On February 12th, 1990—two days before TYP’s sixth birthday—Super Mario Bros. 3 made its long-awaited North American debut. For its 2003 Bar Mitzvah celebration on the GBA, all I can say is, “Huzzah!”
Ever since Super Mario Bros. DX graced the GBC, gamers have pleaded for a handheld conversion of the cherished NES classic, Super Mario Bros. 3. Cunningly, Nintendo intentionally released the Mario Advance games in order of increasing demand to maximize sales, echoing the two-year moratorium on the original’s release (copyright 1988). However, this is all in the past now, and Super Mario Advance 4 (SMA4) should finally appease anxious Mario fans everywhere. While the port’s plumbing has a few leaks, most of SMB3’s gameplay remains in pristine condition for the ultimate platforming experience.
Don’t be alarmed if a grin envelopes your face as you stomp the game’s first goomba—it’s perfectly natural. Super Mario Bros. 3 is the closest thing to Coin Heaven on Earth. With its refreshing power-ups and unrivaled level design, SMB3 remains at the top of its class to this day. The levels, while surprisingly short by modern standards, ooze of creative genius and loving care. Virtually every level has multiple secrets to uncover; adventurous newcomers to SMB3 will rejoice in every invisible 1-up, secret room, and hidden platform they discover, while veterans will get similar pleasure from revisiting their favorite nooks and crannies. It isn’t the prizes that make the secrets so rewarding—those are usually quite ordinary—but the resounding sense of accomplishment, of pride, that makes this game so gratifying. Old codgers like me will exclaim, “Aha! I remembered that!” as they frolic through their childhood memories.
Phenomenal exploration and design isn’t limited to SMB3’s levels, either. SMB3 was the first platformer to truly integrate the overworld with its levels. Branched roads provide layers of options: players can either complete 1-3 or 1-4 (or both!) to access a mushroom house, or simply move on to the fortress. Levels provide rewards such as Jugem Clouds and a card game for the overworld, and in return, the overworld provides rare power-ups (like the Hammer Bros. and Frog suits) for use in stages. Stage and mushroom house placement often have a logical order, too: power-ups earned in one stage are often perfect for one of the following levels. Many worlds even have their own hidden secrets: a wise gamer uses his hammers with discretion!
When developing the game back in the late 80’s, Miyamoto and his team made the bold decision of limiting outstanding concepts to a level or two. Perhaps the zaniest power-up ever invented, the plumber-sized Kuribo’s Shoe, can only be found in stage 5-3. Why? Level 5-3 is tailored to bring out the boot’s best—another boot level would just be unoriginal. In an industry now mobbed with great ideas poorly executed, the brilliance of this design approach has never been clearer. Each of the SMB3 team’s ideas is fully realized and showcased within its own realm; novelties never outstay their welcome or belittle other, subtler motifs. As a result, each stage has its own unique flavor that players can fully appreciate.
Super Mario Bros. 3 is the definition of excellent control. Whether turning rapidly, skipping over a pit, or ducking for cover, Mario does exactly what you ask of him. The ability to drastically change direction in midair, while unrealistic, provides a level of precision that puts the original Super Mario Bros. to shame. Controls for the special suits are just as natural: Hammer Mario’s velocity alters a hammer’s trajectory, and Frog Mario is as graceful in the water as he is not on land. Untimely deaths are never the game’s fault.
Although Mario Advance 4 is most certainly SMB3, it is not a direct port. Sure, the cheep-cheeps in 3-9 are more forgiving, Iced Land has a relocated road to the mushroom house, and little Mario becomes fiery if he grabs a fire flower, but these changes are moot. More importantly, Super Mario Advance 4 borrows the detailed graphics found in Super Mario All-Stars (SNES) with a few added special effects. Also included is an excellent save system that preserves the spirit of the game: players can create a temporary save at any time and continue from the beginning of that level or a permanent save after Fortresses and Airships. More surprising is SMA4’s replay feature, which records all player input to recreate a save-able movie of Mario or Luigi’s most recent attempt at a level.
The most publicized new feature in Super Mario Advance 4 is its e-Reader support. Nintendo die-hards owning a second GBA (or Game Boy Player) and an e-Reader can infuse new life into their GBA game with the purchase of Super Mario Bros. 3 e-Cards. The power-up and demo e-Reader cards are nothing special, but the level cards are a triumph for Mario fans everywhere. Level cards contain new stages players can download and save to their SMA4 cartridge. These stages blend gameplay from “all Super Mario Advance games” into a purée of bliss. Unfortunately, only the level card included with SMA4, which features minimal Super Mario Brothers 2 and no Super Mario World influences, was available at the time of review. Even so, the level’s quality is reassuring, and the e-Reader’s versatility with SMA4 is promising.
In spite of the game’s authentic charm and newly-added knick-knacks, Nintendo has neglected Super Mario Advance 4’s multiplayer and out-of-the-box extras. Forsaking millions of Mario fans, Nintendo has not included SMB3’s original and Super Mario All-Stars (SNES) battle mini-games in SMA4. Perhaps the battle mode could no longer have been weaved into the main game, but its absence is inexcusable. And no, Nintendo, that degenerate Super Mario Advance battle mode is not a worthy substitution. Secondly, the highly promising remixed levels can only be enjoyed through the e-Reader. After two years, were tweaked versions of the original SMB3 levels too much to ask for? Even the disappointing Super Mario Advance 2 had a few extra dragon coins, but I suppose Wario put a stop to such thrifty spending! It disgusts me that GBA owners need a second GBA, an e-Reader, and e-Reader cards to experience ANY new gameplay features.
Nintendo’s egoistical attitude toward multiplayer and gameplay extras in Super Mario Advance 4 is disheartening; still, it is impossible to remain bitter at a nearly perfect conversion of possibly the finest videogame ever made. Those interested solely in the remixed levels that don’t already have the required hardware should probably rethink the purchase. Anyone looking for Super Mario Bros. 3 on the go, however, should snag Super Mario Advance 4 without a second thought.