Gaming has some axioms. Here are a few:
- Coins are good. You should collect them.
- Powerups are often hidden in plain sight.
- The princess is very likely in another castle.
We can thank Mario (or Shigeru Miyamoto) for them.
Mario games are typically very good. This isn’t up for debate. Sure, there are exceptions. We’ve reviewed a bunch. Some merely trigger your nostalgia reflex (gland? I like to think it’s a gland). The majority, however, are excellent. When I found out I was going to review Super Mario All-Stars I was sort of excited at the idea of writing a little bit about each of the most beloved games of my generation. I was also sort of terrified. It’s Mario, after all. He’s super. Super great.
Of course, you don’t really need to review each of the NES Mario games. The original Mario Bros is incredible. It’s both casual and “core”. It has appeal to just about anyone. That the game keeps going after you’ve finished it speaks to the era in which it was created. Luigi who? And what’s more, everyone had it. If you didn’t have it, it didn’t matter, because everyone else had it. It’s a cultural phenomenon that crosses generations. It’s pretty close to universal.
Mario Bros 2 is, I believe, the cult favorite. This is probably the case because of how far a departure it is from the game-play of the games that bookend it. Also I believe that people enjoy throwing vegetables at transgendered birds. The game feels zany. And that’s because it’s not really a Mario game but Doki Doki Panic. Mario 2 is actually “the lost levels”, which way less of us played because “lost levels” sounds like B-Sides, and very few people want to listen to B-Sides (I do, for the record, but I still don’t really care about “the lost levels”).
Mario 3 is also incredible, but so few of us have played through the whole game (warp whistles, right?) that I feel like it got short shrift. Raccoon action for the win. That frog suit was sort of bullshit (not until New Super Mario Brothers Wii did water-based suits make sense of any kind). Riding in those boots was pretty awesome, though. It’s ridiculous that people like this game less than Mario 2. It’s so obviously better. I guess that’s what happens when you give people a character choice and then put them back in Mario’s shoes.
But here’s the thing about Super Mario All-Stars. It is not the sum of it’s parts. It’s actually somehow worse. And the worst part about this assertion is that I’m not entirely sure I can even make my argument convincingly. There’s this though:
Everyone I know who had Super Mario All-Stars didn’t really play it.
It was a pack-in. It was sure cool and all. You could save your progress. That was essential, actually, because I believe that at least half of my generation never actually played all of any Mario game because of warp pipes, warp vases, and warp whistles. With saves, you didn’t need to leave your NES on overnight (if you did that… I didn’t, but I had friends who did). But even with re-imagined graphics, I believe that the incentive to play All-Stars was low.
There’s also the graphic re-imagination that probably rubbed some folks the wrong way before there were internet forums to really galvanize sentiment. That’s the sort of thing that people would lose their shit about today. At the time it was like “well of course, this isn’t the dark ages.” (As an aside, I’ve been picking my way through the Monkey Island 2 remake happily swapping back and forth between new and old-school views thinking to myself “why doesn’t everyone else do this?”)
I wouldn’t argue that this game sat completely un-played. I know there are people who played the shit out of this game. But I also feel like those were people who didn’t have an NES and got the SNES bundle. That’s awesome, because it’s basically an epic baptism in Nintendo. But I also believe that maybe the experience doesn’t mean as much without the wait between the releases. (As an aside, this is sort of like how I feel about the Lord of the Rings films, in that a year was a perfect amount of time to wait before watching the next movie in the series. I can’t fathom ever wanting to watch all three at once.)
So yes, of course this game (this collection of games) is great. My colleague said as much. But I think it’s worth noting that it’s maybe not as great as each game was initially or in a standalone fashion. Or maybe I’m just trying to be controversial because I can’t really think of anything else to talk about when talking about Mario.