Sunday, November 16, 2014

Super Mario Advance (GBA, Wii U eShop) Retro Review

It's rare that the weekend has so much activity on SuperPhillip Central. I mean, TWO new reviews in one weekend? I must be going crazy! Either that or just having a lot of fun writing, I guess! Here's the latest review for the month of November, it's our first retro review of the month, Super Mario Advance, a game available on the Game Boy Advance and Wii U eShop as of two weeks ago.

Vegetables kill. Super Mario Advance is living proof.


It's no big secret that the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, known as The Lost Levels in North America, was deemed too difficult for Western audiences. Thus, Nintendo took an entirely different IP known as Doki Doki Panic and altered the Arabian cast of heroes and replaced them with Mario characters and sold the game as Super Mario Bros. 2. With the launch of the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo opted to remake the NES original Super Mario Bros. 2 that North America received and put it as a launch title on its new handheld. That remake was Super Mario Advance, the first of a series of four classic Mario game remakes for the system. While the game is still as timeless as ever, there are some issues that stop it from reaching true greatness.

Super Mario Advance is a dolled up version of the NES classic Super Mario Bros. 2 (or how Japan knows it, Super Mario USA). Not only have the visuals been upgraded to take full advantage of the Game Boy Advance's improved hardware power, offering completely new backgrounds, colorful levels, and little to no frame-rate issues, so has the sound. Mario and his pals have small voice clips that regularly play when certain milestones are met, such as completing a level, collecting a 1-up, or powering up via a mushroom. Additionally, bosses have voice clips, too. While this is indeed a great liberty that Nintendo has taken with this remake, I find the added voices throw some more charm into the whole package. 

Anything Ninji can do, Mario can
do better, like jumping!
This remake also sees the addition of some added replay value to keep players coming back for more long after the twenty levels of the game have seen completion. For instance, now each level contains five red Ace coins to find and collect. These are generally out in the open, but in a place that requires extra platforming prowess to nab. After beating Wart and saving Subcon (i.e. beating the game), two Yoshi eggs appear in each level. However, these only show up in sub-space portions of levels, where players need to pull up a magic potion to create a door into sub-space. However, since sub-space areas are just one screen long, finding the exact locations of the Yoshi eggs can be mighty challenging, and in a frustrating and painstaking fashion. 

This Snifit guards one of the
highly coveted Ace coins.
As for how the game itself plays, Super Mario Advance adheres pretty firmly to the foundation the NES original Super Mario Bros. 2 built. You go through levels as one of four playable characters, with the ability to switch off between each of the four at the beginning of each life and each level.

Each of the four characters offers a different type of play style and has benefits and disadvantages over each other. Mario is the well-rounded character with no obvious advantages in any attribute while Luigi is the best and highest jumper. It's just that he's a bit slippery to control. Princess Peach is essentially recommended for beginning players, thanks to her glide ability, making otherwise daunting leaps more manageable. Finally, Toad is the shortest and fastest of the four. Some levels and hidden areas are designed to be easier with one character over the others, so there's some general encouragement to try to play as each character. 

Little princess, big trouble.
Seeing as Super Mario Bros. 2 originated as a totally different game with unique characters, so, too, is how enemies are defeated. Traditional Mario platformers require a simple hop on an enemy's head to defeat them. With Super Mario Bros. 2 and its GBA remake, Mario and friends are required to pull up vegetables from the ground and chuck them at foes to eliminate them. Additionally, standing on certain enemies such as Shy Guys, lifting them over your head, and chucking them also serves as offense in Super Mario Advance.

This goes into the boss encounters as well, such as the first miniature boss battle with Birdo, an enemy which generally blocks the exit of almost every level in the game. Through leaping on the eggs that Birdo shoots from its snout and lifting them over your head, you can throw them back at Birdo to damage her. Other bosses include the bomb-tossing Mouser, whose bombs can be thrown back so the bombastic rat gets caught in the explosion to take damage. The boss order in Super Mario Advance is changed from the NES original. The third world introduces a wholly new boss into the mix, a robotic Birdo, for example.

The explosions are so bright,
Mouser has to wear shades.
Apart from plucking veggies from the ground, there's a host of other helpful and surprising finds to pick up from underground-- shells, POW blocks which cause a huge quake when dropped, hearts that refill a character's health, bombs, and a standout one, a magical potion. When this is thrown, it reveals a door into sub-space, where if dropped in the correct spot, reveals a mushroom that can be used to temporarily add extra health to a character. Occasionally, some tubes (the Subcon equivalent of the Mushroom Kingdom's pipes) in sub-space serve as warp points to later worlds, effectively allowing you to skip entire worlds.

All of this sounds like a truly innovative take on the 2D platformer, and it is. Super Mario Bros. 2 continues to be unique among not only other Mario games in the series but also other games in the platforming genre. While most of this is fantastic, what pales in comparison is the lousy camera that unfortunately was not altered for this Game Boy Advance remake. 

Aw, shucks. Toad has some
sand in his shoes!
The question many of you might be asking yourself is, "this isn't a 3D platformer, so how do you mess up a camera in a 2D platformer?" The answer is that in traditional horizontal scrolling levels in Super Mario Advance, the camera does not pan in the direction you're facing when you turn around. No, you have to walk a little bit in that direction. In levels where there's flying enemies that come from the edge of the screen, the lack of extra space to see what's coming is quite deadly. Furthermore, in vertical areas of the game, there are scripted spots in each area where the camera moves up or down instead of constantly moving upward or downward to keep the player as the central focus. Many times I was hit because the screen was locked in position and wouldn't move until I jumped to a higher area. Unfortunately, that higher area contained an enemy that damaged me, sometimes costing me a life (and some dollars into a curse jar). 

Princess Peach brings the boom.
Outside of the original Super Mario Bros. 2 adventure, there's an additional game paired with it, Mario Bros., delivering the classic arcade game in handheld form. This is a nice distraction for short bursts, attempting to score higher and higher as enemies are routinely defeated, but it won't take long to yearn for a more in-depth experience.

Super Mario Advance does a lot to make an already accessible game in Super Mario Bros. 2 even more accessible. The difficulty is just right, the new visuals and digital audio voice clips are charming and whimsical, and the controls feel just as tight as they did back in 1988 with the NES original. Some unfixed camera issues aside, Super Mario Advance delivers a wickedly fun 2D Mario unlike any other adventure the portly plumber has ventured on before.

[SPC Says: 7.25/10]

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