Mario is the face of Nintendo. He is a mascot that is more recognizable worldwide than Mickey Mouse himself. By sheer power of his brand, Mario has moved more than 200 million units of software over the past quarter century. Naturally, to celebrate his 25th anniversary of creation we can expect Nintendo to break out all the bells and whistles; no expense will be spared. On a momentous occasion such as this, New York City should be cleaning ticker tape off Broadway for weeks. It’s a commemoration of a character that has both influenced pop-culture and directly led to the rise of one of Japan’s most successful companies. Surely gamers will get more than a port of a 17 year old game – right?
Wrong. There is no justice in the world. To celebrate 25 years of Mario, we are given the opportunity to spend $30 on a port of Super Mario All-Stars. A game known in its heyday as “that game you get for free when you buy a Super Nintendo.” Despite the added moniker of “25th Anniversary Edition” there are no changes to the game; it’s the same version as the 1993 release. Don’t get me wrong, All-Stars is a great game and the problems are based solely on the minimalistic effort Nintendo put into the Wii iteration. Even the commemorative packaging feels cheap.
Super Mario All-Stars is an excellent game despite being 17 years old. The game has all four 8-bit Super Mario Bros. games, including the real Super Mario Bros. 2 which had never been released in the USA prior to 1993. Each game was given a 16-bit facelift and had some minor gameplay tweaks. For its part, the actual gameplay is excellent. You know the routine. Run and jump your way to the right until you rescue the princess (or realize you’re in an elaborate dream, but we don’t want to talk about that). The controls for the Wii offer two options: sideways Wii-remote or Classic Control. Both work well, but rarely can feel slightly lagged compared to the NES pad. The changes to the original gameplay include tweaks in mechanics geared towards skilled players and speed runners, and a save feature that will allow players to put down the game and return at a later time. When it came to gameplay, Nintendo knew not to mess with perfection and focused the enhancements on the presentation. The same is true for the 25th anniversary version.
The visual upgrade from the NES Mario games to the 16-bit All-Star game was amazing in 1993. Dungeons in Super Mario Bros. 1 and 2 (The Lost Levels) are dark and dingy and even feature a menacing picture of Bowser in the background. The outside and cave levels are layered with updated visuals and textures. The lush environments of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA) look better than ever. Even the sprites are new; taken from Super Mario World. In addition to visuals, the developers took advantage of the Super Nintendo’s superior sound processor. The tunes are clearer and have more range than was possible on the NES.
For reasons I can’t understand, Nintendo forsook this history and decided not to update the visuals at all for this new release. They didn’t even make some important changes, such as including a 16:9 aspect ratio. The graphics which were once beautiful seem dated. New technology such as 480p resolution and LCD TV screens make the game look even more dated. There are jaggies all over the screen, especially in the background.
The presentation problems go beyond just the visuals. There are no onscreen instructions that correspond to a Wii controller. All the instructions assume a SNES pad. This can be confusing for players that are not familiar with All-Stars. When a port is purchased on Virtual Console, an electronic manual is included. For All-Stars no such feature exists. For a special occasion like this, and for a $30 price tag, it would have been nice to have seen some effort put into the presentation. Updating the graphics to look like New Super Mario Bros. would have been preferred. The least that could have been done is to bring the current graphics up to par with modern technology, and not strap this retail release with the same issues surrounding $8 SNES Virtual Console games.
So, is it worth it? That’s probably the question running through your head, and it’s not easily answered. The enhanced versions of the games are not available on Virtual Console separately, so if you want to play them you have to buy the 25th Anniversary Edition. Another thing to consider is that All-Stars is a SNES game and should be priced at $8 dollars on Virtual Console; making the $30 dollar price tag seem unnecessarily high.
To mitigate the premium price tag, there are some goodies included in the package. This includes an artbook and CD soundtrack. But even these extras seem half baked. The packaging is not given the loving attention that other collector editions of games have (ie: Metroid Prime Trilogy). There is no sleek metal case in which to treasure your game for generations to come. Instead we get two regular Wii game cases, one for the game and another for the artbook and CD soundtrack. The artbook starts with a timeline of Mario games and then quickly brushes over Miyamoto and each game in sequence. There is no information on the history and development of the games, nor is there a lot of art. Instead we have pages of features we already know about. Sadly, it comes across as more a sales ad and less an artbook. The soundtrack is also disappointing as it has 20 tracks, and ten of them are less than 7 second sound effects. The other tracks are unmodified, so the ones that are not from the Galaxy series are non-orchestrated MIDI tracks.
Super Mario All-Stars: 25th Anniversary Edition is a frustrating case. It is a collection of four of the greatest games of all time in their most superior form. Yet it comes up lacking. And what it’s lacking is the tender care and love these titles deserve. They were in essence removed from Nintendo’s annals after 17 years and pushed out to retail to fend for themselves. The game is in 4:3 aspect ratio with no discernable anti-aliasing, and unsurprisingly the results are unfortunate. The extras surrounding the commemorative iteration are also lacking the love and care that an avid Mario fan would want. It is difficult to recommend this package to anyone for the price Nintendo is asking. It may be more cost effective to simply find a SNES and game cartridge at a yard sale.