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In the early 1980s, you'd probably be ridiculed if you suggested that a portly plumber in dungarees would go on to conquer the world, but Mario managed to achieve such a feat shortly after his NES debut. The Nintendo mascot's early outings defined platforming in the 8-bit generation, and his games would only go from strength to strength. In 1993, the original trilogy was given the remake treatment in the shape of Super Mario All-Stars for Super Nintendo. Many fans still consider this compilation to be the series' defining moment, so it's no surprise that it has been one of the most requested titles on Virtual Console since the service launched. To commemorate Mario's 25th Birthday, the Big N has gone one better, bringing the collection to Wii as a boxed release. But how well do these games hold up today?
Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition may come packaged in resplendent red and gold with a soundtrack CD and collector’s booklet thrown in, but aside from this it's just the SNES title. The games are rendered in their original screen resolution and have been ported to the Wii intact. The decision to repackage the compilation in its original format might prove a divisive one among fans. There's certainly the argument that Nintendo could have taken the opportunity to bring these games further up to date for the character’s milestone anniversary, though the purists would likely scoff at this notion. However, we were expecting some fancy new menu screens and perhaps a few Easter eggs on the main disc at the very least. The decision to simply cut-and-paste the original product smacks of laziness, and the gives the cynics reason to cry cash-in.
For anyone who has never experienced the SNES version, Mario All-Stars comprises the 16-bit iterations of Super Mario Bros and its two sequels as well as The Lost Levels, which was released as a direct follow-up to the original in Japan. Although all four games are beginning to show their age, their gameplay has lost none of its magic. The plug-and-play nature of the original hasn't dulled over time. Stomping koopas and discovering hidden warp zones is still as rewarding now as it was back in the day, and the challenge of beating all eight worlds is just as daunting. Lost Levels offers the same experience, except with the level of difficulty cranked up, but Mario 2 and 3 are entirely different animals.
Super Mario Bros 2 has always been the black sheep of the family. To cut a long story short, the game was not developed from the ground up, unlike other titles in the series. It was actually a redesign of a little-known Japanese release titled Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. It sets itself apart from Mario's other outings by offering players the chance to control Princess Toadstool and Toad. Turning its back on enemy stomping, hurling objects served as one of the game's core mechanics, making it an interesting departure from the franchise's formula. This is perhaps the weakest game in the collection, though that isn't to say it doesn't stand up well. It still maintains compelling gameplay and spades of charm, despite being some way away from the definitive Mario experience. However, Super Mario Bros 3 is exactly that. The third game in the series was considered the pinnacle of 2D platforming for a generation, and even today it's easy to see why. Facing off against memorable bosses and taking to the skies with the Super Leaf are all well and good for nostalgic kicks, but there's also that sense of unabashed fun that's missing for the current generation fare too often.
A soundtrack CD comes bundled with the game, collecting all of the memorable tunes and sound effects from Mario games throughout the ages. Many of the fan-favourites made the final cut, from the classic Mario theme to the score to Super Mario Galaxy 2. It's a fan-pleasing aural timeline of the series, but it's difficult to imagine this being a mainstay on anybody's iPod. Moreover, the fact that the disc cannot be played in the Wii console is a slight disappointment. The only other bonus inclusion to speak of is a collector's booklet, filled with artwork and some short developer quotes on each game. Again, any enjoyment to be found in this is fleeting and its appeal is limited to all but the die-hards.
The individual games that make up Mario-All Stars may be timeless classics, but this Wii compilation could have been much more. These titles have been re-released for the Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance in the past, packed with additional features. There's no reason why this new collection couldn't have comprised some worthwhile extras as well. In this regard, Nintendo could well have distributed this as a downloadable offering via Virtual Console. Granted, it was packaged this way to celebrate its mascot's landmark year, but it doesn't feel as though the gaming giant has gone the extra mile with this release.
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