animefringe august 2003 / reviews

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3
Format: Game Boy Advance
Production: Nintendo / Infogrames
Comments: Though Mario 3 is one of the best 2-D platformers of all time, buyers would be better off buying a used copy of Mario All-stars.
Animefringe Reviews:
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3

I can hardly believe there are gamers out there who haven't played Super Mario Bros. 3. When the game originally came out in 1990, it took over my life. I would hear the game's music in my sleep, I would dream of Bowser's airship. In short, the game consumed me. However, an entire generation of gamers has grown up since then, not having played this classic title. Nintendo is giving them a chance to rectify this with the release of Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the last major hurrah for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The game sold (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) 15 million and was featured in the feature length commercial (er, movie) The Wizard. More than any game before, Super Mario Bros. 3 made video games less like toys and more like an entertainment product. The game was re-released on the Super Nintendo in 1993 on the Super Mario All-Stars cartridge, along with three other NES Mario titles. Many gamers argued that Mario 3 on the All-Stars cart was even better than the Super Nintendo launch title, Super Mario World.

Flash forward to 2001, when Nintendo released Super Mario Advance, a re-release of Super Mario Bros. 2 (itself a remake of the Japanese game, Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic!). Since then, Nintendo has released Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island as Super Mario Advance titles. Like the first Mario Advance title, Super Mario Advance 4 takes the graphics from the All-Star's cart and adds several new features to the mix.

The basic game play of Super Mario Advance 4 features Mario running from left to right in a platforming level, defeating bad guys, gaining power ups and making it from level to level. Of course, no hero would go to that kind of trouble for no reason: Bowser and his seven Koopa Kids have invaded lands in the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Advance 4. Bowser again has kidnapped the princess, and the kids have turned the kings of the various lands into monsters. Mario must go through the seven kingdoms and beat the Koopa Kids, before taking on Bowser himself. Along the way, Mario can pick up super powers, like the Fire Flower, which allows him to shoot fireballs, the Raccoon Cap and Tail, which allows him to briefly fly, and the Tanooki suit, which allows Mario to fly and be invincible for short periods. In short, Super Mario 3 was the title that launched thousands of knockoffs in the 16-bit generation (including Super Mario World).

However, very few of the imitators that came after Mario 3 were able to match its wonder or fun. Any gamer who grew up the title can tell you about the wonder of going into Giant Land, where all the enemies are several times as large as Mario, or finding the boot ride in the middle section of the game, or about challenging a friend to the Mario Bros. arcade game within Mario 3.

The game is little changed from its All-star's release. Graphically, it's almost one hundred percent identical. Super Mario Advance 4's colors are brighter and show up well on the LCD screen. Because of the size of the GBA screen, the world maps have been made to scroll (where some of them did not in All-star's) and the stat info at the bottom of the screen has been moved up to the top (except for the power indicator for flight and the cards info, which shows up as you reach the end of a level).

New to Super Mario Advance 4 are improved sound effects, a la the original Super Mario Advance: Super Mario Bros 2 remake. The sounds, which Mario and Luigi say when they gain power ups, die, beat level, etc., are pretty much the same as Super Mario Advance, though it is very odd to hear them, as Mario and Luigi don't really react to events except for the sound effects. Additionally, the sounds are utilized less frequently than in the Mario 2 remake, where all four main characters and many bad guys, like Birdo, spoke. Unlike Super Mario Advance: Super Mario Bros 2 Super Mario Advance 4 doesn't feature any enormous graphics, like the huge turnips and Shyguys that appeared in Super Mario Advance. Super Mario Advance 4 does feature a short intro cinema.

A few aspects of the original Mario 3 have also been changed in the GBA version: The Mario Bros. arcade game has been moved out of the Mario 3 options and, regrettably, from the game itself. In the original versions of Mario 3 one was able to challenge a second player on the world map, which would result in the two competing in the Mario Bros. arcade game for lives and coins. Instead, in the GBA version players can simply trade lives, which is not nearly as much fun or as competitive. Unlike Mario World or Yoshi's Island 2, Mario 3's two-button interface translates very well to the GBA: A and B remain the same, while L brings up the character inventory and R takes you to E-reader level. Additionally, Luigi has been made a little different: his jump, like in Mario 2, seems to go farther than Mario's, but at the cost of height. The GBA version also allows one player to alternate between playing Mario and Luigi (though one player can play just as Mario as well): in other releases, player one would always play Mario and a second player would take Luigi. One of the biggest changes from the All-star's version of Mario 3 is the inability to save on the world map. In Super Mario Advance 4 the player can only save after beating a mini-boss or boss. This is ridiculous in a portable game. For example, Metroid Fusion featured many more save points than Super Metroid because of the portable nature of the game.

In fact, the E-reader is probably the biggest change in Super Mario Advance 4. The feature is completely useless without an E-reader and cards, but Nintendo is promising that the cards will allow add extra levels and power ups. This is probably the greatest feature of the new game and could, conceivably, keep the game fresh for quite some time, depending on how many cards are released.

Overall, Super Mario Advance 4 was a no-brainer title for Nintendo. Porting it and adding the few features and tweaks that differentiate it from other Mario 3 releases took Nintendo and Infogrames (the company responsible for the actual porting) little effort, but promises to pay off pretty well. However, for most gamers, the title isn't worth it. For those who want platforming action in the palm of their hand, the GBA boasts many better titles, including ports of Donkey Kong Country and (in my opinion the pinnacle of 2-D platforming), Yoshi's Island 2 from the Super Nintendo and original titles like Metroid Fusion and Castlevania. Most gamers would be better off going to a used game store and digging up an old copy of Mario All-Stars, which depending on the version, has three to four classic Mario games (later versions also had Mario World) in addition to Mario 3.