With the dawn of the fifth generation of gaming consoles such as the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation 1, systems and developers alike had the technical capabilities to bid farewell to 2D and 2.5D platformers and start treating 3D platformers as the way of the future. With open worlds to explore, a non-linear approach to exploration and the ability to solve puzzles in a three-dimensional space, Super Mario 64 remains a pioneer of the gameplay systems we enjoy even today. Followed by Super Mario Sunshine on the Nintendo GameCube and Super Mario Galaxy on the Nintendo Wii, all three are a perfect case study of how 3D platformers progressed over time – graphically and creatively.
While Super Mario 64 did receive a remake to coincide with the Nintendo DS’s original release and a couple of them have received virtual console releases, none of them received a formal home release since first landing on store shelves. This is despite other Nintendo games receiving ports over the years. Everything changed from last week when, to mark the franchises 35th Anniversary, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D All-Stars onto physical and digital storefronts. Comprising of all three games which have been ported across in their original forms through emulation, you can explore the first ten years of 3D Mario history for one reasonable price.
On the single Nintendo Switch cartridge, you are treated to all three original games along with their original soundtracks. Controversially, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was not included, with this surprise decision not changing between its initial announcement and this collection. These are precisely the same games that many of those growing up in the 90s would have experienced, and having grown up playing all three, this was a nostalgia. But outside of a few localisation changes to reflect Nintendo Switch hardware, all that is different about these games is their upscaled emulation to make all games nicer on the screen. This decision leaves me torn.
On the positive side, these games are so iconic and indicative of their time, that I don’t think they would be anywhere near as enjoyable were they remastered. Especially for a collection such as this one, doing the bare minimum works in their favour. While none look anywhere near the standards of current-generation platforms, especially the pre-rendered cutscenes in Super Mario Sunshine, there is something fun about running through Super Mario 64 in a polygonal world for the first time in twenty years.
That said, some quality of life improvements would have been welcome. In particular, the control mechanics of the earlier games deserved an overhaul. Super Mario 64 and to a lesser degree Super Mario Sunshine offered infuriating camera controls, lacklustre swimming mechanics and frustrating, floaty controls in general. These issues remain in-force and in some ways (due to the Nintendo Switch controllers) more prevalent in this release. Furthermore, although the inclusion of all three soundtracks was a nice bonus extra, I feel like something more could have been put into the game to enrich the experience on such a significant anniversary. I for one, with no knowledge of how practical this would be, would have loved to have seen current-day Nintendo developers create a new 35th Anniversary level in each of the three games as postgame content. It would have been something seeing what development teams of the 2020s could produce using the Super Mario 64 engine (or even in a different engine which emulates the original experiences).
Everything I have mentioned above does little to detract from the fact that Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy are highlights for the Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube and Nintendo Wii eras. Each game still holds up to todays standards in terms of gameplay. Whether you purchase the Super Mario 3D All-Stars for a nostalgia trip or interest in what the 3D Mario games were like in yesteryear – it would be hard to be disappointed.