It was every kid’s dream: four Mario games in one. That was the promise of Super Mario All-Stars, a value pack released by Nintendo in 1993 to widespread critical acclaim and commercial success. Revisiting the games of the late ‘80s offered up Mario games to an audience that had been slightly too young for the games at the time, and created lifelong fans in the process.
I should know: I have vivid memories of playing All-Stars at a friend’s house growing up. I couldn’t have been older than 8 at the time, but I still remember its opening screen, with Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, and even Bowser all welcoming you to the fun. It felt like backstage with the cast of a hit play. And then, those magical words: “select game.”
All-Stars allowed four Super Mario games, from Super Mario Bros through Super Mario Bros 3, to be upgraded with the Super Nintendo’s upgraded 16-bit graphics. That extended graphical power allowed the Nintendo team to redo the backgrounds of the game, drawing new designs with puffy, friendly clouds by hand.
If you're a Switch Online subscriber, you can play Super Mario All-Stars right now for free by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
All-Stars also gave American audiences a chance to try the infamous black sheep of early Nintendo games, Super Marios Bros.: The Lost Levels. Originally created for players who had felt the original Super Mario Bros. was too easy, Lost Levels became notorious for its difficulty. Poisonous mushrooms that looked exactly like regular ones could kill players, some levels required jumping on invisible bricks with rapid-fire timing, and wind gusts that blow the player around.
When asked if he was able to master the game during development, developer Tadashi Sugiyama once responded “No...I left it to others.” The difficulty seemed to mark the game as cruel.
The game was ultimately deemed “not fun” by most who played it, and Nintendo didn’t want to risk spoiling its reputation in America as a company that put out impossibly challenging games. But All-Stars presented a perfect opportunity.
Lost Levels is still very hard. The game was eased up a bit for All-Stars: poisonous mushrooms are more visible now, for example, but expect to die many times.
Opinions vary between the four games available, but I do believe Super Mario Bros. 2 remains a total blast. Based on a non-Mario Japanese game (which itself was based on a Mario prototype), the game’s options for different characters, as well as its vertical climbing aspects, offer twists on the side-scrolling experience that won’t make you pull your hair out, like you would with Lost Levels.
The All-Stars format is one that treats Nintendo history with the respect it deserves, and it’s no surprise that the company revisited the format for examining its 3D history with Mario. While these games are all available in their original forms on Nintendo Switch Online elsewhere, perhaps the best introduction they could get is in All-Stars.