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Mario Pinball Land – GBA

Mario Pinball Land – GBA

Mario Pinball LandPlatform:  Game Boy Advance

Developer:  Fuse Games

Publisher: Nintendo

Release Date (NA):  October 4th, 2004

Genre:  Pinball, Adventure

Rating:  7 out of 10

As I searched the web yesterday evening for pictures to accompany the Pinball-e review, I ran across images of Mario Pinball Land (known as Super Mario Ball outside of North America).  At that point, this game wasn’t even on my radar but I knew I had to have such an obvious Mario title.  I stumbled across the tiny GBA cart about 4:00 this afternoon, and I’ve probably spent a solid 3.5 hours digging in.  My previous experience with pinball on the GBA was less than satisfying, though to be fair it was a port of an earlier NES game.  Mario Pinball Land on the other hand, blew me out of water within seconds of playing.

Mario Pinball LandTaking a cue from Super Mario 64Mario Pinball Land requires the collecting of stars.  Instead of the traditional running and jumping of platformers however, stars are found via playing pinball.  Mario himself is turned into a sphere and acts as the pinball itself.  The boards are structured similarly to well-known Mario environments such as a desert, a forest/grassland, and an icy world.  Replacing the standard pinball elements such as bumpers and spinners are objects from Mario’s rogue gallery, and other things such as shops run by Toad and question mark blocks are dotted around as well.  Blocks reward Mario with anything from coins to special, pinball-specific items including a “pipe” that mostly covers the area between the two flippers, reducing the likelihood of losing the ball.

Mario Pinball LandThe entirety of Mario Pinball Land is structured like a hierarchy, beginning with a starting area.  The starting area does have a star or two hidden around, but mostly exists for Mario to gain a few coins or visit a Toad shop to purchase powerups.  Once the cannon is activated, Mario is free to travel to 4 other worlds.  Within the worlds, he can travel to new boards “above” the previous ones, but it ever he should fall below the first screen after using the cannon, it will count as a lost “life,” or lost ball in pinball terms.

Mario Pinball LandAccess to these “upper” levels is granted by obtaining stars.  As in Super Mario 64there are doors with both a star and a number on them, indicating how many stars one must possess before entering.  If the Mario-sphere should directly hit or roll directly past a door and Mario has the appropriate number of stars, then the door will open and the flippers or other objects in Mario Pinball Landthe environment must be used to bounce him through the doorway.  Stars are usually awarded by defeating a certain number of enemies on the screen.  In most cases, he is only forced to dispatch of those immediately visible (by simply running into them), and afterwards a star will fall to the center of the board.  Once Mario makes contact with the star, it is counted towards his overall total.  Besides the average baddies, Mario Pinball Land also contains large bosses that must be dealt with, requiring some interesting strategy due to the pinball mechanics of this strange new world.

Mario Pinball LandFrom the beginning the gameplay is fast paced and it can be difficult to tell exactly what’s happening.  Of tantamount importance is to not let Mario slip through the flippers!  Trying to accomplish so much by controlling only 2 flippers is a lot of fun and quite addictive.  With so many boards to visit, explore, and conquer, it’s not easy to get bored with Mario Pinball Land.  There is the question of luck vs. skill when playing pinball, and depending on how an individual feels, this may seem like an extremely hard game.  Like any pinball game, precision aiming is almost impossible.  It can get frustrating trying to defeat some of the faster, more erratic adversaries, but I feel like the challenge is acceptable considering how little control one has over a real pinball in a real pinball machine.

Mario Pinball LandGraphics are amazing, among some of the best I’ve ever seen on the GBA.  It is colorful with a slight cartoon edge like most Mario titles, but the level of detail crammed onto the small screen is more than impressive.  Everything is distinguishable, especially the Mario-ball.  Background and interactive elements are obvious, and there’s never any confusion about what an item is.  Doors and pathways to higher levels are clearly represented, and never is the player wondering what to do next.

Controls are very basic.  Either L and R can be used to operate the left and right flippers respectively, or left on the D-pad along with A will fulfill the same purpose.  Either control scheme Mario Pinball Landcan be used at any point in the game without the need to access an options menu, providing a clever means for keeping one’s hands comfortable on the relatively small GBA SP.  The flippers seem to be somewhat responsive to how quick the buttons are fully depressed, allowing for some available variability when determining how hard to flip the flipper.  Otherwise, B is the only other button used.  It deploys/activates any items gathered or bought along the way.

Mario Pinball LandIn all, there are 35 stars to collect.  The best feature of Mario Pinball Land is its ability to cumulatively save the player’s progress.  Since the game ends after 3 (possibly more at times) balls fall off the screen, it might seem impossible to gather all 35 stars with so few chances.  Each time the player receives the “Game Over” message, there’s the option to Quit, Save & Quit, or Continue.  The game resets back to the very beginning area each time, and no items will carryover into the continuing game.  However, any stars and coins collected will remain, fueling the incentive to go after all 35.  I love games like this (especially on handheld systems) that present one very large, overarching goal to complete but are successfully able to break up the gameplay into manageable chunks.  Even though there is so much do, it’s easy to pick this game up for a few minutes and then it put it right back down, knowing that any progress made has not been in vain.  Simultaneously, Mario Pinball Land is vast enough to spend a significant amount of time with in one sitting.

Mario Pinball LandI knew there had to be better pinball games than Pinball-e out there, I just wasn’t sure how much better they could actually be, or if traditional pinball would ever be all that fun in video game form.  Mario Pinball Land acts as more than pinball, updating its objectives beyond the accumulation of points and providing varying boards with concrete goals to achieve.  It takes the concept of an adventure game and forces the player to move through it using pinball mechanics.  A paradigm of originality, even if it can be frustratingly challenging at times.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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