarely takes with its tried-and-true franchises.
As a port, it does look rough, though. Even running at 1080p while docked, Sunshine's graphic style shows its age, arguably even more than Super Mario 64 does. It's not a pretty game by any means, but it's a cool idea for a Mario game and one that's worth playing at least once.
Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy may be over ten years old, but it absolutely stands out as a modern game. There are no parts of it where I think, "That was certainly a product of its time," outside of maybe the motion control elements. If Nintendo took Galaxy and released it as an all-new game in 2020, it would probably still win a lot of Game of the Year awards.
The near-flawless Mario formula is on display, but Nintendo seamlessly took that formula and shot it into outer space. That means going around full spherical planets and asteroids, navigating through celestial bodies, and occasionally playing around with gravity. And even when Mario isn't toying with new platforming elements, the sandbox levels all feel like an improvement over what Mario 64 and Sunshine had to offer.
If there was an element that threatened to age poorly, it was Galaxy's reliance on motion controls. However, the 3D All-Stars collection has integrated them to the Switch nicely. The Joy-Cons are the ideal way to play for anybody who still has fresh memories of the Wii Remote. Those more acclimated to the Switch Pro Controller will be happy to hear that it can accurately collect Star Bits by pointing it at the TV screen without the need for a sensor bar. The R button acts as an easy cursor reset, while other motion functions are remapped to various buttons. None of the motion-heavy functions get in the way of a positive playing experience, whether using the Joy-Cons or the Switch Pro Controller. Handheld mode users will notice that functions related to pointing at the screen are replaced with touch functions, which can be a bit cumbersome, but still playable.
If Super Mario Odyssey is the gold standard for 3D Mario platformers, Galaxy comes in a close second. The visuals are gorgeous, the soundtrack has some of the best songs the Mario series has to offer, the bosses are some of the biggest in the series, and the Bowser stages are presented with an epic atmosphere. It's an absolute treat and recommended to any video game player, Mario fan or otherwise.
Collect them all
As games, each of these three Mario titles in Super Mario 3D All-Stars are worth playing. Yes, I'm including Sunshine on that list, even if it isn't necessarily the "best" Mario game. They're the pinnacle of 3D platforming. They're fun to play and filled with wonderful characters, memorable moments, intense challenges, and toe-tapping music.
As a collection, I would be remiss if I didn't note that Nintendo could do better. Outside of the music player, this feels like a bare bones package that doesn't really go in-depth into the history behind these games or offer any other fun extras for fans. On top of that, the optimizations don't go as far as one would hope they would. Super Mario 64 not being upped to a full 16x9 widescreen presentation is disappointing. Sunshine's visuals look rough and it even has some performance hitches in places. Both Mario 64 and Sunshine don't have an option to invert analog stick controls, which is just baffling. Out of the three games, Galaxy looks the best, running in the beautiful 1080p (or 720p in Handheld mode) resolution that it was always meant to have.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is frustrating, because it could be more. It could be so much more. But even with Nintendo phoning it in, the games themselves are such classics that they're still worth putting in your Switch library. Just make sure you add it before it goes away forever.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch retail copy purchased by the reviewer. Super Mario 3D All-Stars is available now on the Nintendo eShop for $59.99, but only until March 31, 2021. The game is rated E.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
- All three games are classics that hold up... even Sunshine
- Controls are adjusted well for the Switch
- Sunshine have separate shoulder buttons for FLUDD sprays is handy
- Galaxy plays great even with the Switch Pro Controller
- Level design for all three games is still great
- Visual optimizations look beautiful on Galaxy
- SM64's camera is the dirt worst
- Sunshine's visuals look rough
- Sunshine's voice acting is cringe-inducing
- Galaxy's touch controls on Handheld are a bit tough to work out
- No option to invert camera on SM64 or Sunshine
- Sunshine has some performance issues
- SM64 does not run at 16x9
- Not enough extras for such a cool collection
- Limited availability is bad and they should feel bad
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Super Mario 3D All-Stars review: Imperfect classics
Pretty much, SM64 is probably the most faithful of the adaptations given the controller incompatibilities with SMS and SMG1 that had to be worked around.
I bought it and so far I've played like 10 stars worth of Mario 64. It's kind of what I expected - a pretty low-effort release of the game.
You want to see low-effort, check out the Wii U VC release of SM64.
TBF that’s the fault of the emulator used, not the game itself. I don’t see how people play N64 games on Wii or Wii U VC, I suppose it’s “good enough” for most.
N64 emulator was fine on Wii but it was the worst POS I've ever seen on Wii U. The absolute worst input lag I've experienced
That’s true. I remember it being playable on the Wii all the way back then. I got 1080 Snowboarding on my Wii U and it was awful. I had thought the game just wasn’t as good as I remembered it was so bad, I assumed they would use the same VC implementation from the Wii. I’m glad I can play it and other N64 games properly again.
Honestly, it was better to boot into Wii mode and then play N64 games from there. Really stupid.
Weird notes on Sunshine visually there. While Galaxy clearly looks the best since its newer, Sunshine would be second best visually and 64 dead last. I do agree with most of you other comments,
People do give Galaxy a bit too much of a pass on its camera though and it still has loads of issues but way better than 64 it Sunshine. There are many places where Galaxy just jerks the camera in places you absolutely do not want and it’s super annoying especially since you are very often playing on these small planetoids.
Sunshine looks gorgeous with the increased resolution and aspect ratio.
They didn't really start nailing the directed camera until Galaxy 2 and 3D World. It is somehow perfect in Odyssey, both allowing for player control while nudging the angle to a better place without you knowing it
The camera on m64 made me stop playing.
It was fine on the first few open levels, but as soon as you get into closed quarters, it's horrible, sucks all the fun out of the game
I am enjoying Sunshine though