Day 6

Nintendo brings classic Super Mario games out of its vault — but only for a limited time

Gamers were excited and angered in equal measure when Nintendo announced Super Mario 3D All Stars to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. The package includes three classic games from the plumber's catalogue, but it will only be available for a limited time.

'They're always interested in trying what's next,' The Strong Museum of Play says of Nintendo

Super Mario 64 revolutionized video games with three-dimensional movement, an exploration when it launched in 1996 for the Nintendo 64. It's been re-released by Nintendo as part of a package of classic games celebrating the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo)

Japanese video game giant Nintendo is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., with a batch of new games and re-releases of classic games. But some fans are scratching their heads over the fact that many of them will only be on sale for a limited time before being pulled from store shelves. 

Super Mario 3D All Stars, a collection of three Mario games where the player runs and jumps in three-dimensional spaces, is out this weekend for the Nintendo Switch console.

Fans who want a copy of 3D All Stars need to move quickly, though. Nintendo announced that both physical copies and digital downloads of the game will only be on sale from this week to the end of March 2021.

"I have no idea what to make of a limited release, to be honest," games journalist Nadia Oxford, who reviewed the game for the website USGamer, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

With its unusual setting and focus on a water cannon that Mario wears on his back, Super Mario Sunshine is a divisive entry in the character's history. (Nintendo)

"Presumably Nintendo knows, and they're not talking. They tend not to talk very much."

It's not the only game with a limited release window. Super Mario 35, an online multiplayer twist on the original Super Mario Bros., will only be playable on the Switch from Oct. 1 to March 31. After that, it will disappear — possibly forever.

When asked about the games' limited availability, Nintendo of Canada told CBC Radio that no spokesperson was available to comment on the matter.

Classic games, but few extras

Some gamers and reviewers also panned 3D All Stars' lack of extra features. Other than some light visual touch-ups and a music player to browse through the game's soundtracks, little has been done to tweak the games to make them more approachable to a new audience.

It also doesn't include supplemental material like creator interviews or scans of old concept art — things that have become more common with re-released classic games in recent years.

"You don't really have anything in the way of artwork or design notes. You don't even have a way to adjust your controls. I'm a big fan of accessibility in games, and not being able to adjust your controls — that's a big ugh for me," said Oxford.

And Super Mario Galaxy 2, the sequel to Galaxy that earned rave reviews when it came out in 2010, is nowhere to be found.

Super Mario Galaxy launched in 2007 to rave reviews for its inventive level design and manipulation of gravity. (Nintendo)

Diving into video game history

In recent years, critics and fans have raised their expectations for retro game re-releases, thanks in part to companies like Digital Eclipse and M2.

In 2019, Digital Eclipse released a classic collection of Disney's Aladdin and The Lion King games, which included a virtual museum of concept art, developer interviews, and even a new "final cut" version of Aladdin that adds several refinements and removes some glitches from the 1993 retail release.

"Our fundamental principle is that we want not simply to take the video game and release it," said Chris Kohler, Digital Eclipse's editorial director. "We want to add as much value as we can at every step of the process, allowing people to really understand the history of why these games were so important — and not only that, but just to experience them in new and exciting ways."

Kohler, however, noted 3D All Stars' soundtracks and graphical touch-ups were welcome additions, and that he looks forward to playing the games regardless of how much supplemental material was included.

This isn't to say it's impossible to delve into Nintendo's history. You'll find thousands of copies of games and Nintendo-related publications at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, N.Y., home of the Video Game Hall of Fame.

The museum includes large corporate archives from defunct game companies like Sierra Entertainment and Broderbund Software.

"Because Nintendo's still an active company, and they guard their intellectual property, I think, quite closely, they've been more reluctant to donate extensive amounts of things from their archives," explained Jon-Paul Dyson, VP of exhibits at the museum.

Dyson says that Nintendo is more interested in offering glimpses into its classic library to drive interest in its new games and projects, rather than continuing to sell its back catalogue ad nauseam.

"I think there's a feeling [at Nintendo] that if you stay too long in the past, you're not dreaming up what's next," he said. "They're always interested in trying what's next, even as they're interested in drawing on, and honouring, what they've done before."

The jumping superstar

Despite the shortcomings, Oxford still gave 3D All Stars a four out of five rating based on the strengths of the games themselves.

She called Galaxy the star of the package. The game throws Mario amidst a series of small planetoids, playing tricks with gravity as Mario floats from one zone to the next.

"It feels very much like The Little Prince, kind of living in that world," she said.   

Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong, but his breakout moment was Super Mario Bros., for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985.

Oxford first saw the game in action when she was at a friend's birthday party around the age of eight or nine.

"As someone who had grown up with ColecoVision, Atari and those kind of very simple-looking games, I was just blown away by this," she recalled.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears as the Nintendo game character Super Mario during the closing ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Associated Press)

Today, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn't recognize the character with his blue overalls, red cap and big, bushy mustache.

He's become so well-known that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wore a red Mario cap at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics closing ceremony, to promote the upcoming Tokyo games.

"You could go to any schmoe on the street, practically, and say: "Who is this man?' and they'd say, 'Oh, that's Mario,'" Oxford said.

Written by Jonathan Ore. Interview with Nadia Oxford produced by Samraweet Yohannes.

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