“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
When it comes to the French onion dip, double dipping is generally a grotesque gesture, unless of course you want to get back at the other partygoers for not talking to you. When it comes to Nintendo, double dipping is a way of life, a business model, a philosophy. Nintendo has spent the last twenty years repackaging the same product across multiple systems, and of course it will always sell.
Everyone pushing the polemic that there was no reason to buy the NES Classic, and then the SNES Classic, specifically “because we’ve all played those games already” is completely missing the point. People spend their entire gaming lives playing old games, and “old” is not a value statement. As far as Nintendo and the consumer demand for the Classics are concerned, that allegation is irrelevant. If anyone knows marketing in gaming, it is Nintendo in their own esoteric, off-the-beaten-path way, giving us the same lovable thing over and over again. Excepting the marketing fail that was the Wii U, of course.
Yell and complain all you want against Nintendo. It’s like screaming at a wall.
Now I recently double dipped by picking up Stardew Valley for the Nintendo Switch (which nobody stopped me from doing, so thanks a lot, all you enablers), but since Mario Odyssey has dropped I was reminded of another time I found an excuse to repurchase games I already had. I am speaking of course about Super Mario All-Stars. This was Nintendo’s revamped remake of three previously released Super Mario games, the first, second, and third titles that already saw a North American release, but it also included Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels which had never before appeared in the US.
A later version of All-Stars that hit the market in ’94 included Super Mario World. I’m excluding that edition of All-Stars, and the future Wii re-re-release from this review. This is just about the original SNES compilation from 1993, a little gray cart which evidently helped set an industry precedent for updating games that appeared on previous generation consoles for next gen hardware (Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, The Last of Us Remastered, Twilight Princess HD, pretty much anything with “HD” or “Remastered” in its title).
To be fair to the original value of this game, the inclusion of The Lost Levels was probably the perfect leverage I used in talks with my mother to try to get her to buy All-Stars for me. I surmise I could’ve got around the “but you already own those games” by mentioning this, but unfortunately any clever bit of matriarchal manipulation is lost to the sands of time. I don’t actually remember how I got the All-Stars cartridge.
I do know that at some point I no longer had an NES. The one that sits on my entertainment center today is my wife’s from her childhood. For those who were forced (likely like me) to transition with each generation of consoles by pawning off the old to purchase the new, Super Mario All-Stars must have been a beacon of hope. The draw of bettered graphics and music was nothing to sniff at, but being able to play the three Mario games again without them falling into obsolescence was a joy. Joy, that virtue which the lighthearted hero has come to represent all these years later.
Perhaps that is why Nintendo re-released the trio of Mario games. Perhaps that’s why the character himself is so enduring.
If you asked me to rank the four games which appear in the original All-Stars lineup, I would say: Super Mario Bros. 3 (easily), Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros., and then The Lost Levels. I’ll get into why I’d organize the quartet in this way. Let’s talk about each game in order.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is, in my defensible position, a perfect NES game. I do know for a fact that I have played through that game hundreds of times, both on the original Nintendo and its Super successor. It is the biggest of the four games in the compilation. It is put to a scintillating polish.
As a child, it felt practically endless, insurmountable, complex. As an adult, I can see the whole of its universe with its eight worlds but there’s still so much to explore. I don’t know all the secrets off the top of my head. SMB3 introduced a bevy of long-standing Mario features such as the world map, the koopalings, and the gift of flight. Flight with the Super Leaf, P-Wing, and Tanooki Suit meant that level design could now be expanded not just horizontally but also vertically, evolving the complexity of side-scroller level design.
Its sense of physics, its layers of secrets, its range of iconic music, its two-player mode that allowed you and your companion to trade off beating levels and finding items, all these things make SMB3 such an enjoyable experience, again and again and again. In my opinion, it sits right on top of the NES library. At the time of this writing, it still represents the only game I have ever critiqued to receive a perfect 10/10.
Plus, don’t forget, this was the game that appeared at the climax of The Wizard starring Tobey Maguire’s mullet. So there’s that cultural monument to take into consideration…
Super Mario Bros. 2 is the black sheep of the list. It is very much unlike a traditional Super Mario game what with its four playable characters: Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach. Each character offered a unique movement style so the word of the day here was “variety”. Mario was pretty straightforward but Luigi was no longer just a recolored clone, what with his added slipperiness and higher jumping capabilities. Toad seemed much faster than anyone else and Peach had this great, game-breaking hover ability. SMB2 also ditches Bowser for Wart, the Goombas and Koopas for Shy Guys and Snifits and those freaky gold masks that chase you when you grab a key. That was how I learned what anxiety is.
This tsunami of newness is explained simply because Super Mario Bros. 2 is an illusion, a dream. Spoilers, I guess? C’mon, the game has been out for nearly thirty years. If you haven’t played it by now then that’s on you, my friend. Ignore the strange amount of dismissiveness and hate it received in the form of a trend in the popular consensus some years back. It may not be a cut-and-paste Mario game but it’s very fun to play.
Super Mario Bros. may not be the game that truly started the decades-long Mario legacy, as Mario Bros. came out in arcades two years prior, but it is certainly the game which made an icon out of Mr. Video, later Jumpman, later Mario. The best-selling game on the NES at approximately 40 millions units sold, there must have been not one single home during the NES’ hey day that did not also own a copy. I can’t recall any house I visited as a child that didn’t have this game. Super Mario Bros. propelled the NES into success. The console currently sits in the spot of the fifth best-selling game of all time behind Grand Theft Auto V, Wii Sports, Minecraft, Tetris (which sold a whopping 170 million copies!).
I even remember bumping into SMB in the form of an arcade cabinet at a Showbiz Pizza Place (now Chuck E. Cheese), and that blew my young mind.
It almost seems impossible to overstate the significance of Super Mario Bros. Its popularity helped move the direction of gaming away from joystick space shooters to d-pad platformers, which seemed to dominate until the era of the FPS. It’s been said that it was at the forefront of saving the gaming industry after the North American Video Game Crash. Super Mario Bros. is one of the few video games to achieve such popularity that it’s instantly recognizable by nearly everyone in the developed world.
What would the video games industry look like today if there was no Super Mario Bros.?
The REAL sequel to Super Mario Bros. was Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. It is the only game in this collection to make its debut for Western audiences with All-Stars. In actuality, these so-called “Lost Levels” were really just the original Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan. So why the mix up? Why didn’t the West get the real deal right away?
As history reveals, there were many instances when the West got the short end of the stick. We missed out on several releases back in the day, Europe even more so than the US. The early Final Fantasy games were notoriously full of misnomers and misnumberings. Nintendo didn’t send the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 over to the US because they thought Western audiences would be turned off by the difficulty. Instead, North America got the Super Mario Bros. 2 we know and perhaps love.
So was it worth the wait? Well… Western audiences were turned off by the difficulty. I never picked up on a whole lot of appreciation for it. The Lost Levels is the unambitious first sequel for the original Super Mario Bros. It doesn’t distinguish itself or innovate. It’s basically just a much harder game than the original, complete with all new stages. Lost Levels also includes poison mushrooms and gusts of wind to screw around with your jumps. Luigi is differentiated from Mario for the first time beyond color palette. His sprite is different, he has less traction on the ground, and his jumps are higher than his brother’s, something they recycled for the later second sequel to the original.
Between the steep difficulty and the lack of a whole lot of fresh content, The Lost Levels seems to have been a case of much ado about nothing, an attempt to capitalize on the success of the original. Once again this would have been buying Nintendo for something you’ve already played.
The 8-bit Review
All-Stars represents an unusual case in the realm of grading visuals. At the time of its release, the Super Nintendo had already been out for about three years yet All-Stars hardly looks any more advanced than did Super Mario World, launch title for the SNES. The graphics of Mario games have always been simplistic. In this case, the facelift All-Stars bequeaths to the original classics isn’t ultimately groundbreaking. Recognize that the transitional gap between 8-bit and 16-bit is not as astounding a leap as that between 16-bit and 3D graphics.
Filling in the backgrounds with additional details and gradients go a long way to make each stage more visually interesting, but it’s the extra fleshing out of the character and enemy sprites which are perhaps the greatest boosts All-Stars had to offer. This is especially true with the earliest games, Super Mario Bros. compared to SMB3. The third game was already the most impressive of the original Mario games given its later release date, and the added icing of some cameos from Super Mario World were plain fun. However, Super Mario Bros. looks like an entirely different game, dramatically improved.
I do think that the mere jump from 8 to 16-bit didn’t automatically equal quality in every instance. For example, I do think that the sharper colors, the harder shadows, especially in SMB3, were rendered with greater boldness on the NES than the SNES.
To my mind, one of the primary joys of All-Stars was hearing the updated songs we became so familiar with in the originals. Of course by now everyone has heard a thousand different versions of the first Super Mario “Overworld theme” but judged in accordance with its era, listening to the audio updates were swell. They suddenly sounded so much fuller, maybe on occasion too enthusiastic, but earnest nonetheless. The gimmick eventually wears off, though, and I for one appreciate the original NES tunes more than these in almost every case.
All-Stars did include a few unique tracks such as its own title screen theme and game selection theme. They’re virtually filler and I always thought it was unusual, if not a little unpleasant, that the title screen featured the din of a crowd of people talking between tidbits of the actual song.
All-Stars does an exemplary job of preserving the smoothness of the original games without throwing them away for the sake of visual ambitions. Some of the physics were slightly tweaked and some bugs were fixed, reportedly. I don’t believe there was anything in that arena significant enough that it caught my eye, so I’d safely say that the gameplay is largely intact.
This compilation does add a few new features like controls customization. Most importantly, there’s a new ability to save your game, rather than having to start from scratch every time. For SMB3, which is quite large, that’s a great benefit. There are no unlockables or anything you will have never seen before. All-Stars is all about the games and little else. With these specific games though, that’s hardly a drawback.
These were games developed without shoulder buttons, without analog sticks, without the cursed demand of WIFI connectivity and your credit card information. They were played with a simple d-pad and two buttons. That’s it. They’re some of the most accessible you could find. I have seen that when grown adults who haven’t played many video games get a hold of one, they usually ask one of two questions: “How do I shoot?” or “How do I jump?” The first question is irrelevant here and the second is easy enough to figure out.
Super Mario Bros. didn’t sell a revolutionary 40 million copies by not being addictive. Nintendo found a winning formula that platformers have modeled in some shape or form ever since.
We’re talking about the highest challenge rating possible simply because of the inclusion of The Lost Levels. Its brutality has been labeled cruel, bitter, unfair, and unfun. To this day, I’ve never beaten The Lost Levels, whereas I’ve finished the other three games. The original trio aren’t always walks in the park, besides. They each have some trickier stages that demand a lot of timing and skill from the player. This is something I think that Super Mario games should be cherished for, the hard ones. Their difficulty is masked by a façade of “kiddie gaming”. Though many of us played these games as kids, how many of us beat them as kids?
All-Stars as an early compilation was fairly unique and it also featured The Lost Levels alongside the polished gameplay, graphics, and music. Though there wasn’t too much new to see beyond the Japanese SMB2, we come back to it again: you played All-Stars to relive flying through the skies and jumping on the backs of goombas, not to experience something new.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Sometimes I catch flack for enjoying Super Mario games but they can really bring you a lot of innocent joy in a world obsessed with darkness and violence in gaming. I don’t think, no matter how jaded you are, that you can turn up your nose at their success and reception. There is a reason why Mario keeps on smiling, and why everyone is so excited to play Odyssey. So what are we waiting for? Jump up, Super Star!
Aggregated Score: 9.0
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