Review: Mario Pinball Land (Game Boy Advance)

Game: Mario Pinball Land
System: Nintendo Game Boy Advance
Genre: Action/Pinball
Developer: Fuse Games Limited
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 10/05/04

Oh look, it’s a new Mario game! And don’t that beat all! He’s taking to a new brand new genre: pinball! I guess it makes sense, considering he’s already covered racing games, golf games, tennis games, party games, puzzle games, role-playing games, and educational games. Why not jump into the pinball front?

Now I’ll give our favorite Italian plumber credit that many of his “off-shoot” games are enjoyable. I’m a big fan of the Mario Kart and Mario Tennis games, and I can’t get enough of his RPG adventures. It proves that one company mascot can have games in multiple genres and be wildly successful. However, not ever game can be golden. In fact, there are the select few that are crap. And for the purposes of this review, I have to play one of those select few.


STORY

Welcome to the Mushroom Kingdom, where all kinds of magic can happen wherever you look. You can also set your watch to when Princess Peach gets kidnapped. Things are no different here today!

In today’s scenario, Mario and Peach take some time off to go to a fair, and see a special cannon that turns you into a ball, and fires you at a target. Fun! So Peach gives it a go, and a bunch of Goombas sneak in, adjust the cannon’s direction, and fire her right into Bowser’s castle. WHAT ARE THE ODDS?!?!? Now Mario, instead of…you know…WALKING to Bowser’s castle, he transforms HIMSELF into a ball, and goes after her.

The story itself is a pretty shallow one. But lets face it; this is a MARIO game. There had to be SOME reason for Mario to grotesquely alter his appearance so he can roll around the field.

Story: 5/10


GRAPHICS

I can say the following statement without thinking twice: this is the most impressive-looking GBA title I’ve ever seen. Despite anything else I might say about this game, I will say that the graphics here blow anything else out of the water on this system.

The graphics run off a 3D-rendered isometric perspective. The tables are individual “rooms” with the camera set hovering over the flippers. When Mario rolls around on the screen, he actually looks like he’s rolling AWAY from you when going up, and TOWARDS you when rolling back down. All without involving a massive amount of polygons. This, in my view, is simply incredible.

The visuals are all vibrant and colorful. The character animation is very fluid for the most part. I find the larger characters are a tiny bit choppier than the smaller ones, but that is easily forgiven. You’ll be hard pressed to find a game that looks quite like this on the GBA any time soon.

Graphics: 10/10


SOUND

The music in this game is…okay. It’s not bad, but it’s not spectacular. I wouldn’t even describe it as “traditional Mario flavor,” either. The music consists of some generic tunes based the themes in the tables, and it really doesn’t add that much to the game. In fact, you kinda tune the music out after a while. It just fades into the background.

Of course Mario has his few choice sound bites here as well. Most of them consist of grunts and groans from being flung around the screen so much, but there are a few new bits in there, like “Combo!” and such. All and all, there’s nothing to really get excited about, but nothing to get disappointed over either.

Sound: 6/10


CONTROL & GAMEPLAY

And now, the category that makes or breaks this game. You can probably guess which it is, but lets get to the gameplay aspect first.

Mario Pinball Land is an ambitious take on the traditional pinball game, instead combining pinball gameplay with Mario-like platforming elements. (No, this is not like Sonic Spinball, although the games share a few similarities in that regard.) Instead of having to stay on one table, you can switch between different tables at will (assuming you complete certain objectives first). There are enemies on each table you can kill by smacking them with Mario. You collect coins and stars just like any traditional Mario title. Most of the power-ups are there, including mushrooms and such. It’s an interesting combination, to be sure. Even the infamous “red coin” missions can be found if you play long enough.

Now, if you’re familiar with any specific Mario game, you’ll know that your goal is to collect stars. Well, you need to collect stars here as well. In order to do that, you’ll need to complete a certain objective on any given screen to make a star appear. For example, killing all the enemies on a screen will net you a star. Other times, you’ll need to solve a puzzle. Now, you’ll NEED these stars in order to access new areas in the tables. There are also bosses you can face, which give you special keys you can use in Bowser’s castle that lead you to the final boss battle.

I will give the game credit for developing some creative and interesting pinball tables. As usual, you get to see the creativity found in all Mario games rather easily here. There’s a variety of enemies, an interesting assortment of puzzles, and plenty of items to collect and use on the table. And yet…

THE CONTROLS KILL WHATEVER ENJOYMENT YOU MAY HAVE WITH THIS GAME.

Oh, MAN. There is SO MUCH HERE, and the controls suck everything away. Yes, they are THAT BAD.

For one, the pinball physics are incredibly unrealistic. Now for a simple GBA game, I wouldn’t expect perfect pinball physics by any stretch of the imagination. However, the physics here are horrible. Simply horrible. One touch of a flipper will send Mario FLYING through the table, careening off of all the walls and objects there are…except for where you were aiming. Seriously, the flippers will send Mario in every direction except where you want to go. And the faster Mario goes, the less accurate your flipper presses are. And considering they weren’t that accurate to begin with…oh geez…

This major malfunction makes the “corner button” issue in DDR Extreme an innovative feature.

Another gripe is the fact that while this plays more like an action title, you are still playing what seems to be a “normal” pinball game. Meaning you have three balls, get bonuses, etc. The interesting thing is that when you get a star, you obtain a one-time bonus. It’s a bonus that you can NEVER get again, unless you start a new game. Why it is set this way, I don’t know, but it’s there. Sheesh.

And the way most of the rooms are designed don’t help, either. For example, when you enter a room (assuming you can), you get one shot to complete your objective. If you fall through the flippers back into the room you were in previously (and you do this at least 20 times before winning), the room will reset, and you’ll have to start the puzzle ALL OVER AGAIN! You have no idea how irate this makes me, especially considering you could be on Step #8 on a 9-step puzzle that took forever to get to where you wanted it, and you get to do it from scratch. FUN.

I’m sorry, but the developers REALLY dropped the ball here. To make a game that looks appealing, than taunt you by making it virtually unplayable…DAMN! I NEVER thought Nintendo would focus on graphics rather than gameplay. For shame. For shame.

Control & Gameplay: 2/10


REPLAY VALUE

I’m sorry, but if there is a game that I literally CAN’T PLAY, than not much is going to bring me back. Granted there are plenty of stars, and some interesting tasks to complete, but again, it will take me 20 minutes to leave the FIRST ROOM on any given table. And then I’ll fail the task given to me in the second room in 10 seconds. This is one of the few Nintendo games that I WON’T be coming back to.

Well, there’s a “Time Attack” mode, but the only time attack I run is how fast I can return this to the store. (Official time: three days, 2 hours, 14 minutes. A NEW RECORD!)

Replay Value: 3/10


BALANCE

Once again, the controls factor heavily into the balance factor of the game. There really is no learning curve. The tasks to perform to get stars are al around the same difficulty, and the bosses range from either easy-to-impossible. And it doesn’t range in between bosses, either. The SAME BOSS could be really easy or impossible depending on the AI. Oh, and good luck facing Bowser himself. They made that fight SO FREAKISHLY MIND-NUMBINGLY IMPOSSIBLE that you probably won’t beat him for months. And you won’t want to play this game for months, either.

Balance: 4/10


ORIGINALITY

This game tries to offer new twists to the pinball formula. It really tries to stand out from the current crop of pinball titles, such as Pokemon Pinball R/S and Sonic Pinball Party. But it tries too hard. It tries to incorporate as much of Mario’s platforming elements as it can while still remaining a pinball game. And in the process, they completely forgot to incorporate workable controls. What a loss. What a loss.

Originality: 5/10


ADDICTIVENESS

This game is not addicting. This game is the complete OPPOSITE of addicting. I’m completely serious. I can’t control this game worth crap, and the game makes no allowances to help me out. This game makes me mad. No, worse than mad. It makes me ANGRY. I get incredibly ANGRY after playing this game. I felt like I could take a life after playing for 45 minutes. I had to enlist in group therapy for anger management after two days. (Okay, I made that last part up…but it COULD have happened!)

Addictiveness: 1/10


APPEAL FACTOR

Now here’s the sad thing. This is a Mario game. Kids will say: “Look, Mommy! It’s Mario!” And the mommies will buy the game, children none the wiser of the crap they requested. The mommies will say “Hey, a new Mario game! My child will LOVE this for Christmas!” And the mommies will buy it to surprise their children, not knowing that coal would be a better substitute. The final nail in the coffin? The game is $34.95. WAY too expensive for crap. And I paid for it. And I there was a $21 difference in trade-in value. Ugh.

Appeal Factor: 5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

It is not often I’m genuinely disappointed in a gaming company. But I have to say that I am INCREDIBLY disappointed today. The fact that Nintendo took a game with a promising concept, and focused too much on the graphics rather than the gameplay is shocking to say the least. Nintendo NEVER does this. There’s always a balance I’ve come to expect with Nintendo controls, especially with Mario games. That balance was heavily tilted with this game. I am surprised, and I have been incredibly let down. (Sigh) I suppose that even The Big N can make catastrophic disasters every now and then.

Miscellaneous: 2/10