Review by Yoh_of_Izumo
"Graphically and Musically Strong, though Gameplay Debilitated"
I have played many different genres of games ranging from the basic role-playing games to first person shooter, but this is only the second time I have ever tried a pinball game designed for portable usage (my first was Pokemon Pinball) first Mario pinball game though. Nintendo joined forces with a company called Fuse Games Limited to create a pinball game that incorporates the elements of a regular Mario game from power-up items to Toad to Bowser. Though I had never heard of Fuse Games Limited before (yet of course Nintendo), I was rather surprised to come across a game that reasonably took the genre of pinball on the portable Nintendo Gameboy Advance to the full capabilities of the system. Everything in this games has potential, yet the gameplay lets down this capable gem. Graphics are beautifully designed in the atmosphere of the N64 Super Mario 3D era even though the simplicity of the game comes down to a simple board and two flippers. The music is wonderfully designed for each board, each boss, and each scenario, and never gets repetitive or boring, and soon you'll start humming to it; heck, I even played one of the songs on my trumpet (the one where Mario is under the sea on the board with three treasure chests and a sunken ship). But disappointingly, graphics and music are not the key elements in a pinball game: it is gameplay. Pinball games are about the ability to move the pinball around the map with logical movement. Though obstacles may hinder you way, and be accepted, nonsensical detours or non-detected hits (even though you did hit them) can truly upset a gamer. While I will go more in-depth in the review, the gameplay can be rather frustrating at times, and the difficulty can sometimes prove patience-busting. Besides gameplay, there is also replayability, and though it is not that important of a factor, after beating this game, you will wish to place this game on the shelf for quite some time to calm your mind from wishing to rip your Gameboy or your game itself into pieces.
Now, enough with the intro, it is time to keep to the heart of the matter; onward we go!
Sadly, though this game had potential, the gameplay totally destroyed it by making the game over excessively more challenging than it needs to be. It is a pinball game, and not suppose to be a horrific obstacle course of luck and chance. While mulling around in the primary board at the Fair, everything seems decent, just hit the cannon, enter it, and you're off to one of the main four levels. Let's say you decide to select Desertland (the place with sand, a pyramid, etc ), and then you land in the rather sweltering heat of a Saharan Desert. The first star is rather simple to get: just destroy the two Cacti that are bobbling around in the sand. After that, you move up into the higher board. Now things start to get more challenging. Maybe you possess 10 stars, and you have the ability to go through any of the two doors of your choice. So, you decide that you want to take a journey into the right door. You hit it, but that only opens the door, now you must go in that direction again for Mario to pulled up into the higher board. Only problem is, if you hit the left door in your attempt to get through the already open right side, both doors close again, and then you must try again. Not only does this prove frustrating, but after 30 seconds of movement on the same board, the pipe disappears, and if you don't possess a Yoshi Egg or a replacement Pipe, the game becomes totally a matter of lack. Without the functions of tilt, the Pipe serves as a handicap to make the tilt function of pinball not necessary, but when the Pipe has gone and without an implemented tilt mechanism, a random knock can send you straight down into a lower board, only to try again to move into a higher board. This can prove rather boring as you try to move up and down, up and down, and you spend minutes just trying to maneuver a board. Not only this, if you don't maintain vigilance and you fall down through the primary board, there goes one of your lives. Now without a further hypothetical analysis on that situation, let's say you finally move into the right side and you encounter a pyramid. There are Condors flying around, and now you must knock them all out of the sky using the pyramid as a launching ramp. This can prove time consuming as this objective requires timing and sometimes luck. To make matters worse, there are two statues on the upper corners of the board that raise the pyramid. Raise the pyramid to its full height and a door appears, and after killing three of the four Condors, you accidentally enter the pyramid, so then you exit it to get back to the previous board. Lo and behold, you have to try to knock out the four Condors over again. Now while inside the pyramid, there are quite a bountiful amount of stars to encounter. You complete an objective and the star appears, but the only problem is that you hit a hidden switch and a panel of the floor disappears and you fall through oh crap, the star won't be there anymore when you return and you'll have to start over again. And that's just the start try to get all 35 stars; now that's an accomplishment.
Now besides a rather nuisance of gameplay mechanics, there are some spices that prevent the gameplay from falling through the floor. Now, while with most pinball games, there is no story. But in this pinball game there is a rather minor story hidden between all the whacks and enemies: you must save Princess Peach from Bowser's Castle (familiar, no?). The graphics and the music as well enhance the gameplay by allowing you to enjoy a pleasant atmosphere to play this annoying game through. Minigames as well as power-ups can assist in alleviating the built up tension as well, and with fun boss battles to play in, the game can be amusing, especially during your final battle with Bowser.
A story is not applicable in the final scoring of a pinball game, but if you really wish to know what a hardcore RPG player would give it it would receive a 1/10. Basically, it is the same trite story with a pinball twist to it. Mario and his friends are playing at the Fair with a machine that turns them into balls and then a cannon launches them onto a pinball board. When it's Peach's turn, Goombas hijack the party and turn the cannon towards Bowser's Castle. And now you must voyage through the world of pinball to acquire enough stars (15 to be exact) as well as four star keys (by defeating the four main bosses of the other boards) to enter the lair of Bowser and crush him.
The graphics of Mario Pinball land fully take the capabilities of the Nintendo Gameboy Advance to its capabilities. The graphics are beautifully rendered 3D images that mirror those of the Nintendo 64 Super Mario 64 game. For a pinball game, this is very surprising for usually graphics are not one of the main attacks of the gaming designer. The enemies are beautifully sculpted, the backgrounds and boards are wonderfully tuned, and the bosses look almost the exact same as those of the Super Mario 64 game. Yet, Bowser doesn't look as good. Though similar, not the same, of course the Super Mario 64 graphics are better, but for a tiny screen and portable gameplay, it is one of the better graphical engineering achievements that I have seen in quite some time for the portable system. It is not the regular 2D side-scroller that most people are familiar with when Mario is mentioned. Though Mario is mainly a pinball for the majority of the game, everything else is nicely attuned. On the Cacti, you can see the individual spikes that protrude, when Mr. Blizzard wishes to hurl a snowball at you to knock you off-course, you can see the wind-up, the pitch, and the actually snowball, and when the pyramid stands tall, the 3D blocks give testament to the graphical power of the structure and the game. It is just a shame that such graphical artwork had to only introduced to game in which graphical power is not the key essence.
The music is wonderfully composed as well with songs varying from each world scenario and each board map. Such as during boss battles, the music gets beating, while Mario floats underwater, the music is softly touched, and during timed events, the music accelerates to give you the illusion to work faster and be more attentive or lose the minigame or challenge. The music is fairly unique to this game, and I haven't recalled hearing the majority of it in any other Mario game. Even though all music on the Nintendo Gameboy Advance is done synthetically, usually through a keyboard, it truly offers some of the best Mario melodies that I have heard. Besides the very tasteful music, Mario is actually given a voice in this game, and it's always nice to hear Letzza Go or Super Bonus or Well Played, etc as many games do not incorporate voices at all.
Replayability can prove to be somewhat an anticlimax for most gamers who aren't into the pinball genre. After losing several games through the difficult obstacles that you must face to even acquire 15 stars, most people will wish to turn off the game and let it collect dust for a while before returning to it again to deviate from the main streamline of gaming. Though for those who wish to be true pinball fans, this game can prove very well for them. To complete the single player advantage, you must collect the total possible 35 stars that are available. With the 35 stars, you can also do challenges such as the Yoshi Egg challenge where you can cash in on millions of points. Besides such gameplay, a pinball fan may wish to attempt the highest score possible by after winning the game, trying their luck at a very pleasing aiming practice minigame. After finally finishing the adventure section of the game, there is also a sidequest called: Time Attack where you attempt to beat each board map in a certain time frame. This can prove challenging with all the obstacles in your way, but with luck and great timing, a superior pinball player can spend well over 10 hours on this pinball game (maybe even 20 hours if you can last that long).
Using my rating system for Gameboy Advance Pinball Games:
60% Gameplay, 0% Story, 15% Graphics, 5% Sound, 20% Replayability
Overall Game Rating: 6.4
OVERALL RATING: 6/10
Suggested Action: Borrow this game from a friend or from the store. Don't buy unless you enjoy playing pinball games.
Final Comments: Mario Pinball Land is a game that has possibly laid the foundation for future Mario pinball genre games. Hopefully from the mistakes that have occurred in this game, the game creators can improve and make a more worthwhile successor to it. It is not for those who never play pinball games, and just wish to have an easy game to play around with it. This game is one of the hardest games I have ever played with in terms of gameplay (a negative factor) and those who are used to a rather simplistic gameplay in other types of games or other pinball games such as those on Windows, etc will truly wish they had never encountered this.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/18/06
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