The best reason to own the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color were Nintendo's exclusive titles. For the last decade, Nintendo has been the only publisher consistently releasing not only good games for the handheld, but delivering great exclusive titles like Tetris, The Legend Of Zelda: Links Awakening, and the many shades of Pokémon.
Its clear that the Game Boy Advance is the next step in handheld gaming—it is a next generation system with entirely new hardware and physical layout. While the Game Boy Advance is great, you could say that the hardware is willing but the software is weak. Instead of providing the system with an entirely new Mario as every major Nintendo launch has received, Nintendo choose to release a compilation package of two Mario games in a single cartridge called Super Mario Advance. The games in the package are the odd Super Mario Bros. 2, originally appearing on the NES and Mario Bros., which started as an arcade title like Donkey Kong. Theres also a Mario Battle multiplayer game thrown in for good measure.
Super Mario Bros. 2 could be excluded from the list of "true" Mario titles because it was not initially released as a Mario game in Japan. Super Mario Bros. 2 was created in 1988 when Nintendo of America wanted to release a new Mario adventure for Christmas. They knew that the next game in the Mario series (which would become Super Mario Bros. 3) was years from being released. Instead of waiting, Nintendo of America chose to make its own Mario game by morphing the Arabian-themed Doki Doki Panic into the latest Mario adventure. Essentially, Nintendo of America swapped out the images for the characters, turning Doki Doki Panics chubby Arabian guy into the overall-clad Mario and changing various items into hearts and mushrooms to fit with the Mario theme.
Even though it was adapted from a completely different game, Super Mario Bros. 2 shares many elements with the rest of the Mario series, such as precision jumping challenges, dodging parading bad guys, and collecting treasures and power-ups while adventuring through exotic worlds. Super Mario Bros. 2s greatest departure from the Mario family is its unique approach to interacting with the lineup of enemies. Traditionally in Mario games, enemies are knocked out when Mario lands on them. In Super Mario Bros. 2, landing on an enemy simply results in riding on top of it as it wanders about. This comes as a bit of a shock to many players who initially jump on the enemys head, wondering why it wont die. After landing on an enemy, the player can then power lift it over his head and throw it. Players can also uproot an assortment of vegetables from the ground to be used against Marios enemies.
Another new twist is that Super Mario Bros. 2 allows players to choose between one of four characters with individual traits. Luigi has a huge floaty leap, but not much upper body strength. Toad can power lift like an Olympian but is lacking in jumping ability. The Princess has a weird sort of levitation hop that definitely takes some getting used to. Mario, as always, is completely average. I appreciate the choice of a character to match a particular playing style, but it has little effect on the game. There are no new paths or special areas unique to individual characters, and the player doesnt need to modify their strategy much when playing a new character.
The Game Boy Advance version of Super Mario Bros. 2 sports some slight modifications from the previous versions of the game. The visuals almost exactly match the Super NES Super Mario All-Stars version of Super Mario Bros. 2 with a few new super-sized enemies and vegetables thrown in to show off the Game Boy Advances graphical power. Obviously the resolution has been flattened to fit on the new wide screen, but overall the game looks extremely crisp and bright. Nintendo has also included the option to save your progress so you dont have to play the entire game in a single sitting. The levels have been tweaked with slightly different landscapes and mixed-up enemy placement but for no discernable purpose. Super Mario Bros. 2 feels just as difficult (and frustrating) on the Game Boy Advance as it did over a dozen years ago. My favorite change in the game is the addition of the characters tendency to yammer through the game via digitized audio. Even through the shoddy Game Boy Advance speaker, you can distinctly hear Toads hilarious yell when attacked by a Shy Guy or Marios singing along to the tune that plays when you find a special mushroom.
Judged by itself, Super Mario Bros. 2 is a solid game with some interesting mechanics. There are imaginative bosses to battle, exotic places to explore, and a challenging adventure to undertake. With the exception of the unforgiving difficulty of the game, theres not much to gripe about. But when lined up with the rest of the Mario family, Super Mario Bros. 2 is clearly the adopted black sheep. Its jolting stop-lift-go-and-throw style is in sharp contrast to the other Mario games smooth flowing movement. Super Mario Bros. 2 may be enjoyable, but it lacks that magic that makes the other Mario adventures more than just jumping from platform to platform and landing on enemies.
The other game featured in Super Mario Advance that most people forget is Mario Bros., originally an early Nintendo game released after Donkey Kong. Mario Bros. occurs in a single non-scrolling area featuring a set of platforms and a pair of pipes located at the top and bottom of the screen. Spineys, crabs, flies and other baddies crawl out of the top pipes and make their way down the level to the bottom pipe. The players goal in the game is to knock out all of the enemies. This is done by jumping into the bottom of the platform and overturning any bad guys standing directly above Mario. The player then must race to kick the enemy off the screen before its able to flip back over. Once all the enemies are knocked out, a new round starts with a set of more difficult enemies to overcome.
Mario Bros. may have been an excellent game in 1983, but time has not proven kind. Its simple game mechanics and repetitive play make it feel more like an average mini-game in the latest Mario Party than a classic worth revisiting. In Super Mario Advance, Mario Bros. gets a single upgrade—a cooperative mode that now allows up to four players go through the game together rather than the previous two. But besides that, Nintendo made no modifications to the game to make it more palatable to current gaming tastes.
Maybe Nintendo felt guilty for re-releasing Super Mario Bros. 2 yet again and dumping Mario Bros. in a two-for-one package, so they included the Mario Battle multi-player mini-game in Super Mario Advance to make up for it.
Mario Battle is similar to Mario Bros. in that you play in the same area with the same layout of platforms and pipes. The games goal has changed from trying to knock out all of the enemies. Now, two to four players race to collect five coins or be the last one standing. In the style of Super Mario Bros. 2, players are able to lift and toss each other about the area. The result is much yelling and cursing as a player holds another above his head, poised to throw them into an enemy and win the game. One of the best places to throw an opponent is the trashcan at the bottom of the screen to tie them up while collecting the final few coins. Take too long, and the player punches his way out of the garbage can with a random item that could be an invincibility star or just useless old fish bones.
Mario Battle is a high-speed fake-out game, and very similar to the mini-game featured in Super Mario Bros. 3, where players can overturn enemy creatures and flip them back over to trap unsuspecting opponents. The only downside is that you need at least two or more friends with Game Boy Advances to play this game of surprising depth and strategy. Maybe its for the best theres something so right about barely beating your brother in the final round instead of silly computer opponents.
I really wanted to enjoy Mario Advance, but Nintendo released the two least compelling Mario games in a single package with almost no improvements. Super Mario Advance feels more like "Marios Also-Rans" than Mario All-Stars. Again, its not that Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 are terrible games. Theyre above-average titles worth checking out, especially if youve never played them before. But theyre not great games that weve come to expect from the Mario franchise. My advice—hold on to your $30 until Nintendo releases the inevitable sequels to Super Mario Advance featuring games far worthier of another look.