Super Mario Advance is a portable remake of the NES Super Mario trilogy's black sheep. While Super Mario Bros. 2 is a departure from the classic Super Mario formula, it still remains a beloved classic for many gamers.
Before we get to the review, let's summarize where this game came from. Back in the day when Super Mario Bros. 2 came out in Japan, Nintendo thought it was too difficult for western gamers so they opted to remake a game entitled Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic while replacing the cast with Mario characters. It is this game that the western world knows as Super Mario Bros. 2 while it is known in Japan as Super Mario USA. It has seen a few re-releases over the years and Super Mario Advance is one of the best ones. By the way, The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 would later be released in the west as part of Super Mario All-Stars under the title "The Lost Levels".
The first thing anyone notices when they first play Super Mario Bros. 2 is how radically different it is to the previous game. Levels look unfamiliar and feature quite a lot of verticality and exploration as opposed to the original's left-to-right layout. Also, enemies can't be defeated by jumping on their heads. Instead, you must uproot vegetables to throw at them or pick enemies up and throw them at each other. Is this really a Mario game? Players can choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Peach. Each character has their own abilities that make them unique. Mario is well-balanced, Luigi can jump high, Peach can float briefly, and Toad can quickly pick things up. Players will stick to their favourite character after some experimentation which makes the game all the more enjoyable.
Super Mario Advance looks and sounds great. The visuals utilize a wide colour palette and make the game much livelier than the original. Characters and enemies are animated well to show off their unique personalities. Stages are textured with distinct foregrounds and subtle backgrounds that make each level memorable. The music is infectious as it will have anyone whistling the cheerful soundtrack for days to come. That being said, there are only a few songs although each one is great and rarely gets repetitive. One thing that Super Mario Advance introduces is voices for the characters. They will each say congratulatory statements after the player completes certain events and bosses will taunt you. The voices add a great deal of personality and are a welcome addition. Sound effects also add a layer of auditory flourish as every action is reflected suitably.
Players will control the game without much difficulty. You can move left and right, jump by the push of a button, and run by holding down a button. While ducking, you will automatically charge up and can perform a super jump which is basically a higher jump than usual. Picking up enemies and items is easy as it only requires you to push a button while you're standing on the item that you want to pick up. A problem with the controls (that exists in the original game as well) is that it can get very irritating climbing ladders and vines since characters have the tendency to fall off if the player pushes left or right slightly. Someone must have buttered up every character's hands since they have absolutely no grip.
Super Mario Bros. 2 has a wide variety of levels that take place in hilly grasslands, slippery ice fields, sparse cloud-tops, and quicksand-ridden deserts. There are tons of hidden paths and features to be discovered within the many levels. Therefore, adventurous players will be rewarded for exploration. One of the oddest features is when players find a potion, they can smash it on the ground to generate a door that will take them to a mysteriously dark and mirrored world known as sub-space. Here, players will be limited to a static screen and have a limited time to uproot coins (instead of vegetables) and may even collect a mushroom to increase their maximum health if they placed the door within the same screen that the mushroom resides in. It sounds complicated but for some reason it makes sense and suits this wacky game quite nicely. You may also come across well-hidden warps that send you to further levels thus allowing you to skip large portions of the game, but why would you want to do that anyway?
Super Mario Advance adds a couple of interesting mechanics to the classic game such as allowing players to score points and obtain collectables. Most players probably won't care about getting a high score but it is satisfying seeing the score amounts pop up in balloon letters after you perform cool combos. You can collect red coins that are mostly located in inconvenient places throughout each level and after completing the game, you can revisit each level to find a couple of hidden Yoshi eggs within sub-space. These collectables are fun to obtain and add a lot of replay value for completionists. However, almost nothing is unlocked upon collecting everything (only the title screen changes). This is okay since completionists would be happy to simply collect everything and non-completionists probably wouldn't bother collecting these things in the first place.
One inherent problem with Super Mario Advance is the fact that the screen is too small. This forces players to pan the camera to see their surroundings in certain locations. Many cheap deaths occur because you may jump up and get hurt by an off-screen enemy. Also, the space between the character and the side of the screen is too narrow at times. Because of this, a quickly moving enemy may appear and easily catch you with your guard down before you have time to react. Thankfully, the small screen only causes these issues once in a while but it's still frustrating when it happens.
A remake of the original Mario Bros. is included where players can try to beat their high scores by themselves or play competitively against a friend. This game is fun except it suffers from the same small screen problem that Super Mario Bros. 2 has since players have to pan the camera around to keep an eye on the action. To make up for this, a second POW block (a feature that hurts all enemies) is included. Multiplayer will have players battle to see who can be the first to collect five coins and can be a lot of fun although it is short-lived.
Super Mario Advance is quite an ambitious package. It includes Super Mario Bros. 2 which has upgraded visuals and audio and a ton of extra content along with Mario Bros. which is full of score-beating and frantic multiplayer fun. Gamers can't go wrong with tracking down a copy of this Nintendo classic (or downloading it to their Wii U).
- + Well done remake of a classic Mario game
- + Added collectables increase replay value
- + Includes a remake of the original Mario Bros. complete with a multiplayer mode
- - Climbing ladders and vines is as irritating as ever
- - Small screen results in cheap deaths and having to scroll to see your surroundings