Mario Pinball Land
Mario takes to pinball form and tilts his way in an all new adventure for the GBA!
Nintendo has always been about developing games that give us unique gameplay experiences, and Mario Pinball Land is at the forefront of innovative design. Essentially a fusion between your standard Mario adventure and pinball, the game is a lot of fun if you can look past a couple of negative quirks.
As usual, Bowser's kidnapped Princess Peach, this time taking her to another dimension. By dumb luck, there's a machine that can transform people into pinballs, and Mario hops in and is launched into the pinball version of the Mushroom Kingdom. In it you'll find all of the familiar things you'd expect to see in your typical Mario adventure: goombas, koopa troopas, piranha plants, scary boos, stars, coins, toads, humongous bosses, and pipes, except instead of jumping on top of enemies and smashing blocks with his head, you use flippers to knock Mario around the environments. It's a very cool idea, and it's executed well, but in order to enjoy it you need to realize that this is not your average pinball game. The boards (if you can even call them that), are split into sections, and in order to get to the top-most part you need to complete objectives such as collecting keys and slamming into doors. Also, you can collect stars (to reveal a secret), or coins (to buy special items).
Pinball Land's gameplay is enjoyable. It's just fun to be using Mario as an indestructible weapon against waves of enemies. However, the game is sometimes frustrating because of close quarters. Unlike other pinball games, hitting Mario with a flipper doesn't send him to the top of the board. It may cause him to smack off the far side of the mini board and send him quickly speeding downward right through both flippers. Also, you can't tilt the boards, so you're limited in Mario's direction. In addition to that, it's too easy to accidentally pass through doors that lead to other areas, a problem because if you were close to clearing out the previous room, everything will reset (enemies included) when you go back down.
Lastly, the game is rather short, offering us a handful of worlds to clear. There's a Time Attack mode to mess around with, but it's not enough to warrant multiple plays, which means this game will either sit in your bag for months, or you'll quickly return it back to the store.
The jury's still out whether Mario Pinball Land will appeal to the masses, but no one can debate the quality of its visuals. Simply put, it's one of the greatest-looking portable games ever made. Though not as crisp, it looks like the character models were taken right out of Super Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube. Enemies are animated very well, and the environments (which include grass land, snow, and water, just to name a few) are gorgeous and well-detailed. What this means is Pinball Land will look marvelous whether it's on the GBA's tiny screen or stretched across your television. It's a true showpiece for the hardware.
Unfortunately, the game's sound isn't as stellar as its visuals. The sound clips are fine, as Mario makes all sorts of noise, but the music is awkward. Instead of pumping the speakers with familiar Mario themes, Pinball Land features this weird circus music that, while not terrible, doesn't really fit the game.
The bottom line is this: had Nintendo done a straight-forward pinball game it would've been well-done but boring because we've seen mascot pinball before, so Mario Pinball Land is a welcome change of pace. Of course, the fact that it's been so well done is the bonus. It may irk you on occasion, but it's definitely worth checking out.
What's Hot: An interesting twist on the Mario theme.
What's Not: Board designs can become repetitive.