Monday, July 1, 2024

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 (GBA, NSO) Retro Review

We're continuing our Mario retro review theme from a few weeks ago with a look at one of Mario's greatest 2D adventures turned portable on the Game Boy Advance. It also received a release on Nintendo Switch Online's Expansion Pass. I'm talking about Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3. 

The Mushroom Kingdom cast takes stage once more for a riveting encore performance.

In what must be one of the more absurd naming conventions in gaming history, the Super Mario Advance series saw its fourth entry--this time featuring the third Super Mario Bros. game in all of its remade Super Mario All-Stars glory--with Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3. Of course, Super Mario Bros. 2 was Super Mario Advance, while Super Mario World (aka Super Mario Bros. 4 in Japan) was Super Mario Advance 2, and the completely different series, Yoshi's Island, was Super Mario Advance 3, because Nintendo makes no sense sometimes. Just like calling the Wii successor the Wii U, or calling a revised Nintendo 3DS the NEW Nintendo 3DS XL.

Anyway, mini rant over. Super Mario Advance 4 isn't just the original Super Mario Bros. 3 with the Super Nintendo-style visuals from Super Mario All-Stars. Even still, it'd be a pretty sweet package, if not a bit bare content-wise. In addition to the main game, there is of course Mario Bros., a mainstay of the Super Mario Advance line, but more interestingly, Nintendo added power-ups and even MORE interestingly, never-before-seen levels that could be added to the game via the e-Reader peripheral for the Game Boy Advance original version. The Nintendo Switch Online version comes with them already available in a separate menu. More on those levels later.

Every great platforming adventure has to start somewhere.
Super Mario Bros. 3 begins here in Grass Land's first level.

As for the base Super Mario Bros. 3 game, it's just as fantastic as it's always been. It presents players with over 80 levels of platforming nirvana. The game begins with the easy and breezy Grass Land that helps players find and establish their footing as well as their running and jumping groove. It features simple-enough courses with minimal bottomless pits, not-so-tricky enemy positions, and coins and power-ups aplenty.

World 2, Desert Land, immediately turns up the heat in more ways than one.

From there, the game gets increasingly more complex with worlds with multiple more levels to them on their individual maps. Some of these can be avoided, but in order to get that much-desired "World Complete", you do have to beat every level on a given world's map. Mario and/or Luigi will see themselves braving dangerous deserts (with one infamous level home to a particularly angry Sun), diving into the ocean depths, facing enemies and obstacles of giant proportions, taking a trip to the skies above, chilling out in an ice world, finding their way through a pipe maze, all before reaching the kingdom of Bowser himself in hopes of rescuing Princess Peach. 

Giant Land will have you wondering what Bowser feeds his troops here! Aren't you all big!

Levels include basic left-to-right courses, but also some vertical ones, as well as auto-scrolling courses too, particularly the auto-scrolling airships that round out almost every world save for the last. The levels in general are usually short affairs, able to be run through within a minute or so each, if you're keeping a good pace. This is a positive aspect, as there are no checkpoints in levels, meaning that if you make a costly mistake in a level, you start from the beginning of it. The brevity of levels means that you won't have to make up too much progress with each attempt, and with some of these levels, especially later levels, you'll be making a LOT of attempts.

These auto-scrolling levels, especially in the final world, can make anyone can-"tank"-erous!

Super Mario Bros. 3 is a challenging game. It's by no means "NES Hard", a term coined by fans and players of the era, but it's also not a cakewalk either. With the Super Mario Advance 4 version, niceties like save anywhere, being able to stockpile more power-ups and items in your inventory to use on the map (collected from Toad Houses, Hammer Bros (or some variant of Bro) battles, and other methods from each world's map), and the ability to revisit worlds make for a less frustrating, less agonizing experience.

Mario's "nope-ing" out of being here faster than you can say that enemy's name!

Speaking of challenging levels, perhaps the most intriguing part of the Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mario Bros. package (the latter of which has been in every Super Mario Advance game prior, so it's really well-trodden territory at this point) is that of e-Reader bonus content. Think of it as DLC via scannable cards courtesy of an old Game Boy Advance peripheral--you guessed it, the e-Reader. Thankfully, the recently released Nintendo Switch Online version of the game arrived with the major part of the e-Reader's functionality--new levels made specifically for Super Mario Advance 4--already included. 

It's difficult to speak the importance of all-new 2D Mario levels for when this game originally released. The last full 2D Mario game released prior to the Super Mario Advance series and this fourth installment was Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins waaaay back in 1992. Note: I'm talking about a game with a fully playable Mario, so my apologies to Yoshi's Island, even though one can make a very well presented argument of the contrary. That said, until Super Mario Advance 4, all entries in the Advance series featured no new levels at all, so this was a pretty big deal in many ways. We wouldn't get a new 2D Mario until New Super Mario Bros., which was event unto itself, but I digress there!

The over 30 unique levels featured as essentially bonus DLC to Super Mario Advance 4 are quite extensive and elaborate levels. They're also some of the most difficult in Mario series history. Much like Super Mario Bros. 3's base levels, these e-Reader ones feature no checkpoints, which can make them more frustrating to tackle. This is especially so if you're searching high and low for Advance Coins in each level, or in some levels, the super-hidden, hard-to-reach e-Reader Coins. 

Either way, levels basically take everything from past Super Mario Advance games. Some levels feature plucking up vegetables from the ground or digging into sand a la Super Mario Bros. 2 (aka the original Super Mario Advance), while others feature power-ups like Super Mario Advance 2: Super Mario World's Cape Feather, enemies like Bumptys of Super Mario World 2: Super Mario Advance 3 fame, and even some challenges grabbed straight from Super Mario Bros. 3, only made harder--like a battle with TWO Boom-Booms as opposed to the usual one. 

Hey! You're in the wrong game! ..Aren't you? I guess the rulebook is thrown out of the window in these e-Reader levels!

Super Mario Advance 4 has a similar presentation to that of the Super Mario All-Stars version back on the Super Nintendo. Essentially the visuals were taken almost 1:1 directly from that compilation, much like Super Mario Advance's version of Super Mario Bros. 2. There are some added effects as well as some missing ones, too. The major difference is that of sound. If you're not a stranger to the GBA hardware, particularly that sound chip, then you are familiar with how tinny the monaural sound and music can be. The music is lesser quality than the Super Nintendo version of Super Mario Bros. 3, but serviceable yet as always, suitably catchy as well. Like past Super Mario Advance games, Nintendo laid it thick on the voice clips, so be ready to hear "Just what I needed" from Mario a few hundred times throughout your adventures together.

One of the lovely but perilous world maps Mario/Luigi will find themselves venturing along.

Overall, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 unquestionably had the most love and care put into it by virtue of the endearingly made bonus levels originally an e-Reader exclusive. Now, with an NSO Expansion subscription, one need not track down packs of cards hoping to get something good out of them. As stated earlier, instead they're all within the game as is. With tight controls that one would expect from the Super Mario series, over 100 levels to enjoy (and curse towards, at times, admittedly), and one of Mario's finest adventures in handheld form, Super Mario Bros. 3 shines like the portly plumber racing through a level with a Starman--colorful and brightly, making Super Mario Advance 4 a fantastic package for any SMB3 or platforming fan in general.

[SPC Says: A]

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