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If you've ever wanted to flip off Mario...I mean flip Mario off a bumper. Now's your chance on this new Mario title for Game Boy Advance.
It's Super Mario meets pinball in Nintendo's latest Mario game. With a nod to the excellent Kirby's Pinball Land for the original Game Boy, Mario Pinball Land is half pinball, half Mario adventure. The game controls and plays well, but it is a little short and contains a mix of pinball and puzzle solving that may not sit well with fans of either genre. The result is a decent title for the younger set, but one that probably won't hold the interest of an older gamer.
The thin plot revolves around the Mushroom Kingdom's new toy that can turn characters into a ball and fire them through a cannon. All goes well until Princess Peach climbs in and Bowser's minions promptly fire her into Bowser's Castle. It's up to Mario to become a pinball himself and save the day by journeying through four kingdoms. Defeat the boss in each kingdom to get Mario a key to unlock a door in the castle. Unlock all four doors and Mario fights Bowser himself inside the castle.
Each kingdom has its own entertaining theme with a variety of game boards to explore. The ice area even has the ball seeming to slide more than roll. Mario starts at the bottom table and can open doors to tables further and further up in the kingdom if he's found the requisite number of stars. You earn stars by defeating the puzzle for a given table. This is typically accomplished by knocking out all the bad guys present on that table. This can vary in difficulty depending on board obstacles, board shape, or if the enemies respawn. If Mario falls through the flippers, he just drops down to the next lowest table. Fall off the lowest table in a kingdom and you lose a life (ball). Once a table's boss is found and defeated, a cannon is unlocked that can be used to fire Mario to a new kingdom. If you use the key at Bowser's castle, a red button appears back where the Boss was fought. Go back and hit the red button and eight red coins appear throughout that particular pinball land. Find and collect them all within a time limit to earn an additional star.
Most table areas can be cleared by eliminating the enemy. Despite such a simple summary statement, the actual game play is surprisingly different. Enemies may need to be hit several times or in weak spots, and there are many mobile obstacles that throw a wrench into your plans. True to Mario form, power-ups are available ranging from extra lives and multi-ball play to extra large or extra small versions of MarioBall.
Despite it's good points, such as good pinball "action" and the flippers, bumpers, and ball reacting in expected ways, there are some less than stellar aspects of the game. It is rather easy and short. With a one or two ball warm-up a decent video game player may be able to beat the entire game on their first try. Once a boss is defeated, you can play against it in time attack mode. You are dropped on the lowest table of a kingdom and timed to see how quickly you can get to and defeat the kingdom boss. This adds a bit more depth, but the challenge soon collapses into an effort to get in a few lucky shots to quickly get to the boss table and set the low (time) score. True pinball fans may quickly tire of trying to combat roving targets and long for some drop targets, multi-ball stages, and ramps of more traditional pinball gaming. Mario Pinball Land is a single-player game and woe to anyone who accidentally loses power or turns off the game without saving. While the stars won on each stage are saved, you need to start over your game, score and lives from the beginning.
If this were a TV console title, I'd give it a big thumbs-up as a rental. It is a good game, but the blend of pinball and Mario-like exploration seems to lose a bit of both rather than combine into an improved whole. Despite the variety of tables and settings, at times I was yearning for a more pinball-like experience with a high score rather than an hour-long star-gathering challenge. Other times I wished I had more freedom to control my journey through the kingdoms rather than suffer the fickle fate of my flippers. The result is a decent game that doesn't seem to be able to find the right genre niche.
Kid Factor: This is a great game for younger kids because the game is quite forgiving and on the easy side. Only two buttons are used for the majority of the game (the flippers) and it has the standard Nintendo lack of violence or other objectionable material. Older players may beat the game rather quickly and the Time Attack won't hold their attention for much longer after completion.
Reviewer Recommended Ages: 8+
Genre: Pinball, Puzzle
ESRB Rating: E
Reviewer: Dr. Matt J. Carlson
Developer: Fuse Games Limited
This is a great game for younger kids because the game is quite forgiving and on the easy side. Only two buttons are used for the majority of the game (the flippers) and it has the standard Nintendo lack of violence or other objectionable material. Older players may beat the game rather quickly and the Time Attack won't hold their attention for much longer after completion. Kid Factor by Dr. Matt J. Carlson
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