Developed by Nintendo EAD
We live in a time of HD collections, digital re-masters and mobile re-releases. However, twenty years ago Nintendo rather surprised critics with 'Super Mario All Stars'. Bundling the universally adored 'Super Mario Bros.', 'The Lost Levels', 'Super Mario Bros. 2' and 'Super Mario Bros. 3' on one Snes cartridge led to many calling the collection one of the best deals in video game history. The praise was not limited to Total!'s near perfect score, it was unanimous. "All-Stars is a masterpiece from beginning to end," wrote Electronic Gaming Monthly. "It's too good to be true," added SNES Force. Of course these were games that most Snes owners already owned, but the addition of "enhanced" graphics, "reworked audio" and the chance to play new levels for 'Super Mario Bros' seemed to be more than enough to convince everyone that 'Super Mario All Stars' was a must-own Nintendo game.
"I'd buy this cart just to play 'Super Mario 3' all over again" reviewer James Binns said at the time. "I still reckon its loads better than 'Super Mario World' so to me all the other games on this cart are a bonus". While 'The Lost Levels' is what we would now call "an expansion" to 'Super Mario Bros.’, 'Super Mario Bros 3' really does add and build on the foundations laid in the first game. Originally released at the height of "Mario Mania", this was a time when Nintendo’s mascot was more familiar to children than Mickey Mouse.
Of course now I know that 'Super Mario Bros 2' is really 'Doki Doki Panic' a different Famicom game with character sprites swapped for Mario characters. It was a way for Nintendo to quickly capitalise on the success of 'Super Mario Bros' when the true sequel (now known as 'The Lost Levels') was deemed too hard for the west. Yet despite its origin, many at the time seemed to despise the odd mechanic of throwing vegetables at a new set of enemies. I rather liked it and have a fondness for it today. The levels feel larger and laden with more secrets that the other games in the 'All Stars' collection. Many who claim the game isn't authentically "Mario" conveniently ignore the fact that the game was originally a prototype to see if a "'Mario Bros'-esque game" could work scrolling vertically. Shigeru Miyamoto was at the helm for the conversion of 'Doki Doki Panic' into 'Super Mario Bros. 2' and was quite a fan of the ways his Mario characters behaved in a fresh environment. "Uprooting and lifting things as you played gave the game a new feel. It was released in Japan as Super Mario USA." As GameSpot critic Alex Navarro points out, 'Super Mario Bros. 2' "shows that veering from the beaten path of a franchise's standard game design isn't always a bad idea".
Visually though, 'Super Mario All Stars' is a huge success. Each game on the collection has had a pixel polish, updating the original NES games' aesthetics. Sprites are more detailed, backgrounds now have parallax scrolling and hundreds of colours are onscreen. It's actually rather surprising that many of the familiar locals of later games actually first appeared as background layers in 'Super Mario All Stars'. There isn't any consistency across the games though; Mario has three different character sprites. "The masterful 'Super Mario 3' hasn't been visually revamped as extensively as the previous two games, and so oddly looks inferior to its prequels" critic Matt Bielby even said at the time.
Multiple versions of the same character seem unnecessary, but presumably it was done to ensure collision detection worked on each game, as this is essential to the success of any platformer. It's personal preference of course but I believe every game still looks much nicer than Nintendo’s more recent 'New Super Mario' games. These games may play like 2D platform games, but the cluttered environments are inhabited by characters drawn with polygons. Pixels allow for precision, where as 3D modelled characters are harder to read. Ironically it was a point once noted by Mario designer Shigaru Miyamoto when criticising 'Donkey Kong Country's pre-rendered visuals. 'Super Mario All Stars' is "a cart that looks good, feels exactly right to play and will last a long time" Super Play said at the time and the words remain true today. "When you think that you're getting three of the greatest video games of all time on one cart you really would be mad not to buy it" the magazine added.
Reviewer Frank O'Connor once said (before bestowing the infamous 99%) "it is impossible to criticise 'Mario All Stars'. Each game on its own would be the bee’s knees but together they constitute the best video game cartridge ever manufactured".