Since we’re all sitting at home it seemed like a great time to pull out more video games to play. Recently Nintendo launched Super Mario 3D All Stars for the Switch, which is a compilation of Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, and Mario Galaxy. Since I was more of a computer gamer in the past, I had actually never played any of these games, so I decided this was a good time to try them all out.
Mario 64 was the first game in the 3D series, and it’s clear that Nintendo was still learning a lot about how this genre would evolve. There are wonderful elements of open world exploration, mixed with traditional platforming mechanics. You’re introduced to the idea of collecting an item to progress (in this case stars), which is a theme that carried forward into even the most recent Mario games like Odyssey. All the familiar trappings of the Mario universe are there including Princess Peach, Goombas, Toads, and Bowser. If I had been a big Mario platformer back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s this game would have scratched all of those itches.
However, it’s also clear that this is the first time that Nintendo was utilizing a 3D environment for a Mario game. The concept of camera movement and shifting angles was sometimes rough compared to today’s standards. There were many occasions where I just couldn’t get the right angle for an area, no matter how I approached it, or tried to move the camera around. Considering how new this technology was, it’s not surprising that there were rough edges to it. Having come from playing Super Mario 3D World and Odyssey, it was rough to go back to a simpler time when the mechanics still hadn’t been perfected.
Despite this failing, I still enjoyed my time in Mario 64, though not as much as the other two games.
Fast forward a few years and we get Mario Sunshine, and almost immediately, it’s clear that Nintendo is starting to figure this whole genre out. To spice things up, we’re dropped into a completely different world, centered around a tropical island theme, and we’re given a new mechanic to work with. Our robotic backpack allows us to shoot water at targets, hover on water jets, and rocket into the air. It creates a whole new way to interact with the world, apart from the traditional jumping mechanics of traditional Mario games. This mechanic was a ton of fun, and it really gave the game a different feel.
Additionally, Nintendo really started to dial in the camera mechanics. I felt much more at home inside the Sunshine world than Mario 64. I was usually able to get the right angle for tricky jumps, and never felt very hampered by where the camera was. Character movements were more responsive and the overall feel was much more polished. It was clear to see that we were entering a new world in 3D platformers and Nintendo was getting it’s groove.
If I had one complaint though, it was the overall difficulty of some of the worlds. The contrast between the open world areas where you have your backpack, and the special worlds that rely solely on your platforming skills was stark. I often found myself able to navigate the open world areas easily, and the consequences for failure were usually not catastrophic. That all changed in the platforming worlds. Any little mistake meant starting over from scratch, and if you got a ‘game over’ you had to start back in the open world area where you have to re-navigate complex areas to just get to the entrance of the special world. For someone like myself, who is not a great platformer, I often found myself frustrated in these worlds, and it diminished my overall enjoyment of the game. Plus, these special worlds were often visually utilitarian and devoid of the charm and ambiance of the open world levels. Whenever I encountered one, I found myself wanting to get done with it as soon as possible so I could get back to the more immersive world outside.
Despite this failing, Sunshine was a huge step forward in the evolution of these games, and I can see why this was a hugely popular game in it’s time.
Finally, we get to Mario Galaxy, released in 2007. Once again the setting is new and different from other Mario entries, putting Mario into outer space, traveling between galaxies to accomplish tasks and collect stars, on his way to defeating Bowser and saving the princess. The biggest mechanic change in Galaxy is the addition of motion controls, and the heavy reliance on gravity. The planets you land on are usually not big, and as you walk around them gravity keeps you glued to their surface, but the camera often stays put. That means that you suddenly need to mentally shift your movements to account for the fact that you’re upside down on the screen. It creates a fun mental challenge as you navigate through the different planets.
On the motion control side, you can aim your cursor to collect star bits as you work through the worlds. These star bits help you unlock new areas, and give you extra lives. They can also be used to disable enemies by shooting bits you’d collected at them, but I often found very little need to use them like that. Mostly, I would just try and collect as many bits as possible so that I could keep my life count as high as I could.
Mario Galaxy really closed the gap on my issues with the first two games. I found the 3D controls fluid and complete, and the game’s intelligence with camera placement was finally reaching the same capabilities of more recent games like Odyssey. Often times the camera would shift to a more favorable position without any input needed from me, and that type of synergy between the game’s adjustments, and my own preferences, helped to streamline the overall play experience.
Galaxy also did away with the special worlds of Sunshine and replaced them with challenge comets that up the difficulty on some of the levels when you go through them a second time. However, I’ve yet to feel truly frustrated by any of the levels, even when they’re difficult. The way that the levels are designed it’s never all just about jumping, or just about dodging, or about fighting enemies. There’s a nice combination of techniques that make the worlds enjoyable and fun, without pulling your hair out. In fact, there’s only one time I’ve gotten a game over in my play-through so far.
That’s not to say that Galaxy is easy. I’ve found myself stuck a few times, needing to really think through my next moves, or needing to just let go and trust my reflexes. But I’ve yet to encounter anything that makes me want to throw the controller down in disgust. For a non-skilled-platformer like me, that’s huge. It’s why I found Galaxy the most enjoyable game of the three pack, and why I’m still working through it to 100% the game. I’m enjoying the act of playing it, and it doesn’t feel like a mindless grind. No wonder this has been on many people’s top ten lists.
Super Mario 3D All Stars is a great way to spend some pandemic time, and work through some great video game history. Especially for someone like myself who has never played these games before, it helped me really understand how we got to places like Mario Odyssey, and why that game was so great. If you’re looking for something to play through this isolating winter, this is a fun way to experience history, or relive some great memories.