Do people generally make a fuss about 35th birthdays? Once you reach adulthood, I thought it was mainly every 10th birthday that was a “big” one, maybe with 65 thrown in to celebrate being able to collect your state pension. Nintendo, as always, have decided to buck the trend, overthrow tradition and do things their own way. They’re really going all-out for the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., starting off with the release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars.
3D All-Stars brings together the first three of Mario’s 3D adventures: The defining Super Mario 64 from the N64, the oft-overlooked Super Mario Sunshine from GameCube, and the brilliant Super Mario Galaxy from the Wii. That’s where it stops though, with the direct sequel Super Mario Galaxy 2 seemingly Stalin-ed out of existence and Super Mario 3D World from the Wii U getting a separate release.
It’s not everything, and arguably skips past the best 3D Super Mario game, but it’s a huge amount of Mario gaming to get in one bundle, and seeing a GameCube game given the remaster treatment is an incredibly rare treat.
Instead of full on remakes, as popularised by Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy, Nintendo have gone the route of trying to preserve the original games. There’s nips and tucks here and there, there’s tweaks to make the games work on the Switch Joy-Con, but by and large these are faithful recreations of the original releases, almost to a fault.
Super Mario 64 is the most straightforward, and immediately the most mildly disappointing. In the heyday of Nintendo’s Virtual Console, Mario 64 was available to buy on the Nintendo Wii and the Wii U. Between that and the game’s genre defining status, it’s bound to be the most familiar to fans.
The version included here is Mario 64, and nothing more. The game is presented in 4:3 on the Switch or TV screen, but now runs at 960×720 (with a thin black border around the game) and resolutely sticks to 30fps. One area that has improved is the HUD overlay, which seems to have been given a pass with a scaling filter that smooths the pixellated sprites in a slightly stylised way, and you can see that effect elsewhere as well – King Bob-omb looks so much more round. However, the game as a whole just lags behind fan game projects that have demonstrated Mario 64 can work in 16:9 and 60fps just fine.
It’s not like Nintendo haven’t fiddled with their classic games in the past – Mario 64 DS introduced more playable character, revised the 3D models and more – but the ambition here has been purely on preservation, as opposed to upgrading the game experience. What I’d give for smooth camera controls, for one thing, or for the draw distance on sprites to be stretched out to infinity, or even just a fix for the weird smoke bug which fans managed this year. It’s even a slight step back from the Virtual Console functionality, where you could save a state and resume down the line, and you no longer have access to the digital manual.
Thankfully, Super Mario Sunshine is not quite as puritanical. For one thing, it’s upgraded with a 16:9 resolution and full HD, which combines with renewed HUD elements for a crisp and sharp looking game. GameCube owners in the PAL region in particular only ever had interlaced output from their consoles, though Sunshine did have a 60Hz mode which meant we could play at 30fps. Oh, and of course, it’s the same frame rate for this release. It’s still perfectly playable, but a shame when Super Mario Odyssey could pull off 60fps on the same hardware.
Exploring Isle Delfino is a real joy though. While nowhere near as groundbreaking as Super Mario 64, this was still Nintendo at their inventive best, and they stepped away from the rather abstract hodgepodge of ideas from Mario 64 to create something that felt like a cohesive whole. All of the levels have a tropical island theme, and you can often spot other levels from the island in the background. Nintendo really pushed the boat out with then-emerging graphical effects as well. The waves in the game look fantastic, the water brilliantly simulating the shifting opacity and shimmer of real water, and supremely crisp reflections. It looks great and really holds up well in HD.
Nintendo have had to fiddle with the control scheme to work around the GameCube’s ‘analogue with a click’ triggers. Now, instead of having Mario’s FLUDD backpack squirt straight ahead while analogue, and then enter an aiming mode once fully depressed, these functions are separated onto the ZR and R buttons. Anyone hoping to use a GameCube controller via an adapter, a la Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, will be disappointed, as there’s no support for this. I know I was a little bit.
Super Mario Galaxy has likely required the most work to get working on Nintendo Switch, but not on the graphical side. As with Sunshine, Nintendo have bumped up the game resolution from SD to HD, and that helps a huge amount with the severe aliasing you see when playing the game on Wii or Wii U. At a base technical level, you get 720p handheld and a dynamic 1080p docked, and at last we get a game in this collection that runs at 60fps. Admittedly, it always ran at 60fps, so not managing that would’ve been a shocker, but it helps the game feel that much smoother on Switch than the others in the collection.
While Sunshine really defined the visual style of Super Mario games in the 21st century, Super Mario Galaxy refined it further. The opening run to Peach’s castle was a wonderful nod back Mario 64, but when the galaxy-hopping adventure really took form with a mixture of traditional 3D Mario levels and jaw-dropping planetoids to zip between, they were just packed with more detail that really holds up well in HD. However, it’s fair to say that some elements like the crush to the dynamic range and banding in the colours is now much clearer to see in a HDR world.
Perhaps the most impressive element here is how well Super Mario Galaxy handles losing the Wii remote and nunchuck controls. Originally you’d be pointing at the screen to pick up star bits and fire them at enemies, interact with certain other elements and waggling the controller to get Mario to pull of a spin attack. With a Joy-Con in each hand, all of that has been preserved thanks to the precision of the more modern motion sensors, but if you want to play with a Pro Controller or similar, then you can substitute controller shaking for a button press to spin, and the motion controls still feel fine with two hands on the controller. Handheld play then goes that one step further to let you tap the screen instead of tilt. It can be a bit of a stretch for your thumbs, even with the smaller Nintendo Switch Lite and big hands.
Outside of the games, this is a no-frills affair. As already mentioned, there are no digital manuals included – once such a key part of a game experience and able to house explanations of more advanced game techniques – there’s also no concept art to flip through, which would have been a nice touch to see how these games evolved. What you do have are the full game soundtracks that you can listen to from the main menu, with the option to turn the screen off… because everyone wants to use their Switch as a music player, don’t they?