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