The star of the Super Mario series turns 35 this year. I am 31 years old
That makes him – and the dozen of Super Mario games he starred in – convenient checkpoints for my life. When I was 5 years old, I pissed in my pants while playing Super Mario World. Super Mario 64 was shared between my brother and an unexpected new challenger who was vying for valuable game time: a stepbrother. Super Mario Sunshine at GameCube was something I played when my friends couldn’t come to Super Smash Bros. Melee after school.
Mario is so persistent in my 31 years that I have worriedly dreamed of his mustache on other people’s faces.
On Friday, Nintendo released a new Super Mario game that isn’t real a new Super Mario game ever: Super Mario 3D All-Stars. The collection for Nintendo Switch contains three of the most acclaimed 3D Mario titles of all time. Our sister site GameSpot rated them all positively when they first launched. Super Mario 64 received a 9.4 in 1996, Super Mario Sunshine, the black sheep of 3D Mario games, received an 8 in 2002. Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii received a 9.5 in 2007.
These types of scores are the reason there is so much hype about the collection. And I understand why people are excited to play All-Stars even if it doesn’t have a Galaxy 2 in it. Alone they are a trio of great video games. Impeccably designed. Highlights of their generations. They mark important milestones in Mario’s 3D life. And my life.
But here, in the cold light of 2020, they are simply an exercise in memory.
Memories are moody things. They come to life and then disappear before you can fully grasp them. The best parts of video games like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Sunshine tend to ossify in your head and melt the worst parts away. Sometimes you forget something. Finally, you forget that you forgot about it.
All-Stars is a nostalgia box that you spend a couple of hours browsing through trying to bring out the fleeting feelings that are trapped deep in your lizard brain. During a pandemic it is seems so is “the game we need right now”. But when you shut down the controller, you are faced with a harsh reality: your memory of these games is the best thing about them.
Perfect for the switch
Galaxy is nowhere near as good as I remember. In fact, in 2020 I would claim that it is not a very good game. Before 3D All-Stars was released, I read up on some of the 2007 Galaxy discourses. In my head it’s an absolute master class. Has my memory played a trick on me here? Or have I changed?
And then there’s the clumsy and clumsy sunshine that doesn’t have any of the qualities that made Super Mario 64 great and is far too intrigued by being different to lose sight of what Mario is all about … Mario. That sliding long jump in Super Mario 64? Fun. Sticky. Neat. It’s not even in the sunshine, but your brain will try anyway.
I am not going to relit all the arguments for and against every title here. However, I would like to make some technical notes.
When you get through the loading screen, the game takes you to a simple menu that shows the three titles alongside the three soundtracks. The presentation is monotonous. It gives a brief synopsis of the title, the year it was published and … that’s it. Click A to start.
All three games offer slight graphical improvements over their originals. If you can remember playing those games, All-Stars will feel like putting on prescription glasses. Everything looks a little sharper, a little less blurry, a little enlarged. The colors pop a little more.
But the oldest of them all, SM64, comes from the age of CRT televisions. It is played in a box with nice thick bezels around each edge. It has aged badly.
And there are also control-related hiccups. Movements and keystrokes are lost during translation. As beautiful as Sunshine is (Delfino Plaza is so bright and sunny in All-Stars), the camera and hovering just don’t serve you well with Joy Con, no matter how “optimized” they are.
Motion control on the Wii was a core element of the gameplay in Galaxy. They used the Wiimote to do a spin or grab “pull stars” or jump between planets. It feels like a train here. Adding touchscreen functionality in handheld mode is very unwieldy. And I know it probably isn’t fair, but it just feels not correct In 2020, touch the screen with your bare hands (before adjusting your face mask and rubbing the hand sanitizer across the webbing between each digit).
It’s these little topics that really get at the heart of what this collection is about. Whether you enjoyed the originals or not, the collection features the Meme Perfect for the Switch. These Mario games aren’t perfect for the Switch. They are products of their time, torn from the past and have fallen into the present with little thought.
The perfect Mario game for the Switch already exists. It’s called Super Mario Odyssey and it’s a damn masterpiece.
Nintendo will make a lot of money with Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s already the second most popular game on Amazon for 2020, just behind Animal Crossing. It’s a guaranteed success. And Nintendo upped the ante a bit by making this collection a limited release. You can’t buy it after March 2021. Why? Well there is no real explanation. With the revelations being emulated prior to the release of these games, it’s almost certain that Nintendo has other plans to bring these games to the Switch in the future.
The fascinating thing about this collection is how obvious Nintendo’s game is here. The marketing materials are a laundry list of empty platitudes. Nintendo, the Japanese gaming giant known for rigorously protecting its IP address, is excited to bring out a Mario collection with slightly smoother polygons and label it a Tag. It is happy that the package feels like a commodity that you will not be able to get in the future. These games are meant to be a portal that will take you back to the good old days.
But playing these games feels like a chore. The high comes when you first start them. I remember it. A silly smile, a few “wahoos” and then … nothing. The high is gone.
Am i just getting old? Maybe. These games really aren’t for not me anymore? That is also a possibility. Has 2020 ground my ability to joy into fine dust and scattered it in the wind? Yeah, but I’m not sure how relevant this is. I have to get in touch with you in 2021.
What frustrates me even more is me. The person who loves these video games and grew up with these video games. When I think back, I can’t remember the frustration with the Galaxy spin attack or its nonsensical hub world. Super Mario Sunshine didn’t feel that unwieldy or decidedly against Mario. Super Mario 64? In my head it’s pure joy. I can’t help but chase those memories. I will probably even buy Super Mario 64 on my Neuralink Augmented Reality Brain Chip in 2034 for the low price of $ 69.99.
Because I didn’t live on a planet without Mario. And as sloppy as Super Mario 3D All-Stars is, I’m not sure I want this.