Super Mario 3D All-Stars Review – Shoot For The Stars

  • First Released Sep 18, 2020
  • NS

Despite its minimal trimmings, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a worthwhile collection of some of the plumber's most memorable adventures.

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is now available on Nintendo Switch. The collection is a limited-time release; physical and digital editions will only be on sale until March 31, 2021, after which point it will no longer be available from retailers or the Nintendo eShop. However, those who purchase the collection digitally will still be able to redownload it after that date. Our full review of Super Mario 3D All-Stars follows.

Mario's never been one to turn down a shindig--one need only look at the numerous Mario Parties he's thrown over the years for proof of that--but his anniversary is one occasion that is rarely celebrated. His 25th anniversary was marked with a Wii re-release of Super Mario All-Stars, of all things--hardly the most auspicious way to commemorate such a remarkable milestone. This year, however, Nintendo is giving Mario a more fitting anniversary tribute, headlining the festivities with Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a Switch compilation featuring a trio of the plumber's most influential adventures: N64's Super Mario 64, GameCube's Super Mario Sunshine, and Wii's Super Mario Galaxy.

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But while Mario 3D All-Stars is ostensibly a celebration of Mario's history, a chance to revisit the plumber's genre-defining leap into the third dimension, it's still lacking in some regards. For one, you won't find anything in the way of supplemental material here: just Mario's first three 3D adventures, modestly touched up for high-definition displays, and their accompanying soundtracks. The presentation is minimal but handsomely designed, and the soundtracks are a nice bonus, but the package on the whole hardly feels like a celebration of the series in the way that, say, Kirby's Dream Collection or even the original Super Mario All-Stars did.

Still, the games that are included here are some of Mario's most memorable, and they've all been given an HD sheen. Mario 64 runs in 720p whether you're playing on the television or in handheld mode, while Sunshine and Galaxy both run in 1080p docked and 720p in handheld. Sunshine's aspect ratio has also been increased to 16:9. Thanks to the improved resolution, the games all look more vibrant and colorful than ever, which helps mask their otherwise aging visuals; Galaxy in particular has benefited greatly from the HD touchup and is often stunning. The UI elements in each game look much crisper as well, and the in-game text has been updated to reflect the tweaked controls (and in Mario 64's case, the fuzzy font has been smoothed over, making it much easier to read).

Beyond those nips and tucks, however, 3D All-Stars presents the three classics in their original, unvarnished forms. Outside of modified controls to better suit the Switch hardware, Nintendo has not altered the content of these games, so they arrive on Switch with all of their original highlights and blemishes intact. As such, the appeal of this collection hinges entirely on the strength of the games themselves, and they have all weathered the test of time with varying degrees of grace.

Super Mario 64

As the oldest game in the compilation, Mario 64 has aged the most noticeably--something that is immediately apparent in the controls. While Mario himself still feels as spry and acrobatic as ever, boasting the widest repertoire of moves he's ever had, he doesn't feel quite as sharp to maneuver as he once did; his turn radius is a bit unwieldy and his walk a little too jittery, which often makes it difficult to guide him across narrow pathways or line him up to read signposts or speak to other characters.

The biggest sticking point, however, is the camera system. Pioneering as it was in 1996, the camera--which is charmingly personified as a Lakitu reporter filming Mario live as he investigates Princess Peach's disappearance--is often an impediment, restrictive at the best of times and combative at the worst. You can only shift the camera angle around in increments, but even then it has a tendency to drift back behind Mario, making it difficult to frame jumps and other actions that require tightrope precision. This can get particularly frustrating in some of the game's later stages, where death-defying leaps become the norm and you'll need to rely on the camera to gauge your trajectory.

Given the game's age, however, these flaws are to be expected, and they're largely overshadowed by its many enduring strengths. While the ideas here would be reinterpreted and refined by later games in the series, Mario 64's sense of adventurousness remains undiminished. Princess Peach's castle, the game's labyrinthine hub, is laden with secrets to uncover, and it remains a joy to explore, rewarding curiosity with hidden stars and secret stages. The game is particularly clever in the way it builds expectations only to later subvert them. You'll spend your first handful of hours learning that levels are accessed via paintings, only for the game to disguise the entrance to one later stage as a nondescript wall. These little moments of discovery are plentiful and always feel rewarding to stumble upon.

Super Mario 64 captured on Nintendo Switch.
Super Mario 64 captured on Nintendo Switch.

The courses, likewise, still feel rich and varied--15 in total (not counting the handful of secret micro levels squirreled away around Peach's castle) running the gamut from grasslands and snow-covered mountains to towering fortresses and clockwork contraptions. Mario 64 pioneered the episodic structure that later 3D Mario games would follow, so you'll be revisiting stages and completing different objectives each time to collect stars; some are waiting in plain sight at the end of a treacherous obstacle course, while others are rewarded for performing specific tasks, such as reuniting a lost penguin with its mother or besting a fleet-footed Koopa in a race. The game's novelty on the whole may have been somewhat diminished by the passage of time, but it is still often able to surprise and delight.

Super Mario Sunshine

For many, Mario Sunshine is likely the most intriguing game in this collection. Part of that has to do with its rarity. Unlike the other two games here, Sunshine has never received a proper re-release; the only official way to experience it until now was to pick up the GameCube original. Part of it also has to do with its reputation; Sunshine is commonly regarded as something of an odd duck among the Mario series, a game with as many detractors as advocates, and it's much easier to see why when it's juxtaposed with two of Mario's most acclaimed outings.

Much of it boils down to the clumsily named Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device, or FLUDD--a water-spewing contraption that Mario wears on his back throughout most of the adventure. While the plumber is still able to leap and slide around levels with acrobatic abandon, FLUDD is his primary means of interacting with the world around him in Sunshine; you'll use it to battle bosses, hit far-off panels, and clean up goop, while additional nozzles give FLUDD the ability to launch Mario into the air like a rocket or zip him around at high speeds.

Super Mario Sunshine captured on Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Sunshine captured on Nintendo Switch

In the same way that Mario 64 showcased the N64's analog stick, FLUDD was a showpiece for the GameCube controller's analog shoulder buttons. Pressing down on the right trigger lightly would let Mario spray water while moving, while holding the trigger down fully stopped him in his tracks and allowed you to aim more precisely. Since the Switch controller lacks analog triggers, these actions have been divided up between the ZR and R buttons, respectively. This requires a bit of a mental adjustment if you've played the original game, and you'll have no choice but to adapt to the change since 3D All-Stars inexplicably doesn't support the original GameCube controls (despite the fact you can technically play it with a GC controller through its adapter), but it functions just as well as the original setup.

Sunshine is commonly regarded as something of an odd duck among the Mario series, a game with as many detractors as advocates, and it's much easier to see why when it's juxtaposed with two of Mario's most acclaimed outings.

The heavy reliance on FLUDD, however, places Sunshine in stark contrast to other Mario games, largely because you never feel as completely in control of the action. This is especially true in stages that task you to steer a boat or lily pad around a body of water. In these situations, you'll need to spray a stream of water from FLUDD to propel the boat forward. The problem, however, is that it's next to impossible to maneuver the vehicle with any degree of finesse this way, so you'll be clumsily ramming it into walls as you try to steer around obstacles. Another level requires you to flip panels over and form a picture using FLUDD, but this likewise turns into an exercise in frustration as the stream of water you spray isn't accurate enough to hit a single panel; there will almost always be a stray splash that hits adjacent panels, causing them to flip over as well.

Situations like this are prevalent in Sunshine and illustrate how uneven it feels compared to other Mario games. It's never as inventive or adventurous as 64 or Galaxy, nor is it as meticulously crafted; its challenges are not as finely tuned, and many of the objectives it throws at you feel like busywork to extend your playtime. Even the presentation is a mess. Sunshine is famous for being the first Mario game to feature fully voiced cutscenes (if you don't count Peach's brief snippets of dialogue in Mario 64). This would be laudable were it not for the fact that the cutscenes and voice work are truly terrible, so much so that no other Mario game would use fully voiced dialogue again.

Super Mario Sunshine captured on Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Sunshine captured on Nintendo Switch

That's not to say the title is completely devoid of any merit, however. Even with all these faults, there are plenty of aspects to like about Sunshine, particularly its setting, Isle Delfino--a Hawaii-by-way-of-the-Mushroom-Kingdom tropical island spanning seven levels and numerous hidden one-off challenges. In keeping with the tropical theme, all of the areas you visit are designed to resemble island locales, from an amusement park to a port harbor spiderwebbed with catwalks. These levels are all charmingly realized and feel like genuine areas rather than playpens designed around Mario's abilities. This gives Sunshine the strongest sense of place of any 3D Mario game, and it's fun to simply run about the levels and soak in the scenery.

Another highlight are the "secret" stages--straightforward obstacle courses more akin to traditional Mario levels. Here, Mario is stripped of FLUDD and must rely on old-fashioned platforming acumen to navigate his way to the goal. These stages feel like direct precursors to the linear, planet-hopping challenges of Galaxy, and they're among the game's best ideas. Without the safety net FLUDD provides, even a single jump between moving platforms becomes a hair-raising leap of faith. Like Sunshine overall, some of these stages can frustrate, but their charms ultimately outweigh their flaws.

Super Mario Galaxy

Mario's first Wii adventure rounds out the collection, and it holds up as the best of the bunch, as fresh and exciting to play now as when it first launched back in 2007. Much of that has to do with the game's pacing; contrasted with the meandering and uneven challenges in Sunshine, Galaxy is sharply focused, paring back the sandbox-style levels of previous 3D Mario games for a more linear series of challenges. Although the stages don't offer as much room for exploration, the variety of ideas within each is delightful. Galaxy never stays in one place for very long, throwing a series of micro objectives at you en route to the Power Star waiting at the end of every stage; you'll go from carefully guiding a bubble-encased Mario through a minefield to navigating haphazard platforms that are constructed out of space debris right in front of you.

Super Mario Galaxy captured on Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Galaxy captured on Nintendo Switch

The entire adventure unspools at a rapid clip as well; new galaxies open up after every few stars you collect, enticing you to keep playing. Moreover, many of the levels are one-off challenges designed around a specific gameplay idea that's usually never revisited, making them constantly surprising. Not all of the ideas the game proposes are winners; those that are designed around controller gimmicks, such as the motion-controlled manta surfing challenges, aren't as fun or inspired as the other stages, but the game never lingers on one idea for long, whisking you off to the next challenge and idea before you grow frustrated.

Given that it was originally designed around motion controls, Mario Galaxy has received the most substantial control tweaks in its move to Switch. You can still play the game Wii-style with one Joy-Con in each hand, and this setup still feels like the most natural way to experience the adventure, as it most easily lets you maneuver Mario around and use the pointer functionality simultaneously. Because the Switch lacks a sensor bar, however, you'll need to manually re-center the reticle often, but this is done easily enough simply by pressing the R button, making it a nonissue.

Beyond the more traditional control setup, you also have the option to play the game with a Pro Controller, and this is a fine alternative. Mario's spin attack can be executed with a press of the Y button, so you won't need to shake the controller constantly to attack enemies or activate Star Launchers the way you would with the Wii's motion controls, but you will still need to physically move it to aim the pointer around the screen and navigate the small handful of motion-controlled stages. In handheld mode, the touch screen serves as a substitute for pointer functionality. This works well enough for simple actions like using Pull Stars, but it's a less than ideal workaround, as it's much trickier to move Mario and use pointer controls simultaneously. You'll also need to physically tilt the system for any motion-controlled challenges; the aforementioned manta surfing level, for instance, requires you to tilt the Switch left and right like a steering wheel to turn the manta ray. It's a serviceable-enough solution, but it doesn't feel as natural as playing with two Joy-Cons.

Super Mario Galaxy captured on Nintendo Switch
Super Mario Galaxy captured on Nintendo Switch

Taken all together, Mario 3D All-Stars is a worthwhile collection, featuring the best versions of Mario 64, Sunshine, and Galaxy to appear on a Nintendo system. Although the individual games have been sparingly touched up and there's little in the way of ancillary material to pore over, the titles themselves hold up well and are a delight to revisit. Despite their age, the games are still rife with inventive ideas and surprises, which more than makes up for the collection's presentational shortcomings.

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The Good

  • All three games generally hold up well and are still a joy to play
  • Increased resolution makes each game look better than ever

The Bad

  • There's little to the collection beyond the three game ports, making the package feel slight
  • The games have only minimally been touched up and show their age in places

About the Author

Kevin spent more than 30 hours playing Super Mario 3D All-Stars and cleared the main story in each of the three included games. Review code was provided by the publisher.