I won't lie to you: I belonged to SEGA as a kid. I grew up with Streets of Rage, Ecco the Dolphin and a certain blue hedgehog. But don't reach for those pitchforks just yet; I get rather nostalgic about Nintendo's portly Italian plumber, too. One balmy summer, I swapped my Mega Drive for a SNES with a school chum of mine. The exchange was steeped in controversy, with other boys in our class mortally offended that we would do such a thing. The playground was a bitter place; you were loyal to one console and one console only, and you'd defend it with all the smack talk you could muster. But a bit of stick from my fellow SEGA loyalists was worth it, as that summer I got to experience the joys of Super Mario All-Stars for the very first time.
Just as I was able to all those years ago, a new generation can now experience the series for the first time with Super Mario All-Stars on Wii. Despite appearing in disc form for the very first time , the compilation is only a direct port: as the back of the box puts it, "the content of this game is the same as the original SNES game". So, that's Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3 in their full 16-bit glory. As was the case back in 1993, the compilation also welcomes save files, meaning you no longer have to complete the games in one sitting.
Considering the game celebrates 25 years of all things Mario, many people will be disgruntled to discover that Super Mario World isn't on the disc. The game made an appearance on an alternative All-Stars compilation released in 1994, meaning it would have been incredibly easy to whack that ROM on a disc instead. Ninty were obviously thinking with their wallets - Super Mario World is available on the Virtual Console, after all - and fans might feel slightly short changed as a result. Slightly more distressing is the lack of 60hz support. As the game only runs in 50hz, those annoying black borders encroach on each side of the screen, which is just as annoying as you might imagine.
But let's not get bogged down in technical troubles. Even after twenty-five years, the games themselves are still fantastic and offer some of the best 2D platforming the genre has ever seen. I'm not going to bother explaining the nitty-gritty of the gameplay - you know how it works. You run, you jump, you hit question-mark branded boxes with your noggin, you eat mushrooms, you double in size, you jump on the heads of Goombas and Koopa Troopers, you relentlessly move through level after level, world after world to save a captured princess; it's one of the most reassuringly familiar formulas in video game history.
Things are slightly different in Super Mario Bros. 2, however, which finds Mario and pals (including Princess Peach herself) tossing root vegetables at their enemies instead of jumping on their heads. Aesthetically speaking it's rather different to anything else in All-Stars, as well as being the only game in the compilation to feature a health meter. It's not surprising the game looks and plays so differently though - it wasn't originally intended to be part of the series. Released as Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic in Japan, Nintendo simply skinned the game with Mario characters and gave it a change of name for its US release. It's not a bad game necessarily; it's just not very Mario.
The Lost Levels is the true successor to Super Mario Bros. in Japan, finding its way to western shores under a different name to mask Nintendo's dirty little secret. Those with confidence in their gaming ability will lap up the challenge on offer here; The Lost Levels is easily the most hardcore offering on the disc, with some of the most dastardly displays of level design you're likely to see in a platform game.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the highlight, for me at least. The introduction of an overworld gave the game a much more impressive sense of scale than its predecessors, with new power-ups such as the Super Leaf and Tanooki Suit allowing Mario to take to the skies for the first time. It's a more diverse experience, too, with eight distinct worlds and memorable boss battles against the evil-yet-endearing Koopalings. It's pretty darn hard, too, but not in that overly frustrating way of The Lost Levels.
As this is Mario's 25 year anniversary in the plumbing and rescuing princesses trade, Nintendo has been kind enough to pop the game in a rather nice red box (although I expect many would have preferred a steel tin), complete with audio CD and history of Mario booklet. The CD features 20 tracks spanning the entire breadth of the series, from the original Super Mario Bros. to Mario Galaxy 2. A hefty nine of those tracks are just 3 or 4 second long sound effects, though, which feels like a bit of a con in my mind. The history book feels a little half-arsed, too; a slightly higher quality version of an instruction manual. Across its thirty pages are details on each game in the series, with concept drawings, character designs and notation from Shigeru Miyamoto himself. It's pleasant enough to flick through, but could have been padded out better with more artwork and insight from the developers. It would have been much nicer in hardback, too.
Despite these lingering wishes, Super Mario All-Stars is still a tidy little package. The games themselves are the real stars here, only really let down by lack of 60hz support. It's doubtful that the compilation will ever find its way onto the Virtual Console in this form, so now's the perfect opportunity to see what all the fuss was about if you missed out on the original All-Stars back in the day. It might be a tad overpriced at £24.99 for a ROM dump of four SNES games, but Nintendo's ever-loyal fans won't find it hard to justify dropping the cash regardless.