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Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Brothers 3 Package Art

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Brothers 3

The holiday season is upon us, and that can mean only one thing: Nintendo is getting all geared up to retread and re-release another ancient NES game for the Super Mario Advance series. But this year is different, because Nintendo has finally caved in to pressure from their fans and brought us Super Mario Brothers 3, the crown jewel of them all. Does the game stand the test of time, or does it simply rely on fuzzy nostalgic memories kindled by the hype machine that made it larger than life back in 1990?


The game's graphics are essentially unchanged from the version included in Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES, which was in turn a minimal facelift to the graphics from the 8-bit original. That said, these were some of the absolute best 8-bit graphics ever rendered, and it's a joy to see them so faithfully recreated. In fact, the few touch-ups that have been made -- specifically to Toad and Princess Toadstool's sprites -- seem a bit out of place and awkward. The sprites are generally plain, but always crisp and clear, never trying to bite off more than the GBA can chew.


Super Mario Brothers 3 was packed with memorable ditties which have made a generally successful conversion. A few of the songs -- the "underground" theme in particular -- sound just a bit off when compared to their original versions, but these problems don't spring up very often. Unfortunately, the Mario brothers are fully-voiced once again, with the same old sound bites they've been rattling off since the first Super Mario Advance.


Super Mario Brothers 3 is platforming at its finest. Its ninety levels are separated into eight worlds, each with its own unique theme:

  • Grass Land is a fairly straight-forward introductory world.
  • Desert Land features deadly quicksand and labrynthine pyramids.
  • Water Land has quite a few underwater levels and lots of flying fish.
  • Giant Land is home to some truly huge enemies and comically oversized terrain.
  • Sky Land is split into two maps connected by a tall, tall tower: one on terra firma, and the other high up in the clouds.
  • Ice Land is full of treacherously slippery surfaces and sudden falls.
  • Pipe Land is filled with mazes, made up of the trademark warp pipes for which the Super Mario series is famous.
  • Dark Land is Bowser's private world, where you'll have to face an awesome display of military might.

The level design in the game is unmatched. The obstacle courses are set up to favor fast reflexes, sharp wits, and an inclination to explore nooks and crannies. This game was made back when Nintendo didn't mollycoddle their players; many levels are good and tough, especially further into the game, and will require several attempts before you get it just right. Every level seems to have its own gimmick; some levels contain enemies that only make one appearance in the game, while others have rare power-up items and bonus rooms hidden away.

And speaking of power-ups, Super Mario Brothers 3 has more of them than any other Mario game. In addition to the classic fireballs, Mario can find a raccoon suit that allows him to fly, a tanooki suit that allows him to temporarily hide from enemies as a statue, a frog suit that allows him to swim precisely underwater and make huge leaps on dry land, and even a Hammer Brothers suit that allows him to fling hammers or hide from fireballs under his shell. Each and every form has its particular strengths and weaknesses; despite the multitude of powerup options, they're quite well balanced. A lot of the fun of the game lies in finding the right suit for each job.

What really sets Super Mario Brothers 3 apart from most 2-D platformers is the amount of involvement with the overworld map. Every world in the game has its share of hidden paths, alternate routes, and secret bonus spots waiting to be found. If you cross paths with the Hammer Brothers that wander around the map, you'll have to battle them to try and win a special item. In an RPG-styled twist, Mario can even keep an inventory of items and power-ups and decide which ones to use before entering a level. Some items are specifically designed to have an effect on the overworld map, whether it's to skip levels or uncover new paths.

Unfortunately, just like every other game under the Mario Advance title, Nintendo just couldn't leave well enough alone and release a straight port. Fans of the original will find that a lot of tinkering has been done with the level design, mostly for the sake of making the game easier. Sure, it's generally the subtle things -- some of the fire-spitting Pirahna Plants have been exchanged for normal ones, an extra block has been added to the platforms here and there to give you a little more room for error when you're judging a jump -- but a trip down memory lane can be a little jarring when you can see all the places where it was repaved.

It's not all bad, however. Nintendo has gone all-out to make sure that Super Mario Advance 4 supports every trick the Game Boy Advance can pull. In addition to the standard support for single-pack multiplayer in the original Mario Brothers, the game also supports the Game Boy Player, offering a rumble option when you play with the standard Gamecube controller. Sleep mode is implemented to complement the game's permanent (at the castles) and temporary (anywhere) save slots. You can even save a replay of a performance in any given level -- two in each save slot.

The biggest change to this game, of course, is the addition of e-Reader support. The amount of equipment required is a bit daunting -- two GBAs, an e-Reader, and a link cable, not to mention the cards themselves, which are sold separately in booster packs -- but the extras they add to the game are rather clever. Three types of cards are available. Demo cards load up a short movie to show you how to perform a certain task, whether it's speeding through a level or collecting unlimited 1-ups. Power-up cards allow you to instantly swipe any item you like straight into your inventory, including the cape feather from Super Mario World, or to cause some sort of special change to the game mechanics; you can make veggies sprout in every world to make the game more like Super Mario Brothers 2, or you can change the rules so that a coin appears whenever you hit an enemy with a fireball, like in Super Mario World.

But the main reason most people will bother with this game is for the Level cards. These cards actually contain data for new levels that show up in the game's special "World-e". The levels released so far have been fairly impressive, including elements from just about every 2-D Mario game ever made. One level is a complete recreation of World 1-1 from Super Mario Brothers, right down to the flagpole at the end. There's also a puzzling ghost house, a new tank level with an automatic-scrolling interior section, a valley full of vegetables, and more. It's nice to see that Nintendo's not afraid to make some truly tough new levels for this game -- thrill seekers need look no further than the "Para Beetle Challenge". Still, there's no guarantee that this project's going to have any major sort of longevity, and the booster packs are quite pricey considering how very little content you can actually swipe from them -- there's only five levels in each pack. And of course, it only serves to remind us that Nintendo could just as easily made this a brand-new, full-length game. As an answer to downloadable content, it suffices, but it's nowhere near as convenient.


The same old Mario Brothers game is back for another go, but much more importantly, Nintendo has made it possible to play the original SMB3 two-player game in a sort of "hot seat" game. When you choose to play a "Mario & Luigi" game, you can take turns playing with a friend: one player is Mario, and the other is Luigi. The brothers have separate inventories, so you can play competitively to grab as many items as possible, or cooperatively to try and reach the end of the game together. Luigi can drop in and out of the game almost at will, which is nice if you want to bring a friend into the middle of a game. The simultaneous battle mode isn't implemented, however.


It's hard to be objective about a game when I've played it so often that my thumbs are precisely in tune with the exact rhythm they need to move in to beat any given level. Although it's disappointing that Nintendo still hasn't made a new Mario game for the Game Boy Advance, at least they've finally gotten around to Mario's biggest adventure ever. Like a classic novel, Super Mario Brothers 3 is good enough to deserve a reissue every few years to keep it available to new generations of gamers.

Still, it seems that this game is poised to be a major let-down. Newcomers to the game who are accustomed to the current game generation may be turned off by its astonishingly short playtime and lack of "100% clear" bonuses, while veterans will find very little reason to pick up this version unless they're willing to pony up for the e-Reader cards. It's my fond hope that the Super Mario Advance series will end here. As nice as it is to relive fond goomba-stomping memories, it's high time that Mario and Luigi moved on to something new.

final score 9.0/10

Staff Avatar Ed Griffiths
Staff Profile | Email
"Nothing can kill the Grimace!"

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