When launch day came and passed for the GameBoy Advance, a lot of people walked home happy. Be it with their new copy of Castlevania, Super Dodgeball Advance or F-Zero, there seemed to be a game for everyone. Though one titled that seemed to be cast to the side was Super Mario Advance. Players wanted a brand new Mario game to experience, not some shoddy port based upon an NES classic. However, there's quite a few reasons GBA owners would be more than pleased by picking this up, the least of which is that this is platforming goodness on the go.
What makes this port so enjoyable is the source itself - Super Mario Bros. 2. Back in the heyday of the 8-bit NES, SMB 2 was one of the best games the system had to offer, so much so that it was rereleased on the SNES in Mario All-Stars. It introduced many gameplay aspects that were never featured in the original Super Mario - a life bar, selectable characters, and the like. The largest change was the preferred method of fighting, where SMB2 ditched head-hopping style of attack, and opted for "pick-and-grab" gameplay. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad could pull items out from the ground or enemies themselves and toss them at will. This was a big change to say the least, but other innovations didn't go unnoticed. Another big change was the addition of selectable characters, each with their own unique abilities. Toad was the fastest and strongest, but had horrible airtime; Peach could float in midair but was the weakling of the group; Luigi had the best jumping ability but was a pain to control; and, or course, Mario was the all-around guy. Some levels were easier to finish depending on who you used, so it added an element of strategy to the platforming genre. Needless to say, all these facets seen in the original are transferred straight to Super Mario Advance.
Yet, Nintendo didn't leave it at that, and decided to add lots of extras to spice things up for veteran gamers. For instance, there's five red coins to collect in each stage, which brings up a completion percentage during a pause session or completing a level. It's a nice little extra for those who like exploit every facet a game has to offer. There's also a Yoshi "egg hunt" after finishing Mario Advance the first time through. The hiding places for the eggs are a little trickier than coin gathering, so this adds even more challenge for those who wish to get the most mileage out of their games. Though the biggest addition Mario Advance has to offer has nothing to do with SMB2, but instead is a full version of the original Mario Bros. For those who don't know, Mario Bros. was an old, addictive arcade/Atari classic which featured Mario and Luigi. Actually, scratch that - it's still addictive to this very day. The premise is simple - enemies come out of pipes, and it's up to Mario to get rid of them. As you move up in levels, the baddies become faster, meaner, and more numerous. It may seem minimal in a world of RPGs and cinematic experiences, but Mario Bros. complements SMB2 quite well. Plus, two games for the price of one is quite a deal, so what else could you ask for?
How about improved graphics and sound?
That's right, Nintendo did more than just add a few gameplay extras, they improved both the graphics and sound of SMB2 for next-gen consumption. As far as visuals go, many may see the similarity between Super Mario Advance and the Mario All-Stars version of Super Mario 2. While that's true there are also new effects added that the SNES couldn't do, like sprite scaling, rotation, and some transparency effects. It may not be a big leap, but the pure fact of seeing a SNES game on a handheld put me into giddy spasms of glee. Then there's the sound, which is a huge leap over anything I've ever heard on a handheld. First off, all the music from the All-Stars incarnation is back and intact without any sacrifices in audio quality. Then there's the inclusion of all new voices for the cast of good guys and major bosses. The voice acting (using the term loosely) may not be the best ever to fall on your ears, but the simple fact of having vocals on a handheld is a welcome surprise. (Now if only Toad wasn't such a screeching pain...)
All said and done, does Super Mario Advance deserve a spot in your GBA library? I would say yes, it's a remake of an ingenious game, comes with enough extras and features of its own, shows an inkling of the handheld's possibilities, and most importantly, it's a great platformer on the go. Two great games, one great handheld, and the playability anywhere: a worthy purchase if there ever was one. ^_^
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