With the recent release of “Super Mario 3D All-Stars,” the new legacy collection released last month from Nintendo, many are experiencing the initial 3D Mario entries for the first time. The collection includes three classic Mario platformers: “Super Mario 64,” “Super Mario Sunshine” and “Super Mario Galaxy.”
For the uninitiated, the platforming genre began its existence as a two-dimensional scroller where the ultimate goal is getting from points A to B, while avoiding enemies and often jumping from platform to platform. Nintendo was the first to successfully take this two-dimensional concept and apply it to a full-fledged three-dimensional world.
At the time, collection marathons, or collect-a-thons, were set in open worlds that you were able to explore at your own leisure. Gamers were beginning to understand the dopamine rush that came with seeing “100% Complete” flash across the screen, and Nintendo brought this to the forefront of the 3D Mario series.
Remakes and remasters of video games are not in short supply these days. Some of these games, many a direct descendant of the platforming genre, undoubtedly hold up better than others, and the 3D Mario series is no exception. Let’s take a look into the history of the Super Mario franchise over the years.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
Apparently, creating the first two-dimensional platformer with the original “Donkey Kong” was not enough of an accolade for Nintendo. After 15 years of dominating the industry, they revolutionized gameplay again with one of the most influential 3D platformers of all time, “Super Mario 64,” or as many fans lovingly refer to as simply “64.”
With “64,” the game’s creators left behind the linear gameplay and instead focused on a more relatively novel concept within the gaming community.
With this debut entry, Nintendo set the standard for what a 3D platform should look and feel like, and completely transformed what gamers expected from first-party titles. The game introduced players to Mario’s classic triple jump move-set that would remain constant throughout the series. Most importantly, it is just fun to move the plump, Italian plumber around the game’s iconic levels, something game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, felt was essential to the franchise’s success.
Even though “64” is still a great game that holds up fairly, it helps to understand that gamers are playing a piece of video game history. The camera controls range from clunky to nonexistent, and I recall the mere mentioning of the underwater ship level giving me night terrors. It is still a rewarding game for those able to finish it, and more importantly, it shows much of the series’ history and origins of the 3D platformer genre.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
Many consider “Sunshine” to be the weakest entry in the 3D Mario series. While I will concede that many of the complaints are valid, as innovative as it was, it took the least risks of the three and stuck closely to what worked in “64.”
The game mostly sticks to the basic formula of its predecessor: There are 120 shines to collect that are spread across seven levels with a common tropical theme. Along with that, there is a final boss to defeat and plenty to collect once players finish the main storyline. There are some really challenging levels that I still have not beaten, 18 years later.
“Sunshine” holds up immensely better than “64.” Its controls are more fluid, accurate and responsive. The addition of the Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device (FLUDD) aspect that gives Mario the ability to hover allows for more precise landing and less falling off the map due to clunky game design.
Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
If “Sunshine” represented a tepid leap of faith from Nintendo with its FLUDD concept, they upped the ante considerably with their third entry, “Galaxy.” The game played with themes of gravity and physics and featured levels that were completely spherical and puzzle oriented. The game set forth a precedent of innovation with the franchise, while keeping its bare bones intact.
Mario is again tasked with collecting stars, which in this case are moons, except now players can use the Nintendo Wii’s motion control capabilities to interact with the game in new ways.
Setting the game in space allows it to feel new without changing the structure of the controls. Mario still uses his triple jump and he still makes the same iconic noises each time, but now he jumps significantly higher and can use the lack of gravity to achieve new heights.
“Galaxy” is undoubtedly the most modern feeling entry available in the 3D All-Star lineup, and those coming to the series for the first time might do well to begin here. The controls feel the most similar to the current entry, “Odyssey,” and features some of the series’ most intricate and stunning puzzles.
Some of the cutscenes feel a little awkward and the levels can often feel a bit tight and claustrophobic, but for most of today’s players, this is the entry that stands out the most. Also, it introduced the world to Rosalina, a welcome relief from having to save Princess Peach every few years.
Ultimately, it is important to realize when playing the games that these are not remakes. This collection is simply a re-release, or a port of the games configured to run on a new system. This means the games only look reasonably better than they did twenty years ago, and often the controls can feel jaunted and outdated.
The collection was released to pacify Nintendo’s fanbase while they try to develop new material under the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic circumstances. Production has slowed down and they are not able to spend as much time writing code, so they are hoping that this will hold fans over until the new year. Still, this collection is an absolute must-have and strongly recommended for any Mario fan, old or new.
“Super Mario 3D All-Stars” was released Sept. 13, 2020 and will be available in both physical and digital formats through March 31, 2021.