GBA Review: Mario Pinball Land
Review by: Hairball (hairball@sm128c.com)

Game Info

 System: Game Boy Advance
 ESRB: Everyone
 Genre: Pinball/Adventure
 # of Players: 1
 Size: 96 Megabits
 Developer: Fuse Games
 Publisher: Nintendo

 Game Save: Yes
 Multi-Pak Link: No
 Single-Pak Link: No

 Release Date:
 US: Oct 4, 2004
 EU: Nov 26, 2004

Screenshots:

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Final Score:
6.5/10

Reviewed on: December 3, 2004

As we all know by now, Mario is the face of Nintendo, and as a result has starred in a countless number of games, in different genres. Let's see, he's been in Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Smash Bros., he sure is one flexible fellow, being able to take any task that his creators at Nintendo dictate.

However, Mario in a pinball game is something that might just seem strange at first, it's not something you would expect to come from Nintendo. This isn't the first time Nintendo has made a pinball game with one of their lead franchises, Pokemon Pinball was released several years ago, and it was a considerable success, and it was an overall good title.

Mario Pinball Land is not just any typical pinball game, the pinball itself is Mario himself. Of course, this wouldn't come as a surprise, Bowser is back with his shenanigans once again. Bowser has blasted Princess Peach to his castle with the "Sky Cannon", and it's up to Mario to save the day again. In order to go into the Sky Cannon, Mario must squish himself into a ball, and then blast off to his new adventure.

Unlike most pinball games, Mario Pinball Land is a pinball adventure, the goal of the game is not to rake up a large number of points; there are actually tasks to complete. Much like Super Mario 64, you have to collect stars in order to enter certain doors which bring you to new pinball boards. In fact, those who have played Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine will see some familiar friends and foes. There are Goombas, Koopa Troopas, Shy Guys, Cheep Cheeps, those adorable penguins, and bosses such as Big Boo and Petey Piranha (from SMS).

Mario Pinball Land also has spectacular graphics considering it is operating on Game Boy Advance hardware. All the game boards featured are wonderfully rendered, and the game play is in isometric view. The different environments such as desert, grass fields, ice and snow, water, are all well-depicted, with nice lighting effects, the quality is almost close to what was be seen in early N64 releases. This game is certain one of the best, if not the best looking game in the GBA out in the market right now. Overall the music in this game has a circus feel, but after some time, the music gets a little annoying, it would have been nicer to stick with the traditional Mario tunes. And there are also the typical Mario voices that occur from time and time, this is nothing out of the ordinary in recent games.

So far, it sounds as though Mario Pinball Land is a great game, but there are some fundamental flaws in the gameplay. As mentioned earlier, this is a pinball adventure game, which means you are trying to perform tasks to advance. However, quite often this game just turns quite tedious. The paddles that control Mario aren't very accurate, and it does become difficult to get Mario to go where precisely you need him to.

The lack of control makes it difficult to attack enemies, and open doors. If there are several doors in the area where you are currently in, when you hit the final door, guess what, all of them would close on you. It looks like this is an artificial way to increase the length of the game from the developer. Another annoyance is when you fall out of your current area, into the area below. When you return, you will have to complete all the tasks all over again. It doesn't matter that you hit the boss 2 of 3 times, if you fall out, you have to do it all over again, and this can happen quite often too.

One thing that would shock people the most is that Mario Pinball Land does not have a tilt feature, you have to completely rely on the paddles to aim. Playing pinball without tilt is like playing hockey without a stick.

There are 5 stages found in Mario Pinball Land, each stage containing a few interconnected boards, they aren't particularly huge, and each level has a boss to defeat. You have to collect stars in order to advance. The level design is rather inadequate, for the most part they are just open areas with few objects and enemies, it might seem rather empty and bland to gamers. As you complete stages in the adventure mode, stages in the time attack mode will open up for you.

The save function also leaves something to be desired. First off, there is only one save slot. Secondly, in order for your game to be saved you must save the game manually, and exit back to the main menu. If you turn off your GBA during adventure play, you're screwed, the save data will be gone.

As a whole, Mario Pinball Land was a rather disappointing game. Yes, there are great graphics, but as many of us know, graphics are part of a game, gameplay is the most important portion of a game. The game would have been a good title had the developers reformed the stage design, so that it is more friendly and fair to the player, and implement a tilt function. It seems as though they had tried too hard. If Mario Pinball Land was kept simple, even as just a classic pinball game, the end the result would probably be different.

-- Hairball (hairball@sm128c.com)

Bottom Line: Squishing Mario into a pinball to send him off to his next adventure just wasn't the right idea.