So I got a Nintendo Switch last month. One of the first games I had gotten for the system was the recently released Super Mario 3d All-Stars. I had really been wanting to play Super Mario Odyssey instead, but my brother had a copy of that game that I could borrow later, so I decided to get 3dAS first, as I had never really played the 3 games on the collection.
I’ve mostly played the 2d Mario games prior to this, with the exception of 3d Land (3DS) and 3d World (WiiU), although both of those games were closer in style to the the 2d mario games than to the games in this collection. The three games here share the same style of having a hub-like world from which you visit other worlds to accomplish missions to get stars/shines. The other worlds have multiple “episodes” so you have to replay each of them a bunch of times (doing different things each time) to get all the stars/shines available in those worlds. It’s kind of a clever world to save on level design resources - each world is essentially multiple stages sharing the same maps and objects and so on. It can also mean the player might get tired of repeating the same worlds over and over, but the hub system means they can visit other worlds for a while if that happens. As you gather stars/shines, you unlock more areas of the hub world and thus more worlds/stages.
Super Mario 64
I wasn’t optimistic about SM64 going in. I played a little bit of it on the DS when it was released there, didn’t really enjoy it. Released in 1996, I know it’s regarded as a classic and revolutionized 3d platforming in its day, but for me it hasn’t really aged very well. My problems with the title are:
- Poor camera handling. You don’t have smooth right-stick control of the camera (since the N64 did not have a right analog stick), and the camera angles are often limited in how you can rotate them around. There’s a button to toggle the camera from Lakitu perspective to Mario perspective, which is annoying for me since I don’t find the over-the-shoulder Mario perspective useful, and I accidentally keep hitting the toggle button. There is a setting to disable the Mario perspective altogether (such that the toggle button now fixes the camera to a given position instead), but the setting resets every time you load your game.
- Even when the camera is in Lakitu mode, it will often turn or rotate far too quickly for my taste, and for me this means if I play the game for around an hour or so I start getting dizzy, and this is the main dealbreaker for me.
- I find it quite difficult to control Mario in this game as well. His normal movement is to run, not to walk, so a simple flick of the left analog stick moves him farther than I’d like, and the same goes for his jumps. I think it’s because this was their first 3d game, so they hadn’t really calibrated yet what would be a good walk/run speed and jump distance. Adding to that, some actions like turning Mario in a new direction combined with jumping can cause him to jump in a different direction/distance, it’s something to get used to. You don’t have much jump control once you are in mid-air either. So for difficult platforming segments, I often found it challenging to position Mario for precise jumps.
- Many of the worlds/stages are also quite frustrating. You will be dying quite often. This is unsurprising for a Mario game, but it doesn’t help that many of the sequences are a bit long so it can be annoying to re-do them. Combined with the finnicky controls and the often weird camera angles, it can cause unnecessary frustration. Even worse, when you die, you are not just kicked back to the start of the stage, but most of the time you are kicked out of the stage altogether and back to the hub world. A minor inconvenience, but it still means additional friction in the try-fail-retry cycle.
- Speaking of try-fail-retry, a lot of the missions really require you to spend multiple lives dying and trying again. This isn’t unexpected, but a lot of them can be extremely challenging. I’m thinking in particular of that one mission where you have to race a penguin down a twisty icy slope, where veering off the slope means death. Trying to get to the end of the icy slope is bad enough - it’s going to take you a lot of trial and error to do so - but then you have to make sure you get there ahead of the penguin too. I feel like a lot of the more challenging missions carry over some of the “Nintendo hard” mentality from the NES/SNES generation.
I haven’t managed to even finish SM64 yet, so I’m sure there are a lot more challenging stages ahead. As of this writing, my progress stands at a pitiful 17 stars obtained (out of a possible 120). The dizziness due to the camera is the main problem for me. I may try to come back to it later, but for now there are better games to play.
Super Mario Sunshine
Released in 2002 for the GameCube, Sunshine is the mainline Mario I’ve never even tried before. I later found out that Sunshine is considered one of the most difficult 3d Mario games to date. I will tend to disagree; I think the average SM64 stage is more difficult than Super Mario Sunshine, given that I was actually able to beat Sunshine. I will concede that 120-shine completion is probably very difficult for Sunshine though, but more on that later.
Sunshine provides some improvements over SM64:
- The most significant upgrade is graphically. It’s a huge jump over SM64’s blocky polygons, and Mario’s appearance here is already pretty close to his latest modern appearances.
- I still find walk/run controls a bit slippery, but there is significant improvement in jump control since this game gives you FLUDD (the water jetstream firing thing), which has hover functionality making it easier to make difficult jumps.
- Unsurprisingly, the most challenging parts of the game are the “secret” platforming stages where Mario is denied the use of FLUDD. These secrets usually have to be accessed at a certain point in the composite worlds. Although these secret stages are difficult, the blow is kind of softened by two things: if you die, you are returned to the start of the secret stage (instead of kicked out to the containing/hub world); and most of the stages will have one or more 1-ups available, with one easily available near the start of the stage. You’re still going to need to grind a lot to finish these secret stages, but at least you’re not likely to run out of lives doing so.
- Also most of the game’s worlds and settings are a lot more fun in terms of ambience.
As mentioned, I did manage to beat Super Mario Sunshine a couple of weeks ago. I finished with around 77 shines (out of a possible 120). I may eventually come back to it for completion, although that looks challenging. The main challenge would probably be completing the blue coins in each world.
Super Mario Galaxy
Originally released in 2007, Galaxy is easily the best game in this collection. I tried playing this back when I first got a WiiU (by borrowing the game and a couple of WiiMotes from a friend). At the time I wasn’t thrilled with the WiiMote control scheme, especially with having to use the WiiMote as an imprecise pointer, so I didn’t get far.
I’m obviously much happier with the Switch version. In handheld mode, you use touch controls on the screen to do the pointer stuff (like to collect star bits), which is much easier and more precise than using the WiiMote (or pointing the joycon in TV mode), so that’s my preferred mode of playing the game.
There are some stages that require motion controls, where I find I need to switch to TV control. Examples are the ones where you have to control a Mario riding a rolling ball, or Mario riding a manta ray surfing along a water track.
The game itself is very beautiful and significantly easier (or at least, less frustrating) than the first two games. You don’t have FLUDD this time, but Mario gets a spin jump that gives him additional jump control. And longer stages now have checkpoints in between so that you don’t have to start over from the beginning if you die. Many of the stages are fun to play and do a lot of innovative things like playing around with gravity and such.
There are still some challenging stages. Two of them specifically come to mind: The first one is Galaxy’s Greatest Wave, which is one of the aforementioned ray-surfing stages. The race course is very twisty and challening, and if you take each turn too fast or don’t turn just the right amount, you’re going to be falling off. There are a number of 1-ups along the course, and I managed to get to 99 lives in trying to finish the course. My personal estimate is that I probably re-did the course at least a hundred times. The second one that comes to mind is Luigi’s Purple Coins, a stage only available after beating the game the first time. It’s a stage where you have to be constantly jumping across disappearing platforms while collecting purple coins all within a time limit. It took me a lot less tries than the ray-surfing one, but each try was exhausting since you’re jumping all the time.
One thing I wish they would have done for this port was add more button support for the menus, instead of having to use tap/motion control for many of them (such as when retrying a level).
I finished Galaxy for the first time last week, and completed the bonus Purple coin missions a few days later. That makes it the first game of this trilogy where I hit the goal of 120 stars. Unlike the first two games though, Galaxy has an additional “second quest”, an additional 120 stars to be earned while playing as Luigi. Again, I’ll probably come back to this at another time.
The Switch is a great console for these games, since I can easily pick it up at any time and play a couple of stages in handheld mode. I was worried whether this purchase would be worth it, since to be honest I’m getting a bit old and am not as good as the platforming stuff as I used to be. Platforming in 3d only adds an additional level of difficulty for me personally. But overall, it was a good purchase. I somehow managed to beat two of the games, and it was nice to see how the 3d Mario games evolve through the years. It’s too bad they didn’t include Galaxy 2, which by all accounts is as good as Galaxy was. My fingers and wrists are tired from all the jumping though, so maybe I’ll put down the Switch for a few days before I get started with Odyssey.