As Nintendo's famous plumber reaches his 35th birthday, the Japanese gaming giant has dusted off three of his defining achievements in one celebratory package.
Or at least, it should be celebratory. As you may have heard by now, Super Mario 3D All Stars serves up Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy with relatively little pomp and circumstance. The games remain largely unchanged from their original guises, with high-definition resolution and each game's soundtrack the only definable extras. No bespoke graphical upgrades, concept art or developer commentary about the creation of two of the finest games in history and Sunshine - one of Nintendo's most interesting and divisive.
In this age of aging games getting the spit and polish of impressive generational upgrades -Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, even Tony Hawk's Pro Skater- Super Mario 3D All Stars can't help but feel a little perfunctory. Let's say that preserving the games as they are for a new audience on Switch is a fine lesson in gaming history -and heaven knows Mario can provide that- some supporting extras would have gone a long way in making this the celebration it should have been.
Still, let us not underestimate the power of all three of these games finding new admirers. Super Mario 64 may show its age in terms of its blocky N64 visuals, but no other game aside from Mario itself has challenged its mastery of 3D platforming. It was extraordinary back in 1996, translating the portly plumber's side-scrolling escapades to a sprawling adventure through different worlds, tasking you with hunting out different stars with a bevy of inventive challenges.
Be it toppling bosses atop mountains or racing enormous penguins down an icy luge, Mario 64 combines the sense of exploration, precision platforming skills and one-shot events that came to define the 3D Mario games. Much of what new players might see could come across as cliche for 3D platformers, but only because would-be challengers plundered Mario's ideas for their own mascot-driven adventures.
As for Mario himself, 64 is where Nintendo honed the plumber's own ebullient brand of acrobatics. His bounding moveset of hops, wall-jumps, flips and spins continue to form the bedrock of even his most recent games. Super Mario 64 was not the first game made in a 3D space, but it was the first to find such precision in its control and a sense of place in its bucolic fantasy lands,
It is for these reasons that 64 is still an arresting experience in 2020, even if it shows its age in places. One wonders if Nintendo could have packaged in the 2004 DS rework, which came with a clutch of welcome extras, or at least given us more control over the games' occasionally erratic camera.
Nevertheless, as an introduction to the brilliant and precise platforming we know and love, Super Mario 64 is a fabulous period piece. Which makes the transition to Super Mario Sunshine something of a shock. Variably described as Mario's lowest ebb to his most fascinating adventure, Sunshine has split players ever since it arrived on the Gamecube in 2002. It came at a time when Nintendo was looking to somewhat reinvent its most famous series (the Gamecube also saw the cel-shaded Zelda game Wind Waker, which still divides opinions). It was also a reminder that Nintendo are not always afraid to do some weird things with its mascots.
In this instance it is to send Mario on holiday to the tropical Isle Delfino -populated by the bulbous and colourful Piantas- strapping a water-powered jet-pack to his back and asking him to clean up the paint-splattered mess caused by his own shadow. The introduction of FLUDD fundamentally changed Mario's moveset and thus the tasks he undertook.
Playing Sunshine now --particularly in the wake of Galaxy and latter games 3D World and the Switch's own Odyssey-- it is abundantly clear that Sunshine is Mario at his most imprecise. More accurate platforming sections are fiddlier than you may be used to, while some of his manoeuvres have been removed. It can be particularly noticeable if you switch to Sunshine from either 64 or Galaxy, but this curious departure makes more sense if you treat it as more off a Mario offshoot.
FLUDD itself becomes the fountain of plenty of joy, spraying the ground ahead of you with water before launching into a belly-slide remains an absolute treat, while carefully circling a platform on a jet-stream of water brings a different challenge. Many of the bosses, attacked with a carefully aimed hose, are given their own layers by the introduction of FLUDD.
Isle Delfino itself, meanwhile, is a terrific hub to explore, with delightful sidequests to hunt out extra 'Shines' such as a water-powered fruit delivery. With the switch to widescreen and a HD sheen, it's gorgeous too, with a Saturday morning cartoon feel that can feel like Mario at its weirdest. Of the three games in the collection my eight year old son --an Odyssey completing veteran-- was most drawn to Sunshine, largely due to the hijinks you can get up to with FLUDD. Sunshine remains better than the vast majority of other 3D platformers and its point of difference makes it an intriguing proposition, even if it isn't Nintendo's finest work.
Which brings us to Super Mario Galaxy, which arguably is Nintendo's finest work. It's an extraordinary thing, with a level of invention and generosity of ideas that no game has matched before or since (except its sequel, sadly absent from this collection). By catapulting Mario into space, Galaxy does away with boundaries and (literally at times) flips the series on its head.
Mario propels himself to different 'galaxies', hopping between manically crafted planets that constantly play with gravity and physical space. Barely a minute goes by without a new idea coming into orbit, be it giant honeycombs to clamber on as Bee Mario, devilishly difficult precision runs across collapsing platforms over a yawning black hole or smart, planet-spanning boss fights. Galaxy brings in ideas that other games would build their entire existence around, before dropping it into one bonus galaxy and moving on to the next thing.
This parade of invention makes Galaxy a particularly moreish treat, tempting you into 'one more star' as new galaxies are unlocked. Mario's move-set is as accomplished as ever, while the game has an eye for the spectacular, thrusting Mario through glittering starscapes accompanied by a score that makes the heart soar.
It doesn't make the transition to Switch entirely unscathed. When it released in 2007, Galaxy made full use of the Wii's pointer control to grab onto transportive stars and vacuum up the 'Star Bits' that are scattered throughout each galaxy. Played on the big TV with the Switch docked, you can use the Joy-Cons in much the same way, which is a natural fit. Some minor alterations occur when playing in handheld mode, however, with the touchscreen used to do the same jobs. Given that part of the beauty of the pointer control was being able to multitask, clawing your mitts over the screen while moving Mario at the same time is an imperfect solution. Still, begin able to visit these most stellar creations on the train is worth the compromise.
But that there are compromises in Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a shame, with the like-for-like representations unceremoniously dropped onto the Switch rather than being tailored for a new console and a new audience. The inherent quality of the games shine bright and --particularly for those that have not yet visited Galaxy-- remain essential playing. A worthy celebration, but you can't help but feel that there should have been more pizzazz at the party.