It’s no secret I’m a big platforming fan in general and an even bigger fan of the Mario series in particular. However, believe it or not, there are still a few of the famous plumber’s games that I missed out on. Three of these are Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and, you guessed it, Super Mario Galaxy. So as you can imagine I was very happy to see Nintendo’s new take on the All-Star brand. Now, it’s hard enough as it is to review re-released games, particularly if they’re now part of a bundled collection. But throw in the ‘fan-element’ and the fact that these were all really well-regarded games and this makes attempting a review quite… unique.
So I thought I’d try something a little different. As most of you know, all three of these games are outstanding. Or at least were considered as such when they were released (all the originals scored over 90 on Metacritic for example). So rather than deep dive into each game as they were… I thought I’d do my best, describing what it felt like playing them for the first time now, in the year 2020, on the Nintendo Switch. Each game will get a quick roundup and score based purely on what I’d give it today. Of course, I will also throw in my opinion of the collection as a whole and what I think works and what I felt was sorely missing. And so with that out the way – let’s begin where I did, in the blocky world that started it all off…
Super Mario 64 (Score: 7/10)
I know so many of you will look at my 7 of 10 and scream (hopefully internally) in horror. Mario 64 defined a budding 3D-platforming category of games and arguably still stands head and shoulders above most of the generation’s titles in the genre. Virtually any 3D world you explore on a console or PC these days was created by someone who was influenced by this game. However, perhaps because of all that ‘baggage’, I started my playthrough of Mario 64 on the Switch a bit hesitantly. Of course, blocky Mario is still pretty iconic and thanks to the port receiving a slight texture upgrade, the visuals oozed a lot of old-school charm. However, as I started the game and the screen shrank to 4:3 and seemed to skip in what I can only assume were some early dropped frames, it’s safe to say I got a little worried.
I was struck with just how much subsequent Mario games (both 3D and 2D) could trace their mechanics to Mario 64.
Thankfully for the most part – the rest of the game ran pretty smoothly. Not sure what caused that initial ‘bumpiness’, but within minutes I was gleefully hopping around the hexagonal Mushroom Kingdom and making my way to the now legendary Peach’s castle. Immediately (and again and again throughout my playthrough) I was struck with just how much subsequent Mario games (both 3D and 2D) could trace their mechanics to Mario 64. The triple jump, the long jump, the backwards flip, a central hub-world connected to themed areas and so much more, all started here. I couldn’t quite believe how much this game ‘started’ things off and I was really rather impressed.
That doesn’t mean the game had no issues. No matter what Nintendo’s marketing says – texture smoothing is about all I could see in the ‘remaster’ department. This is a port – plain and simple. The game, therefore, feels ‘off’ in several departments when playing it in a modern context. Mario’s jump feels too floaty. The camera movement is limited and an absolute pain to control, and while I can appreciate how huge the array of worlds seemed 20 years ago – today they feel rather sparse. Level design and mechanics once considered cutting-edge can leave a lot to be desired today. As an example of what I mean – I loved the idea of the sliding levels – however, keeping Mario on the clunky track was almost unbearably tough, and constantly dying over and over almost had me throwing my controller across the room.
An amazing older game that I just found much harder to enjoy as much today, as so many did 20 years ago.
Also, after having loved Odyssey it seems I’ve become a grumpy old man in terms of returning to already played levels. Collecting a single Star (or dying in the pursuit of one) in 64 kicks you out of the ‘painting’. Every. Single. Time. And with at least seven to collect in each area, the repetitive jumping back in and out is arduous, to say the least, especially when you could’ve easily knocked a few off on a single run. Throw in slightly confusing progression and what you’re left with is an amazing older game that I just found much harder to enjoy as much today as so many did 20 years ago.
Super Mario Sunshine (Score: 8/10)
Although I’ve never really played any of these games, I knew the least about Sunshine – and honestly, it was the one I was most excited for. I knew it had been a bit of a divisive game when it launched and while many (if not most) look back on it fondly – a lot also complained about its lack of enough different worlds and again camera issues. Happily, for the most part, I loved Sunshine. First of all, Nintendo promised a higher resolution and a new widescreen format and it looks great and runs as smoothly as the beautiful running water effects in the game. There are even some remarkably good cinematics that I just didn’t know about and came away really pleasantly surprised.
Just as I was enjoying Sunshine, Dr Jekyll left the room and in splashed Mr Hyde.
I really enjoyed the movement of the game. F.L.U.D.D. is just an awesome companion/game mechanic and I even found the setting enticing and a really interesting departure from 64. The puzzles and bonus levels (especially those in the first three-quarters of the game) were clever and engaging and whether it was moving mirrors to catch the sun, or racing a strange purple masked fellow across the beach, I found it all super fun. In fact, I started to suspect that Nintendo must have substantially tweaked the gameplay because before I got to the last 5 hours or so of the game – I couldn’t really find anything (other than again having to constantly re-enter levels to collect Sprites one at a time) that would cause me to dislike the game the way apparently so many had in the past. But just then, Dr Jekyll left the room and in splashed Mr Hyde.
I found the last quarter quite different from the first. Not only did I play a Mario level that will haunt my nightmares for all eternity due to how broken and wonky the camera was, but collecting becomes substantially tougher. If you could avoid some of these levels it would be one thing, but even the really tough bonus levels are seemingly mandatory. If this was simply a ramp-up in platforming difficulty that would be tolerable – however, it felt different. Like the mechanics themselves and the level design just wasn’t as fluid and intuitive as the earlier stuff. Finally getting to the credits was a relief and while overall I really liked this game – there’s stuff near the end I never want to do again.
A Mario level that will haunt my nightmares for all eternity.
Super Mario Galaxy (Score: 9.5/10)
My cousin owned a Wii. I did not. I had seen bits of Galaxy here and there – but this was a completely new… and wonderful experience. Starting off – the change in style, the warping gravity and the freedom of circumnavigating planets in a 3D space was a little overwhelming and actually had me feeling a little motion sick (yes, I am sadly THAT sensitive). Thankfully, after the first 30 minutes or so – my brain just clicked in and I loved every second of Galaxy.
It takes the 3D formula and literally turns it onto its head. The creativity had me gasping in amazement and the movement, location, visuals and more had me enthralled from the 31st minute to the last credit roll. I can’t wait to go back and 100% this game and can’t believe I was lucky enough to experience it for the first time on the Switch. I hear it was great on the Wii too. However, using the Joy-Cons or the Pro-controller felt perfect. The dual control – Mario’s movement (analogue sticks) as well as the movement of the cursor (motion-controls) – takes a bit of getting used to. However, once I got the hang of it, I wished all Mario games had the functionality to independently collect things on the screen and interact with enemies and platforms via motion controls.
I loved every second of Galaxy. The style, the warping gravity… everything.
I loved the new costumes and abilities Mario earns during the game and while I’ll go into the music in the collection as a whole down below – this game’s soundtrack really stands out. Of course, even amazing games have smaller flaws. I found the Boss battles to be a little repetitive and the so-called two-payer ‘Co-Star’ mode is nothing but a gimmicky assist mode. It might be nice if you’re introducing a young player to video games as they basically just take control of a the laser-pointer like motion control on one Joy-Con. Other than those small issues, this felt like a near-masterpiece.
All-Star or Black hole?
So there you have it. With each new game in the collection – I enjoyed myself more and more. But how does it stack up as a collection – one that Nintendo is choosing to sell at full price? Well, here’s the good news: I played all games in docked mode and it looks great on the big screen. And even in handheld mode – as long as your Joy-Cons are removable from your Switch – it’s a beautiful collection to have on the go too. Also, the addition of the Music Player (basically three virtual albums (one for each game) that contains something like 175 tracks is great. You can even play the music while your Switch’s screen is off. And it is exactly the type of Museum-feature I appreciate in re-release collections. Unfortunately, other than that and a nice intro information page for each game, that’s where the “extra features” end. And that’s a pity… I would’ve paid for a rewind button. Perhaps, some concept art. Anything to make it that little bit more special would’ve really made a big difference.
Other than the Music Player and a nice intro information page for each game there are just no other museum-collection features. And it’s a real shame. Thankfully, Sunshine and Galaxy did not need remakes. Those ports are great.
Now, when it comes to the ‘port vs remaster vs remake’ debate, here is my take: The games (as they are) are still rather good. Now, it could maybe be argued that 64 could’ve used at least a remaster. I could maybe get behind that. But I’ve heard people call the ports lazy. And I just don’t agree. The more I played, the more I’m convinced that Sunshine and Galaxy did not need remakes and simply upgrading 64 would’ve taken much more time and perhaps even lost some of its charm. Playing the games as they are, one after the other really gives you a sense of progress – it’s a fun journey to go on through Mario’s history.
So in the end, really the question you’ve got to ask is – is this worth it for you? This is a collection of ported games. It’s a collection that’s firmly in the just ‘good-not-great’ column in terms of museum-style collections. Not only that but I would’ve loved Galaxy 2 to be included (hopefully it will come as DLC in the future). And we definitely need more info as to what happens after the greedy-sounding ‘limited release window’. However, one thing is for sure – the game content itself is historic, iconic and it’s rather special to play again (or for the first time). And so, while it’s not perfect, I found it just ‘perfect-enough’ to include in my Switch library.