Super Mario All-Stars is the first in a long line of Nintendo games remastered for a later console. There was incredible value in this package because you got all three NES Super Mario games, plus the Japanese-exclusive Super Mario Bros. 2 (under the moniker "The Lost Levels"). The value of the collection has somewhat diminished over time only because the originals are more iconic, despite their 8-bit auditory and graphical shortcomings.
I've already reviewed the first three games, so I won't review them individually again. Suffice it to say they are among the best NES games. And Super Mario Bros. 3 is, as everyone knows, one of the greatest video games ever. The version included here is arguably the best way to play it.
Super Mario All-Stars has four main appeals. Firstly, there's the convenience and value of bringing together four great older games on a newer system in one cartridge. We saw this same phenomenon with the well named Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which brought the Mario games from the N64, Game Cube, and Wii to the Switch for just $60! There are few games that can compete with Super Mario All-Stars in terms of bang for your buck.
Secondly, this was the first time American players had the chance to play the "lost" sequel to Super Mario Bros. For many players, this was enough to justify the whole game. The game is very difficult, but for a Super Mario fanatic, so much the better! They made it easier here by allowing you to continue from the same stage after a Game Over rather than restarting the world. You also don't have to beat it eight times to access the bonus worlds (A-D): once is sufficient. Accessing the zany world 9 still requires beating all eight worlds without warping.
Thirdly, all the assets for all four games were completely remade for the 16-bit system. In that sense, the games are new. The redone graphics and music are great. They have a classic feel that resembles Super Mario World. Everything looks better; nothing looks weird or wrong. The game doesn't go in for too many added flourishes. The parallax scrolling backgrounds are simple and consistent with the original designs. The biggest change may be the underground stages: instead of a stark black background, they now look like caverns. The echoing acoustic effect from Super Mario World is used as well. I really like the starry sky background for worlds 3 and 6 in SMB1, though the lack of a snowy setting for level 6-3 is surprising, given its unique palette in the NES version. The new background environments are arguably even better for Mario 2 and Mario 3.
Finally, not to be underestimated, Super Mario All-Stars lets you save your game, with four save slots for each title. All the games benefit from this, but especially SMB3. Playing through all the levels of that game takes hours; the lack of a battery back-up on the NES was its only shortcoming.
In my opinion, Super Mario All-Stars has only a single flaw: the physics of brick-breaking were altered for SMB1 and Lost Levels. This bothered me as a kid, and it bothers me even more now. It seems like a programming glitch: the slight bit of force with which Mario used to bounce back down from hitting a brick was reversed. Instead of rebounding, he is pulled up into the brick a little! It's hard to believe this went unnoticed during playtesting. Is it possible the programmers preferred it this way? It doesn't make much practical difference, but it just feels wrong. As a result, I prefer playing the NES versions of those two games. Thank goodness Mario 3 was not affected by this change (or error).
If I had to come up with a weakness in the Super Mario games, it would probably be the boss fights, as they are repetitive. The most interesting ones are found in Mario 2 because they deviate from the standard Koopa formula.
I've been coming back to Super Mario All-Stars (and the originals) for thirty years, and I'll keep doing so from time to time. The level designs, the iconic cast of adorable foes, the secrets and exploration, the butter-smooth controls, the incredible soundtracks, they never lose their appeal. When I try to analyze how I can still enjoy the same games after decades, I conclude that there's something pure and simple about playing Super Mario. Video games are a form of leisure: they delight our minds when we're resting from the day's labor. Complicated or difficult games can be too mentally taxing on the mind when we're exhuasted. That's when the simple pleasure of a Mario (or a Link) comes in. If I could only play ten video games for the rest of my life, I'd include this game—it's like wishing for more wishes because you get four incredible games in one!
"Super Mario All-Stars is an extremely impressive package and the presentation still offers something of a nostalgic thrill, but, ultimately, we believe that it only offers the best experience possible with one of its four included games."
— Stuart Gipp, Nintendo Life, 7/10
— Stuart Gipp, Nintendo Life, 7/10
"All four games have been beautifully upgraded visually, with character sprites replaced, lush stage backgrounds added, and even parallax scrolling. Likewise, the musical scores have been altered to feature more realistic-sounding instrumentation."
— Pat Contri, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library, 4.5/5
"Before remakes and upgrades were common, Nintendo pulled together some of Mario's grandest adventures, included the original Super Mario Bros. 2 from Japan and boosted the graphics to SNES standards."
— IGN, #20 of Top 100
— IGN, #20 of Top 100