Super Mario All-Stars (SNES) review
"Rock has the Beatles. Fantasy has Lord of the Rings. Cinema has Star Wars. They may not have been the first in their respective forms of entertainment, but they shattered all preconceptions when they arrived and forever changed the way these media were percieved. And surely, Mario deserves to stand in their midst, being the best selling series of all time and providing the very model of modern platformers. So what better way to honor this series than a Mario compilation involving the man in..."
Rock has the Beatles. Fantasy has Lord of the Rings. Cinema has Star Wars. They may not have been the first in their respective forms of entertainment, but they shattered all preconceptions when they arrived and forever changed the way these media were percieved. And surely, Mario deserves to stand in their midst, being the best selling series of all time and providing the very model of modern platformers. So what better way to honor this series than a Mario compilation involving the man in his prime - the NES years? Here you can experience his rise- from an impressive start, a slight setback, and finally acheiving perfection.
We start at the beginning of this wonderful series, with Super Mario Bros. This, to me, is the perfect example of the elementary platformer. There's not much fancy going on - just some mushrooms and flowers and pipes, but the focus seems to be on perfecting the twin skills of running and jumping. Challenge here lies in unique level design, where multiple simple problems like weak enemies or pits are strung together at such high density that you must constantly be calculating just how fast you should be going or how far you should be jumping. I don't think I've ever played another game that was so intuitive, so transcendant. This is the one all other platformers should be compared to, and all other platformers should build off of what this game gave us. Not only is it a piece of history and an excellent starting point, but it is incredibly fun as well.
Of course, things take a left turn with Super Mario 2. No, it's not a normal Mario game, and yet I still don't mind. I think its main strength lies in the expansiveness of the levels. Since there are often multiple paths through the levels, not to mention the numerous possibilities with the potions and such, you get a sense that there is always something extra you missed; always something new to see. I freely admit that the actual game mechanics just aren't as much fun as the typical Mario style, and the detail in the level designs aren't as perfected. But the delight of moving from door to door, through entirely different scenes, of taking a path you rarely use, of choosing your characters to best reflect the level your on, and some of the freakishly difficult level designs made this a fun and enjoyable game. It's still a high quality game, and gives us a glimpse of how other styles of platforming can be done correctly.
And in all honesty, I liked it better than the true sequel, immortalized here as The Lost Levels. This is the Japanese sequel to SMB, and it's basically the same as the original, except harder and not as much fun. Rather than stringing simple challenges together and letting emergent properties rule the scene, the game often relies on areas of highly difficult jumps and timing issues. The game then becomes a few annoying places rather than an elegant dance through the level. Moreover, I think backwards warping (where you accidently warp to a previous level rather than forwards) and poison mushrooms are bad level design. You shouldn't accidently get penalized that much, especially for the warping. On the other hand, it lets you experience the sound SMB game engine all over again, and allows you to test your skill more thoroughly than the original Mario did. It's still better than most of the pretenders out there, just not quite up to the level of the original.
Which brings us, finally, to the pinnacle of the platformer genre, Super Mario Bros 3. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the most perfect platformer ever created, and will never be topped by anyone. Building upon the foundation of the original, all of the intuitive control, speed, and fluidity have returned. Along with this return is a slew of incredible levels. By opting for the short and sweet route, every level provides a quick, unique experience, and is done before it gets too boring and complicating. Throw in a ton of secrets, so many that you'll undoubtedly stumble upon a few yet have trouble uncovering them all, some nifty airships, and even niftier powerups (go hammer bros!), and you have without a doubt the most polished game in existence. There's just so many great gameplay moments packed into such a little game that I wonder how any group of people could possibly come up with something so brilliant. I can't recommend it enough.
For the most part, these games are taken straight from their NES counterparts - absolutely no gameplay elements were added or taken away. Control of Mario is slightly different, but nothing you can't get used to assuming you don't constantly switch between the two versions. Music has been improved obviously, remaking the old tunes to take advantage of the SNES' superior capabilities. Likewise, all the graphics have an overhaul, so that Mario now looks like cleaner and sharper and the same across all four games. Backgrounds and enemy sprites have been redone as well. I kind of wish they left it alone though, as the different sprites and styles of each of the games lent a lot to their personality. Besides, I can't be the only one who used the background as clues for finding hidden goodies - a task that is impossible now with the scrolling backgrounds. But they do look nice, and many of the defining art in each game is held intact. In other words, I won't complain too much.
The only other difference is that now, you can save, coming back to the beginning of the world you were on. And in all honesty, I have mixed feelings about this. Some of these games, particularly SMB3, do take too long to play all the way through in one sitting. So of course, it's a good thing. And yet, I can't help but feel a sense of loss at the idea of not starting at level 1-1. Mario games are about repetition, about letting the level become a part of you. You cannot play these games just one time through, or they will appear disjointed and simply not as much fun. I understand the need for saving, but at the same time I fear they fundamentally change the way a game is played, and in this case change it from the way the game is supposed to be played. So do yourself a favor and don't rely on the saving, ok?
And there you have it folks. This compilation is a monument to ingenuity, an honor to the great king of platforming. All developers should take a good, long look at these games, as each and every one shows potential creators what to do. The original supplies the basics, what every platformer needs in order to be successful. Lost Levels gives a glimpse of one method of increasing challenge, cautioning people to stay away from these incorrect challenges, while SMB2 lets them know how to make a game feel expansive. And Super Mario Bros 3 is the greatest of them all, pointing the way to turning a game from mere excellence to perfection. It should be a must see for everyone. Of course, whether or not you should buy this is obvious. If you have yet to play these games, especially SMB3, then find some way to get your hands on them - whether it be this compilation or not. If you do have the games, then the extras and Lost Levels certainly aren't worth it. I can't say this is the best way to make a compilation, but you'd be doing yourself a great disservice if you passed up any opportunity to experience such a legendary trio.
Community review by mariner (August 07, 2005)
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