Review: Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Brothers 3 (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Brothers 3
System: Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action Platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 10/20/03

Super Mario Brothers 3 can be considered one of the all-time greatest games to ever be released. At the time, it was nothing like we’ve ever seen before. Levels upon levels, power-ups everywhere you looked, and such a diversity of enemies and locations made this THE ultimate Mario game for the NES. It was later updated graphically and put on the Super Mario All-Stars collection cartridge. It’s beauty increased, but the gameplay remained largely the same. And now, the game is released again as part of the Super Mario Advance series.

I have the fondest of memories of SMB3. I was a mere lad of ten when I first played the game. I spent hours upon hours going through the stages and figuring out all the little secrets. When I heard that it was finally being released on the GBA, I was overjoyed. I could relive my childhood memories all over again.

And so I bought it. And I played it. And I beat it. I should have felt good, but…

But…

Something was missing. Something was wrong. But what was it? Why doesn’t this feel the same? Read on to find out.

STORY

Chaos is erupting throughout the Mushroom Kingdom and its neighboring lands. Bowser’s seven children, the Koopa Kids, have stolen magical scepters from the emperors of these lands and transformed them into animals! Princess Peach calls upon Mario and Luigi to stop these kids from reeking havoc.

Alas, the Koopa Kids are merely a distraction. While the hero plumbers are out storming castles and crashing airships, Bowser himself captures the Peach! And once again, Mario has to rescue her.

The story may be simple, but most Mario games are. But considering its fifteen years old, it fits perfectly with the game. Plus, it stands the test of time rather well.

Story: 7/10

GRAPHICS

The graphics are heavily based on the Super Mario All-Stars build of the game. They translate very well on the GBA. In fact, they look a bit more cleaned up than they did before, which is excellent. The Mario and Luigi sprites take a step back when compared to Super Mario World, looking slightly less detailed. However, they are taken directly from All-Stars, so it’s understandable. Overall, the game looks VERY beautiful.

Also of note is the fact during a level, all your vital information is kept at the top of the screen instead of a blue bar at the bottom. This is to make the level seem larger than it once was, I guess.

Graphics: 9/10

SOUND

The music is also transplanted from the SNES version of the game. However, it seemed to suffer a bit in the translation. It sounds a bit “tinnier” in this game than it did before. To be honest, though, I don’t like some of the SNES remixes of the SMB3 music. I mean, they’re okay, but the instruments used weren’t the best.

Additional sound bytes were added to the game, as with the other GBA Mario games. Mario and Luigi both have their standard voice samples returned to them, although it looks like nothing new was recorded. Plus, the voices aren’t used as much as before. Other sound effects include the Boos making noises when they move, Peach screaming for help, as well as some other small effects transplanted from Super Mario World.

Sound: 7/10

CONTROL

When you initially start the game, it plays just as you remember it. You’re taken to a world map, filled to the brim with stages, mini-games, and other assorted stuff. There are eight worlds all together, with 90 regular levels when you add them up.

On the map, you can access an inventory of items that you collect outside of the main stages. Items consist of either power-ups or special items you can only use on the map. In the old games, you could only hold 28 items, but Nintendo upped the total to 36 for the GBA. And you can see all your items at once rather than only a few at a time.

There are several kinds of stages you can go into. The main stages are blue/black squares that you cannot pass over until you clear them. Fortresses are tiny castles that serve like a “mid-boss” level. When you reach the end of one, you’ll face a mid-boss. Defeat him to crumble the fortress and access new parts of the map. Then there are the castles, which are the “level boss” levels. You don’t actually fight in the castle, though. Instead, you’ll storm an airship that’s just leaving the castle. Make your way through it, and you’ll face one of the seven Koopa Kids. Defeating them restores that level’s emperor back to normal, and allows you to progress to the next one. Also of note is that during your first play-through, you CAN’T go back to a world after you completed it. More on this later.

You’ll also want to be on the look out for Hammer Brothers that troll the map. Once you get into contact with one, you’ll be forced to fight them. Winning warrants a power-up, while losing gets your puts your lives down by one.

Outside of the challenging levels are places to power-up. There are Toad Houses, which offer you a choice between three treasure chests for power-ups. Then there is the sliding picture mini-game, represented by a spade. This involves three sliding bars, each with a piece of a picture. If you manage to complete it, you’ll earn extra lives. New to this version, however, is the fact that these stages can be upgraded! If you succeed once, the panels will change to hearts, and you’ll be given an opportunity to earn more lives. Succeed here, and the panels will change to clubs, and you can earn even MORE lives. Finally come the diamond panels, which should give you a guaranteed life boost. If you fail at any time, however, the panels go back to spades. In any case, you can’t go back to these points once you finish them either.

Finally, every so often, a spade with an “N” will appear on the field. Go to it to start a matching game. Matching various icons will add either add power-ups to your inventory, or give you extra coins and 1-Ups.

Once you’re in a stage, Mario controls just as you remembered him. A is for jumping, B is for actions and running fast, and the D-Pad to move him around. Like in SMW, Mario can interact with his environment by grabbing various objects. He can grab Koopa shells, as well as glowing blue blocks in order to use them later. This was a HUGE addition way back in the 1980s, but now its all standard stuff.

And it wouldn’t be a Mario game without power-ups, now would it? And you’re in luck too, because there are a TON of power-ups to be seen! Mario staples, such as Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman all make their returns. And if I have to explain what THOSE do, you obviously don’t belong here.

Anyway, lots of new power-ups were added for this game, and were never seen since. There’s the Super Leaf, which gives Mario raccoon ears and a tail. You could whip your tail at enemies, and you have the ability to fly! This was basically the prototype for the Feather and Cape combo in SMW. You also have access to three special “suits”. First is the Frog Suit, which allows you to swim faster in water levels. Its pretty useless outside of the water, however. Next is the Tanooki Suit, which gives you all the powers of the Super Leaf, as well as the nearly useless ability to turn into a statue! (Its only worth it to get the funny messages at the end of a level.) Finally, my personal favorite, the Hammer Suit. You get to throw hammers ala the Hammer Brothers, and if you duck, you are impervious to fireballs! I love that suit. It’s also the scarcest suit in the game, so save it for when you need it!
There are also power-ups you can get you can only use on the map. There are P-Wings, which make you Raccoon Mario, but you can fly anywhere for one stage. You have the Music Box, which puts the Hammer Brothers on the map to sleep. You have the “Happy Cloud”, which allows you to pass over a stage you haven’t cleared yet.

And what use would these power-ups be without the right enemies to throw them at? Well, there are TONS of enemies to thrash here. Baddies from the original Super Mario Bros. returned, as well as tons of new faces. Paragoombas! Chain Chomps! Piranha Plants that spit fire! Huge fish that eat you if you get to close! Plus, there are plenty of enemies that have never been seen outside of the game, such as cannon balls, wrench-throwing moles, and Mimi-Bloobers. You’ll have a lot of fun going through and smacking around the baddies.

The one thing that gets me is the fact that you can only save your game if you want to quit. There is NO “Save & Continue” option found in the previous Advance games. This was even a feature in Super Mario All Stars! Why this was taken out is anybody’s guess.

Control: 9/10

REPLAYABILITY

Here is where the game falls apart. And I mean FALLS APART.

First off all, when you complete all the main stages in a level, you’ll get a screen saying that world has been “Perfect Cleared”. Once you’ve beaten the game and obtained all the Perfect Clears, then what?

Well, now you can go back to ANY stage, including all the mini-game stages and Toad Houses. Sounds good, right?

Its not as good as you think.

It’s not like Super Mario World, where there are hidden stages and special coins to collect. All you are left with are extremely short stages with hardly any secrets to uncover.

Well, I shouldn’t say that. In ONE stage in every level, there is a “coin collection” mission, where you must collect a certain number of coins. Collect them all, and you’ll get to go to a special Toad House. But what do you get? One of two things: P-Wing, or an Anchor. The thing is, P-Wings are useless now you’ve beaten every stage. And Anchors are COMPLETELY useless all together. They may keep the boss airships from escaping, but the stages are already done! You never have to do them again if you don’t want to!

And don’t tell me there are hidden power-ups in these stages. If you know where to look, you can find all the power-ups you need from Toad Houses and Hammer Brothers battles. Just go into a house again and again for the same power-up! I mean they aren’t random. You can easily fill your inventory with Hammer and Tanooki suits for use later. Even special items like Warp Whistles are now infinite. And I find that disappointing.

The whole challenge in the original SMB3 was the fact that you had to go from stage to stage with a limited amount of items. You use up a power-up? It’s GONE! You can’t get it back unless you manage to come across it again. Once you beat the game here, you have access to every item as long as you know where to look. The challenge is now gone. You have unlimited power-ups to conquer incredibly short stages! It was NEVER meant to be this way!

Well, there IS e-Reader support, but I’ll cover that later.

Replayability: 4/10

BALANCE

The stages range on a scale from “very easy” to “mildly challenging”. You’ll have no problem breezing through all 90 stages in a few days. Me? I beat them ALL in a 17 hour period, including 6 1/2 hours of sleep, AND restarting multiple times for the hard levels.

What the hell happened? This game was challenging ten years ago when I first played it! I heard that Nintendo added additional blocks to make some stages easier, but that can’t be the whole thing! I guess I’m just too used to Super Mario World, where they GIVE you a power-up spot, and the levels are still challenging.

Balance: 5/10

ORIGINALITY

This is a rerelease of a game that’s been released twice before. It’s been modified slightly, but its nothing that hasn’t been done before. I mean, it was original back in the ’80s, but not today.

Originality: 3/10

ADDICTIVENESS

The game is very addicting when you have things left to accomplish. I mean, I love playing through from start to finish, no matter WHAT version I’m playing. But once you’ve finished all the stages…well…there’s really not much of a reason to return.

Addictiveness: 5/10

APPEAL FACTOR

This game is going to have one WIDE audience. I mean, COME ON! It’s a MARIO title! Old fans will snap it up simply because it’s a re-release of and old classic they enjoyed years ago. New fans will check it out because it’s (a) a Mario game, and (b) something they missed out on all those years ago. And e-Reader fans will want it considering it has e-Reader support. So this game won’t be hurting for a fan base.

Appeal Factor: 8/10

MISCELLANEOUS

One of the main selling points that I haven’t even TOUCHED on yet is the fact that SMA4 supports the e-Reader. In fact, that’s where 90% of the game’s extras come in. You’ll be able to buy special e-Card packs that you can scan into the game. Series 1 and 2 are out right now, and they contain 16 cards in each. There are four categories of cards so far: Level Cards, Demo Cards, Power-Up Cards, and Switch Cards.

Level Cards allow you to scan brand new levels into the game that you can play in “World-e”. Demo Cards will let you see special replays of certain levels that show you HOW they should be played. Power-Up Cards will scan power-ups into your inventory. Switch Cards will activate brand new gameplay elements, such as SMB2 vegetables, the SMW cape, and the ability to turn enemies into coins with fireballs.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. I just lambasted the complete lack of replay value without taking the e-Reader into account. While its true that someone with an e-Reader can do more with this game, people who DON’T have an e-Reader will be shut out completely. To scan these cards in, you’ll need an 2 GBAs (or a GBA and GB Player), an e-Reader, and a link cable. Those who don’t have all the parts to the equation will be left out completely. Plus, the Power-Up cards are completely USELESS. Yes, you can scan infinite Frog Suits and Super Leaves and such, but I can already get those things when I go to the Toad Houses after I beat the game!

All in all, the e-Reader can lengthen the game a little, but Nintendo’s execution of it is flawed and can’t be enjoyed by everyone.

Miscellaneous: 6/10

The Ratings
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Control: 9/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 3/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 6/10
Average Rating: 6.2/10.0
— Reviewer’s Tilt: Rounded to 6.5 (ABOVE AVERAGE)