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CONSOLE: Game Boy Advance DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): October 21, 2003 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Just the title alone is a mouthful.

I don't need to tell you, the well-groomed reader, about the excellence that is Super Mario Bros. 3. Hailed by some as the finest Mario platformer, hailed by others as the finest platformer period, hailed by me as that one game where I never know where to go in that last fortress. Once again pitting the Mario Bros. against Bowser in an effort to save Princess Toadstool, Super Mario Bros. 3 was the NES' true platforming masterpiece and introduced some of the series' greatest additions, including the Tanooki suit, Thwomps, and that one time Mario wore a giant green shoe. Beautiful. Magnificent.

But I'm talkin' 'bout Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 for the Game Boy Advance. At first glance, it's actually just a port of the SNES port of Super Mario Bros. 3, as originally featured on the Super Mario All-Stars compilation, and to a great degree, that's very true. Most of the spritework, backgrounds, and general gameplay all come from All-Stars. This doesn't surprise me, as the SNES was a good place to grab port-able games (Final Fight One, Breath of Fire, Tales of Phantasia, etc.), so why not pluck the main man straight outta Brooklyn for your popular handheld?

There ARE some changes to the game, however, some being more minute than others. I could sit here and list all the little things that aren't particularly significant (you can now get up to 20 coins from a single block, for example, or that the islands on the map of World 3 have been squished together more), but let's just peek at a few of the more notable alterations.

For starters, there's actually an introduction sequence. It's not particularly elaborate, but watching Toad try to defend the king, only to land on his sorry butt is oddly satisfying. Naturally, the HUD has been squashed because your screen is so small. And, of course, being a Game Boy Advance game, the colours in the game otherwise have been brightened to cover the fact that the original GBA didn't have backlighting and you could only see your games if you were standing directly under the sun. Like, a few feet away from the actual sun. Plus, like the other Mario Advance games, Mario, Luigi, and other characters all have voice acting included, though at least Mario doesn't yelp with every jump like he's getting a hardcore bikini wax.

In the game itself, some platforms have been altered so that you have a greater chance of landing on it. I immediately noticed this in Level 1-6. Normally, you fall through a gap to land on a one-block platform, but this has been inexplicably extended to two blocks in width, just to make sure you don't tumble to your doom. In 3-6, a pipe you need to enter near the end of the level has extra blocks on the side to catch you if you misstep. The sliding mini-game (on the Spade Panels, where you have to match up three horizontally moving images to create a full picture, like a Mushroom or a Fire Flower) now exponentially ups the ante every time you win; finding success in one game will offer greater rewards (a 7-Up, a 10-Up, and the coveted 20-Up) in subsequent Spade Panels. That's great if you need a ton of lives and are particularly good at that mini-game...which I'm not.

Plus, like all Mario Advance games, you get to play the original Mario Bros. Not the one with the Goombas and the flagpoles... the one with the enemies you have to smack from underneath and then kick off the screen. That one, the one nobody wants. I won't say much about that.

Déjà vu, if you were living in the NES era.

If you already own Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES or the version in Super Mario All-Stars, then you probably don't need this one, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, as a basic package, buying this game again simply isn't worth it... except for one inclusion that makes everything worthwhile. Back in the da-ay, Nintendo had a not-oft used add-on for the Game Boy Advance called the e-Reader, available in North America and Japan in 2003. (Sorry, Europe.) The e-Reader was capable of scanning special cards to provide additional content to select games or new games altogether (the latter being relegated to storing classic NES titles). Not many games made use of this peripheral; mostly Nintendo games took advantage of it. Among them was, of course, Super Mario Advance 4.

The game had three different types of cards. Power-Up Cards loaded specific power-ups into your character's inventory for later use, while Demo Cards showed the player how to find hidden stuff. But that was peanuts compared to the Level Cards, which provided new levels to play through, available in the mysterious new "World-e". Sounds kind of like a terrible underground drug ring, but it's really just a place to play new Mario levels.

Only 12 of these levels were made available in North America, while Japan had a whopping 38 levels total. Thanks to the Wii U Virtual Console release of SMA4 (on which I'm basing this review), all 38 are now playable outside of Japan for the first time. These levels are far more challenging, doling out crazier enemy placements or rougher and more maze-laden environments. A couple even offer very strict timeframes and require you to run like the Good Humor man down the street is about to retire in one minute. (One level has to be done within 20 Mario-seconds — crazy!) And these levels cull aspects from other games: the Cape power-up from Super Mario World, turnips plucked from the group à la Super Mario Bros. 2, poison mushrooms, Magikoopas, Monty Moles, even the Bumpties (penguins) from Yoshi's Island! Heck, a Boomerang Brother dropped a boomerang after death, and I was able to pick it up and toss it at another! Way rad! This is a real smorgasbord of Mariology right 'ere, folks.

Within these levels, you'll also be tasked with finding Advance Coins, similar to those in Super Mario Advance, as well as finding the occasional e-Coin (not to be confused with any cryptocurrency; this is probably worth more). Collecting enough Advance Coins unlocks mini-games on the map, where you can spend your hard-earned coinage; e-Coins do jack-all, except hang nicely in a museum. You'd be grabbing those solely for boasting privileges, if anyone is really interested.

I'll just say this: the e-Reader levels kicked my behind. Even for someone who has been playing Super Mario Bros. 3 for many years, these levels will be a surprising challenge, and that's a breath of fresh air... or at least it should be, between bouts of screaming expletives and tossing Game Boy Advance systems out windows.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is as solid as it ever was. Yet, as merely a port of a port, I couldn't recommend this over any other version, other than for its portability, a point rendered semi-moot because of the Nintendo Switch Online's offering of NES games, Super Mario Bros. 3 included. But I CAN recommend buying the Wii U Virtual Console version, because now that all of the e-Reader levels are made available from the start, there's enough additional content here that you could dare call it a new game. Go for that one alone, and leave the cartridge be.

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