Nintendo's headline game for holiday 2020 is not a new entry in a beloved franchise or a surprise new IP -- instead, it's a collection of three beloved Super Mario tiles from the past, brought forward to the Nintendo Switch with slight improvements and packaged under the name Super Mario 3D All-Stars.
The collection consists of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, all HD remastered and retooled somewhat to work with the Switch controls. That's it; that's the pitch, which some critics noted was a bit barebones for what should be a killer 35th-anniversary celebration of Mario.
"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," wrote GameSpot's Kevin Knezevic in his 8 out of 10 review of the collection.
"The package on the whole hardly feels like a celebration of the series in the way that, say, Kirby's Dream Collection did"
"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."
However, Knezevic goes on to say that the visual improvements help the games look "more vibrant and colorful than ever, which helps mask their otherwise aging visuals," and that Galaxy especially has benefitted from the touches.
Looking at the three games specifically, most reviewers agreed that regardless of nostalgia, all of them had aged well enough to warrant inclusion in such a collection. Super Mario 64, in particular, received nearly universal praise, with USGamer's Nadia Oxford saying that in 2020, it was "still easy to see why it revolutionized 3D platforming" in her 4 out of 5 review.
"Some of its mechanics are a bit archaic, e.g. traveling through a hub world to reach separate levels, each of which is hidden within a painting. Still, when I started up 3D All-Stars and booted up Super Mario 64, my heart was swept back to the night I brought my N64 home. As soon as Mario leaped out of the pipe that spits him out onto Princess Peach's courtyard, I found myself running, jumping, flipping, and climbing trees for the sheer hell of it. Movement is joy in Super Mario 64.
"There are moments where the camera acts up -- 3D All-Stars does not add 360-degree camera movement to games that previously lacked it -- but most of the levels are so well-designed that it hardly impacts the flow and pace of the exploration. Super Mario 64 was a marvel when it came out in 1996, and it's still a delight to play today."
"Super Mario 64 was a marvel when it came out in 1996, and it's still a delight to play today"
Sunshine was a bit more polarizing, but reviews of the game largely chalked that up to how the game has always been. That said, Alex Donaldson pointed out one key issue with Sunshine that caused the game not to translate well to Switch in his four out of five review for VG247:
"I still find [Sunshine] a bit of a frustrating, fiddly game, but there's something about the energy and bright exuberance of it that stands out even in the colorful world of Mario. My issues with how it controls probably aren't massively helped by the fact that it was heavily built around the GameCube controller, which isn't compatible here, even if you have the Smash Bros. adapter. It feels the least naturally at home on the Switch, but still plays just fine."
Specifically, Donaldson references a problem a number of other critics laid out: Mario's centerpiece ability in the game is spraying water with robot water backpack FLUDD, whose pressure was previously adjustable by applying different levels of pressure to the GameCube's L and R analog triggers. Devoid of that style of button, Nintendo opted to map stopping, aiming, and spraying to one set of triggers and a lighter run and spray to the other, but most reviews agreed this is a step back in a game that already had frustrating controls.
Meanwhile, Super Mario Galaxy appears to have only benefitted from ditching its original control scheme, as reviews almost universally cheered the removal of Wii motion controls paired with a game that was otherwise excellent already.
"And what is there to say about Super Mario Galaxy, a game that transports Mario's platforming to a world of spheres without feeling weird, without missing a beat?" wrote Vice's Patrick Klepek. "It's a trip, and arguably remains the most visually inventive of the whole franchise. Outside of how awkward it is to collect star pieces in handheld mode -- a requirement to unlock certain challenge courses -- it's tremendous. Among the pantheon of Mario games, it's up there."
"Every game in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a clear indication of why Mario has remained an inextricable part of gaming history"
Good and largely improved as the three games in the collection are, the main issue dividing reviewers at the end was whether or not bundling three HD versions of old games together was enough to be truly exciting, or whether some element of secret spice was missing in the collection. Martin Robinson at Eurogamer, for instance, wanted something more:
"Super Mario 3D All-Stars...can sometimes feel like nothing more than a ROM dump. It is more than that -- thankfully -- but it still feels like less than it could be. It is not in any way comprehensive -- the decision to cut aside Super Mario 3D World for its own re-release next year makes some sort of sense, while the decision to not include Super Mario Galaxy 2, effectively an expansion pack for the original Galaxy which is here in all its glory, does not. Whereas I'm not sure whether the original All-Stars were remakes or not, I'm not sure you can even call the games in 3D All-Stars remasters."
Kotaku's Ian Walker, however, was more positive about the result:
"More than anything, however, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a time capsule. The series' progression from one game to the next provides a fascinating look at how Nintendo almost willed an entire genre into existence and then, just as quickly, scaled it back to just the bare necessities without missing a beat.
"Every game in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a triumph, a clear indication of why Mario has remained an inextricable part of gaming history. They don't even have to tell you how to jump in these games anymore; Nintendo knows that every player's thumb will inevitably hover to the appropriate button."