By delightfully melding combat and puzzle solving with solid pinball physics, Mario Pinball is not only the first pinball action-adventure game, but also a damn good one at that. Only the most gifted of pinball wizards will rise to the challenge as the game demands a near extrasensory blend of patience and precision, the kinda that world hasn’t seen since a blind, deaf boy named Tommy played a mean game some years ago.
Such a Supple Wrist
Like the name says, it’s Mario pinball, so, instead of a silver ball you knock an orb-shaped Mario around variously themed tables where you rack up points by bopping into bumpers, beehives, and Koopas for points. An amusement park table acts as the hub world, and by getting Mario inside a cannon you can launch him to other tables that run the gamut from Egyptian deserts to pastoral farmlands and ghost-infested funhouses.
In this surreal pinball world you contend with hooded Shy Guys who avoid you by hiding behind pillars, frost-men that lob snowballs to knock you off course, and man-eating plants who gobble you up and spit you to previous tables. Wipe all you enemies off the table, though, and a star drops from the sky. By hitting it you unlock bonuses like barriers between the flippers, lightning bolts that zap all onscreen enemies, and mushrooms that increase your size.
Feeling All the Bumpers
Like any Mario game worth its weight in salt, you can unlock doors and warp to secret levels and smaller "sub" tables can also be unlocked by hitting doors, triggering secret hatches, or by squeezing through tiny openings by eating size-reducing mushrooms, where killer boss battles await.
Visually the game stuns. Each environment is clear and colorful, and features some of the coolest lighting and reflection effects seen on the GBA yet. The tables are viewed from a slightly skewed angle, which eliminates the need for the camera to scroll up and down, something that made games like Pokémon Pinball a bit disorientating. A must.