Is this nostalgia trip worth your golden coins?
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. (which was released way back on September 15, 1985, making this just shy of three months late, if you care), Nintendo has re-released Super Mario All-Stars for the Nintendo Wii, in a lavish limited edition, 2-disc package.
The eponymous component of the meaty package, Super Mario All-Stars – a compilation of Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 and 3, along with The Lost Levels – was originally released on the Super Nintendo in 1993. If you’re not familiar with All-Stars, it’s more than a simple collection. The game’s music and graphics were completely re-done in 16-bit detail. Suddenly the question blocks’ edges have been rounded and polished to a shine, and the backgrounds have been filled in with hills and clouds with delightful smiles on them. The soundtracks were updated as well, and it all sounds much richer, although purists may balk at the strange, Caribbean steel-drum notes that pop up all over the place.
As for the games themselves, what can I really say that any fine reader of Dork Shelf isn’t already intimately familiar with? The first Super Mario Bros. basically defined 2-D sidescrollers, and introduced us to all of the basic shapes, landmarks and enemies that have become the cornerstone of Mario’s games even today. It’s a bit of a slog to run through every single level though, as they’re all mixes of roughly the same elements: enemies, blocks, and a green pipe or ten. The Lost Levels is the infamous Japan-only sequel that wasn’t released in North America because it was too damned hard. It plays like a merciless ROM-hack of the original: it throws Poison Mushrooms, Bullet Bills and bottomless pits at the player with a sick sense of humour.
Super Mario Bros. 2, as anyone who’s seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World will know, was actually a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic, with Mario characters and assets added in to make it the black sheep of the Mario franchise. With flying evil masks, magical turnips and androgynous egg-spitting monsters, nothing here really makes sense. It’s a fun diversion, but I confess to never being able to pass the second world of SMB2 ever, thanks to its strange puzzle elements and floaty jump physics.
Of course, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the Magnum Opus of the NES era. All of the platforming of the previous games were perfected. Intricate world maps, ability-enhancing suits and an increased emphasis on finding secret paths and shortcuts in levels ensure that no two stages feel identical, and it’s still one of the best Mario games out there.
Unfortunately, none of what I’ve just described is new. That’s mainly because there isn’t anything else on the disc itself. Once you run the game off of the Wii Menu, you’re whisked away to the SNES version of All-Stars, using your Wiimote instead. There aren’t any new menus or options – even the Super Nintendo button guide is still there. More of a disappointment is that the game’s save options weren’t changed at all, either: it only saves World progress, so if you stopped playing in the middle of World 5 in SMB3, for instance, the next time you load it up you’re going to have to start from the beginning of Level 5-1.
The extra material in this package, as it happens, is all outside of the game disc. The second Wii case included in the box, dubbed Super Mario History 1985-2010, has a charming cover of a NES playing the original SMB on an old 1980s television. Inside are a soundtrack CD and a history booklet. The soundtrack includes tracks from every major Mario game, from SMB1’s “Ground Theme” all the way to Super Mario Galaxy 2’s orchestral anthem. Also included are the sound effects from SMB1, from the Jump to the Course Clear fanfare. It’s a short list that begs for more (why did they choose “Slider” to represent Super Mario 64, instead of “Dire Dire Docks”?), but I can honestly say I’ve never heard the 8-bit Mario tunes in such crystal clear fidelity before. If only the track listing on the back of the case wasn’t a nigh-unreadable tiny gold font on red background.
The Super Mario History booklet is fascinating, with a timeline of all the major Mario games with comments from creator Shigeru Miyamoto, composer Koji Kondo and producer Takashi Tezuka. I say comments rather than commentary, because they only give a sentence or two to each entry. While some are interesting (did you know what Yoshi was supposed to be a new Koopa enemy, and the saddle was originally his shell?), the sparse amount of info begs for more. There are a lot of design sketches, including Miyamoto’s original gameplay proposal for Super Mario Bros., but with only short captions and no full translations of the Japanese on the notes it still feels like we’re only given a glimpse into the creators’ minds. It’s all a nice package, but pales in comparison to things like 2K Marin’s Deco Devolution book for Bioshock 2, or Udon’s art and background books for Capcom titles like Okami.
The total package isn’t phenomenal when compared to the Limited, Collector’s, Prestige, Golden Ticket or whatever editions of games we’ve seen in the past few years. More infuriating is that there is a lot of other material that could have easily been included. What about the Super Play videos of the games in All-Stars that have been released in the past months? What about the Iwata Asks interviews, where Nintendo president Satoru Iwata goes in-depth with the Mario creators? And what about including the NES versions of these games along with the up-rezzed All-Stars?
Despite all the material missing in action, Nintendo rarely does these sorts of things at all, and even a tiny glimpse into the minds that created the most important gaming icon of all time is worth a look. At a mere $30, this isn’t so much a game release as a nicely packaged history lesson, one worth taking for any gamers, whether they were around the first time the House of Mario was being built or not.