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Mario Pinball Land

by Michael Cole - October 4, 2004, 11:31 pm EDT


Mario’s a bit behind the curve on the pinball phenomenon. Can he rack up the points and trounce the nay-sayers?

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It is common knowledge that, much like a certain 80’s song about radio stars and television, video-games killed the pinball parlors. Some may be quick to forget pinball’s rebirth in videogame form, though—especially on Nintendo’s handhelds. Memorable titles include HAL Laboratory’s Revenge of the Gator and Kirby’s Pinball Land on Game Boy, as well as the more recent Pokémon Pinball games on GBC and GBA. Now Nintendo’s flagship franchise is staking a claim in the genre, with the quaint Fuse Games behind the flippers. It may not revolutionize handheld pinball, but Mario Pinball Land is fun while it lasts. Unfortunately, that is not very long.

The basic game mechanics are standard pinball fare. The player must navigate Mario via flippers, smashing him into enemies, doors and switches in an attempt to explore the worlds. All of this is in an attempt to claim stars with the power to unlock more doors connecting each stage’s rooms (a la Super Mario 64). The concept is sound and enjoyable for the most part. Mario must have momentum to destroy the varied baddies, and players must have skill to collect the coins the enemies drop. Combos of two or more enemies produce blue coin rewards that can be spent on special star challenges in one of Toad’s many shops.

Regulation mushroom coins may go towards a handful of power-ups, which are also obtainable through “?” blocks and random bonuses (acquired by earning stars already collected). Self-explanatory power-ups include the super mushroom, mini mushroom, 1-up mushroom, and star. Lighting damages all enemies on the screen; the warp pipe acts as a center stopper (there are no side gutters); and the Yoshi egg functions as a second ball. Accessing certain areas or defeating an enemy will often be impossible or more difficult without a specific power-up.

Room entrance is a clog in Mario Pinball Land’s drains. Mario must smash a door once to open it, and then manage to do it again without opening every door first, which causes them all to close. Enemies tend to get in the way when a player is anxious to move forward, deflecting shots or unluckily redirecting them to an undesired door. Skill with an inaccurate tool is pinball’s challenge, so this design choice is understandable, if mildly frustrating. Less defendable is the developer’s decision to require that Mario physically grab every star he earns. The player will work hard to collect eight red coins or defeat every enemy under a time limit, only to hit the ball into another room or fall while trying to hit the Mario-ball into the star. That means doing the same task all over again, because apparently stars have no tolerance for losers. One could make the same complaint about Mario’s last two platformers, but such mistakes are far more common in pinball.

Mario Pinball Land’s story is deliciously absurd. At the Fun Fair, Peach is celebrating the completion of the Sky Cannon, which squishes the user into a ball to be shot long distances. Bowser doesn’t like innovation, though, and is more interested in the princess So His Koopingness sends a pair of goombas—goombas—who, despite their unfortunate lack of stature or arms, manage to re-aim the cannon towards Bowser’s Castle without confrontation. As usual, Mario heads off to save the lovely damsel, but to keep things interesting, does so in spherical form. Ah well, they can’t all be masterpieces, right?

At least the story does its purpose of setting you up for an equally abridged game. The entire game consists of five stages of roughly eight floors each. The first four stages contain one boss and something between five and nine stars. Mario must defeat the simple-but-fun bosses and snag at least fifteen stars to face off against Bowser. The average player can reach Bowser’s doorstep in around three hours, but that isn’t really the end. Retrieving all 35 stars will take at most seven more, depending on the potency of the player’s pinball powers. Certain parts of the game, usually those that involve both a time limit and the game’s nefarious doors, demand the absurd kind of precision that must be supplanted by luck. The difficulty of these stars marginally extends the game’s longevity, but the typical gamer will either conquer them in a matter of hours or refuse to waste more time.

There isn’t much else to Mario Pinball Land. The pre-rendered graphics are gorgeous, and the audio is passable. Score junkies will appreciate the saved high scores for Adventure mode and best times for Time Attack (where the player must reach and defeat the stage’s boss), but there is little else to come back for. The game features a Spartan single save slot, and players should also beware that beating Bowser deletes that saved game.

If you have excellent pinball control and love going for high scores, you will probably like Mario’s short but respectable pinball game. If you appreciated the occasional video pinball game in the genre’s heyday, despite your lack of skill, you’ll probably find Mario Pinball Land amusing despite its flaws. Either way, this game is too short for a $30 purchase.


Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
10 7 7 8 3 7.5

The pre-rendered graphics are exceptional on the SP and Game Boy Player, once again raising the bar on GBA graphics. The tilted perspective cleverly simulates the appearance of a pinball table while circumventing the GBA’s limited vertical space. Unfortunately, I suspect the awesome graphics came at the price of variety: a scrolling screen would have allowed for larger rooms.


The music is decent with some good boss tunes, and the game integrates the franchise well with a cacophony of Mario sound effects spanning generations. No, Mario does not tactlessly yelp every time you smack him with a flipper; instead, he saves his voice to declare more noteworthy events such as bagging a combo or getting owned by a foe.


It is hard to botch controls in a Pinball game—the flippers and power-up buttons are responsive. The Mario-ball is quite sensitive to its current momentum and position relative to the flipper, which is great for a pinball simulation but bad for pinhole pathways.


Pinball will always have its challenges, but rolling balls into monsters is as fun as ever, and the power-ups provide a nice touch. The rooms lack in variety, though, relying on similar architectures partnered with different obstacles and graphics.


Unless working on high scores is your paradise, this game has nothing to return for. Perhaps the game was shortened to avoid monotony, but I’m convinced more could have been done. The folks behind Mario Pinball Land could have learned from Jaleco’s Pinball Quest for the NES, which bundled traditional pinball tables that incorporated clever side games with its Adventure mode.


As long as the player’s primary concern is combat and points instead of doorways and star collision, Mario provides a fun game of pinball. The mechanics can get annoying, but brevity and a lack of extras is the true downfall of a promising game that almost delivers. Mario Pinball Land has quality entertainment, but as it is, not enough of it.


  • Amazing graphics
  • Convincing physics
  • Crisp flipper control
  • Enjoyable enemy-bashing
  • A few challenges rely heavily on luck
  • Evil, narrow doorways
  • Very, very short
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Genre Party/Parlor
Developer Fuse Games Limited

Worldwide Releases

na: Mario Pinball Land
Release Oct 04, 2004
jpn: Super Mario Ball
Release Aug 26, 2004
RatingAll Ages
eu: Super Mario Ball
Release Nov 26, 2004
aus: Mario Pinball Land
Release Oct 28, 2004

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