Monday, 6 December 2010

Review: Super Mario All Stars (Wii)

For many people their first experience of playing a videogame system was with the original Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1980’s or early 90’s. Squishing a Goomba, kicking a Koopa shell across the ground, or jumping up to a ‘? Block’ releasing a Super Mushroom. These were the beginnings of a journey that would take people into a whole new world of gaming goodness. I still remember the impact the NES, and specifically Mario had on my life, transitioning from a green screen Amstrad to Nintendo’s 8bit spectacular.

When Nintendo decided to release the original four 8bit Mario games to a new audience in 1993 on the Super NES, I was there waiting. I always preferred the likes of Super Mario 3 to Mario World. Although, today the Big N’s first and only proper 16bit excursion into the Mario universe clearly stands out as being superior. But for me, even now, there’s still something SMB3 delivers over and above any other game in the series to date. So back then having the very best the series had to offer all on one console was like a match made in per-pixel heaven.

Super Mario All-Stars brought over the delights of the original Super Mario Bros and its sequels, Super Mario Bros 2 and 3, whilst making available for the first time in the west the Japanese only SMB2, in the form of Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels. All four games came complete with reworked 16bit quality graphics and sound. Mario now looked recognisably similar in the original SMB as he did in SMB3 – clearly tying in the first and third games together as sequels even more closely - while the backgrounds were given addition polish in the form of parallax scrolling and additional colourings and detail.

The music and sound effects were given an overhaul too, helping to create an atmosphere which brought the Mushroom Kingdom to life in a way the aging 8bt NES never could.

For me All-Stars represented the quintessential collection of Mario games: everything from the basic beginnings to the advanced direction of Super Mario 3 and everything in between. And this is exactly what we have here.

Marking the 25th anniversary of the birth of an entertainment legend (Mario spans far more than just games - toys, TV shows and more have all been persistent over the years) Nintendo has ported over the Super NES version of Super Mario All-Stars exclusively for Nintendo Wii owners. None of the games on this collection are available in their 16bit form on the Virtual Console. And on top of that Nintendo have also included a soundtrack CD and some history of memorabilia, just giving a tiny insight into the development of the series without really providing anything other than basic info. It’s like a fancy timeline with short developer comments for each game.

There’s almost no point in going into any detail on each of the individual titles found here. Most of you know exactly what to expect.

The original Super Mario Bros layed down the blueprint for the modern day platform game, with multiple worlds each with their own look and doppleganger Boweser end boss, the inclusion of power-ups etc, while the sequels expanded on the gameplay concepts found here in SMB: The Lost Levels and SMB3. The US and European versions of SMB2 of course took a different route, being based on the Japanese exclusive platformer, Doki Doki Panic.

All are excellent games, each with their own highlights and plus points. With SMB: The Lost levels, you can also add incredibly high difficulty to that list too.

Out of all the games available on this collection, it is arguably Super Mario Bros 3 that stands out the most. Even now it is still candidate for being the best Mario game in existence, alongside Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. Looking back now, it’s not hard to imagine the level of impact the game had on the world. But suffice to say, it was revolutionary to say the least.

Again, like with the original SMB, you had eight worlds to explore. But this time they were even bigger, with nearly double the amount of stages in each and loads of secret areas and levels to find, all of which were represented with a colourful map screen. You could now also accumulate a multitude of power-ups, thus being able to start off with one of many at the beginning of each stage if you had some in reserve. And there were loads of these to try: Fire Mario, Racoon Mario, Frog Mario etc.

Back in the day the game was also mildly criticised for its slightly high difficultly level, and this is still apparent now. Although by adding a save point midway through each world – the actual levels themselves can be rather hard, but are never unfair - this could be easily fixed.

Moving on, and in terms of the conversion itself, Super Mario All-Stars is on the whole actually very good. It isn’t quite perfect, lacking any option to be played in its original resolution. But otherwise Nintendo have done a great job. The port appears to be a straight up emulated version of the Super NES cartridge, meaning that there are no Wii specific options to be found anywhere, and the front end and all on-screen prompts are exactly the same as they were before. The game has also has been given the full 50Hz PAL optimisation treatment. It runs in full screen, at full speed, but without any widescreen options available.

However, there is no original 240p display mode available like with VC titles. Instead All-Stars runs in 480i when using both RGB SCART and Component cables. The result is a game that looks incredibly flickery when played on SD CRT’s, meaning that trying to view it as intended – or as close to – is largely uncomfortable. It’s such a shame as this was something we, along with most hardcore fans, were expecting. That said, the game does upscale very well in its 480i guise on my HDTV. And with no flicker, making it by far the best way to play given the choice.

The actual core of the collection overall is superb, as expected. Each and every one of the games included on this package is worth the price of admission as separate VC titles alone - sans perhaps SMB: The Lost Levels, which still feels far too difficult for its own good – and the port itself is as solid as they come.

One slight disappointment though, is that Super Mario World has been excluded from the pack. Seeing as the All-Stars package was updated to include it back in the mid 90’s, quite why it is absent here is rather perplexing. While it is indeed obvious that Nintendo would want to sell the first true 16bit Mario title as an added extra via their VC store on the Wii, one can’t help think that SMW - and perhaps the 8bit originals - deserve a recognised chunk of space on the disc. And when you consider how many top-selling Megadrive titles Sega puts on its collections, you can’t help but feel a little short-changed.

Another slight letdown comes with the inclusion of the soundtrack CD and history book. Nintendo could have padded out the book with at least a few pages of more elaborate info and more unseen artwork for each of the four titles. But instead, all we are given is a barebones treatment of sorts. There are some cool photos of level design sketches and concept art to see, along with shots of promo material and developer comments to go with each game. It’s all been nicely arranged, and acts as a rushed, but pretty good companion piece to the package’s excellently produced instruction booklet, but hardly goes the extra mile to please fans despite some neat little touches.

The soundtrack CD contains a range of tunes and effects spanning from the original SMB to Mario Galaxy, coming complete with a small range of signature music and a small collection of sound effects. Altogether, the extras here aren’t bad but seem somewhat lacking for a 25th anniversary re-release spectacular of what are arguably some of Nintendo’s most revered hits.

Still, at £24.99 Super Mario All-Stars can be considered fairly priced. Each one of these titles would have retailed on the VC at a reasonable £5 a piece. So for the extra £5 we get all four games in a box with cool, if shallow booklet and soundtrack CD. The games themselves are as awesome as you remember them to be, gracefully standing the test of time while providing a perfect example of just how to create satisfyingly challenging experiences.

Besides that, little else can be said. Sure the lack of 240p support is a bummer, and the extra stuff merely scratches the surface of what could have been included about the background and development of each title. But don’t let that stop you. Super Mario All-Stars is easily worth picking up to relive a small slice of exceptional gaming history, and for those who have yet to sample these delights. Definitely, more could have been done to make the whole collection worthy of the 25th anniversary banner, although the games themselves still make it worthwhile for fans and newcommers alike.


Screenshots and images courtesy of IGN and NintendoLife.

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