When Super Mario 3D All-Stars was announced, I was immediately excited and did not hesitate to preorder the digital edition. But if you look all over the internet, there is a lot of back and forth about this game. People are questioning whether Nintendo put enough effort in, the graphics are good enough or if there should be new features added to the original games. All of these points are being argued to death.
When I arrived home from work on release day, my Switch was up on my desk, ready for me to play. Even though this was designed as a huge nostalgia trip, a celebration of the past, I was going into it with a little trepidation. Of the three games, I’d only ever played Super Mario 64 before. Would it be as good as I remember? What about the other two games? Would I enjoy them? Would the gimmicks in Sunshine or the more linear gameplay of Galaxy turn me off?
Learning to Fly, But I Ain’t Got Wings
Well, only one way to find out, I suppose. I turned on the game and was immediately greeted by that upbeat Mario music. And that helped put me at ease as I flipped through the menu. Not that there was much to flip through: the opening menu is just the three games and their three soundtracks. The design makes it look like there should be more, which made me wonder if there originally was going to be more, or if Nintendo is thinking about adding more later. But, I shrugged that thought off. After all, there were Stars to gather, turtles to beat up, and Princesses in need of rescuing.
Super Mario 64
The first one I stuck my toe into was Super Mario 64. Might as well start with something familiar, even though it had been a long time since I played it. I vividly remember how mindblowing the game was for me as a kid, how much it felt like it changed the world of gaming. And it is still utterly baffling to me that they can fit this game into a portable system now.
I’m pretty sure my first thoughts about playing this version of 64 were the same as everyone else on the planet’s: Was the camera always this clunky? While the game was revolutionary back in 1996, Nintendo definitely hadn’t nailed down the camera yet. Neither had anyone else yet. As a result of this, playing it again, with twenty years of better camera controls having spoiled me, I frequently found myself fighting the camera and being unable to quite line up my hits on the enemies. That being said, I still was enjoying the trip down memory lane. Aside from the camera, the controls definitely worked fine, and the game is still a fun one.
After collecting a couple of stars in Super Mario 64, I decided to move on to Sunshine. Of the three titles in the collection, this was probably the one I was most nervous about playing. It was also the one I was most excited about. At first release, a lot of the games for the Gamecube were divisive among Nintendo fans, and Super Mario Sunshine was no exception. While it was one of the best-looking games on the Gamecube, the FLUDD mechanics turned a lot of people off, and even to this day, people argue about whether the water pack added a fun dimension to the game or took away from the core Mario experience. But I know many 3D Mario fans who describe it as their favorite Mario game. I honestly didn’t know whether the FLUDD gimmick would be something I enjoyed or something I found obnoxious.
Super Mario Sunshine
I should not have worried. It took me about thirty seconds to absolutely fall in love with Sunshine. The camera controls are already much smoother than they were in 64. The FLUDD mechanics, for me, added a fun new method of problem solving and getting around the world that encourages a little more creativity and lateral thinking than you usually see in a Mario game. And more importantly? This game makes you feel free.
After laughing at the opening cutscene and the sheer amount of voice acting in the game, I found myself dumped in the center of a town on Isle Delfino, being directed to go after a specific puddle of muck. I promptly ran in a completely different direction and started exploring. And it feels like there’s a lot to find. While I know it will become a nightmare if I decide to 100% the game, I’m genuinely enjoying how much it feels like this game rewards you just going around and looking for random things. I honestly never knew what I was missing with Sunshine, but it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite Mario games of all time.
Super Mario Galaxy
But, of course, there is a third game on here. I was a little more familiar with Super Mario Galaxy going in. It is the favorite of a very good friend of mine, I’m involved in a musical project celebrating it, and I have seen a ‘Let’s Play’ video or two of it. But, before getting this collection, I never played it myself, and I certainly haven’t seen the game to completion. And I wasn’t sure how I was going to enjoy it. It definitely takes a bit more inspiration from the 2D games in terms of linearity than 64 or Sunshine does, and the other 3D Mario game I’d played that tried to do “A 2D Mario in 3D”, Super Mario 3D Land, I was definitely lukewarm towards.
Galaxy, however, feels more like they took that concept and did it right. While the stages have a certain sense of linear progression to them, there still is a sense of exploration. Each planetoid you travel to in a stage may require you to go in all sorts of directions. Rather than playing one linear stage with three axes of movements, each stage in Galaxy feels more like a collection of microlevels from 64 and Sunshine. It really does combine the best of the 2D games and the 3D games in one gorgeous package. And thankfully, the Switch version makes the Wii exclusive features a little more friendly: spinning is now linked to a button press, as opposed to being waggle. The Star Bits can be gathered and used via touchscreen. All of these small adjustments make the game more accessible and easier to play.
Relating to Super Mario Odyssey
Obviously, I’m enjoying the collection for the sheer quality of the games in it, but there is more to it than that as well. I have not yet gotten Super Mario Odyssey, despite it being out for several years now. Over the past several years, I’ve been dealing with worsening anxiety and mental health issues, which impacts my ability to game. I’ve got several large, open-world, exploring games on Switch that I’ve only barely gotten into because I start to have a panic attack when I play them for too long. For a long time, I have genuinely been worried that I would never actually be able, mentally, to handle a big modern game again. As a result of this, I’ve been reluctant to get Odyssey.
But this collection, these games, I don’t have that problem with. As big and open to exploration as they can be, there are also designed to be done in small chunks, with each Star having specific goals. I can easily pick this collection up, grab one of the games, play for a while, grab a couple of Stars, and not feel a bit of stress. This not only is great because it means I can still game, it’s great because I know that Odyssey takes a lot of notes from these games. Which means that these games make me feel like I could get Odyssey and that I would be all right. No panic attacks. And for someone who has been wrestling with that for a long time now, that is a godsend.
So, could Nintendo have put in a little more effort? Yes. Could they have stuck in maybe some more bonus features to make this more of a celebration? Almost certainly. Does this take away from the fact that this is a set of three fantastic games? No. This collection is a great thing that I can just pick up, play for a little bit to take the edge off the day, and then set down when I have other things to do. If you need something that can be broken into small chunks, never played these games before or if you enjoy Mario in general, I thoroughly recommend this collection. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover or rediscover a favorite.