Super Mario All-Stars (SNES) review
"Can't go wrong with the classics!"
Super Mario All-Stars doesn't fill any particular void, but I'm still happy it exists. First released for the SNES in 1993 and later presented in disc form on the Wii, it includes remakes of the three NES Super Mario Bros. games, as well as the original second game in the series which had until that point been confined to Japan. That's a whole bunch of nostalgia crammed into one bundle.
Ninja Gaiden Trilogy on the SNES simply compiled the first three titles in that other series and presented them as more-or-less straight ports. Super Mario All-Stars takes a different approach, presenting the included titles with superior graphics. This is a nice touch, as it gives the project a slightly more "modern" feel. Formerly sparse backgrounds are now well-decorated, which lends many levels additional personality while allowing them to remain true to their original designs. I didn't have any trouble jumping back into them and having fun.
Though absolutely ancient at this point, Super Mario Bros. still makes it easy to see how a somewhat generic arcade game evolved into a superstar franchise. There are a number of primitive restrictions in place, such as how you only can move towards the right as anything that scrolls off the screen's left side becomes inaccessible. In spite of those limitations, Nintendo was clearly onto something big, with its tale of two brothers working to rescue a princess from a big dragon-turtle.
For me, the game's appeal lies in the way every platform and monster seems to have been perfectly placed throughout the 32 levels. You can easily lose yourself in the experience, letting your hands dance over the controller as you chain one jump into the next, bouncing from platform to platform, keeping foes at arm's length because you're perfectly in tune with the level to the degree where it feels like a sixth sense is guiding you.
Nowadays, though, my sixth sense would be telling me to play one of the other games on the cartridge. Regardless of its significance, Super Mario Bros. feels like a relic. Even when they're graphically enhanced, it's hard to not notice how certain late-game levels are essentially just tougher remixes of earlier ones. Or that a pair of Bowser's castles have an annoying gimmick where you must follow a set path or risk having to retrace your steps (which can easily be fatal in a game where stages have a time limit). At least in this version, sound effects let you know whether you are advancing along the right path, but it's still not one of my favorite aspects of the game.
This brings me to Super Mario Bros. 2, which is both the odd duck of the NES entries and the one I played the most as a youth. When it first came out, I had no clue it was a port of a completely unrelated game. Nintendo had simply inserted a handful of Super Mario Bros. characters, to make things feel more familiar to Western audiences. All I knew was that it felt a good deal different from the first game, but was still a lot of fun. Stages aren't timed, and many of them require a certain amount of exploration. Each of the four characters (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad) have slightly different attributes, with some being better jumpers and others being able to pick up items more quickly. You start levels with two hearts, but can find an additional two more by digging up potions and using them at the proper locations to create doors that allow you to temporarily access a darkened version of the current stage.
Other than the four leads and the simple fact you'll be jumping from one platform to the next for much of the time, virtually nothing in this game bears any resemblance to the activities presented in the first game. There is an entirely new cast of villains (several of which wound up being featured in later games). Bowser, the former boss, is replaced by a giant frog named Wart and his assortment of lesser villains. Many of these battles also include puzzle elements. When fighting the giant mouse, Mouser, you have to grab the bombs he's throwing at you and toss them back. Wart hates vegetables, but inexplicably keeps a machine in his chamber for the express purpose of emitting them. That's lucky for you, as you would otherwise have no way to damage the big dummy!
Level designs also show more variety. Mario and company travel through deserts, dungeons and giant fortresses, while jumping across the backs of whales and hitching rides on top of birds and magic carpets from time to time. I most appreciated the addition of more detailed background graphics for this port, which turned a few somewhat nondescript levels into more exciting locales such as jungles. Still, the fortresses were the most fun to complete. They tended to be longer and more complicated than the levels preceding them. You'll have to travel throughout each one to find a key needed to access the boss. That's easier said than done, since grabbing a key causes its guardian to plague you as long as you're holding the trinket.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 22, 2016)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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