There have been four games in the Super Mario Advance series, each a remake of a classic Mario sidescroller done for the Game Boy Advance. With the exception of Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi’s Island – which has been the only version of Yoshi’s Island available for purchase since its release – the most intriguing one for Mario fans is the fourth and final title. As its overlong subtitle suggests, Super Mario Advance IV: Super Mario Bros. 3 is a remake of the classic late period NES game. While any game that tried to recreate one of the most celebrated excursions in Mario’s history would be of note for fans, this one had something else: e-Reader compatibility. Nintendo’s ill-fated card peripheral was an early avenue for allowing bonus content to be sent to players (sort of like early amiibo cards), but it’s low sales caused the company to discontinue its line. Many of its cards became inaccessible for most purchasers, especially outside Japan where sales were at their worst. This was frustrating for players of Advance IV, as the game had included a number of extra levels only accessible through e-Cards, most of which would never leave Japan.
At long last, the game has been re-released in the U.S. for the first time since 2003, and all of those e-Reader levels are along for the ride. While its values as a remake of Mario Bros. 3 aren’t unworthy of discussion, its biggest selling point is a collection of mysterious, challenging levels that pull ideas and mechanics from all the prior games in the series. Spazzy_D and Wolfman_J have played it, and their thoughts on the game are below:
Wolfman_J: While the e-Reader levels are clearly the Big Deal for this release, what really struck out to me is how little was actually changed from Mario Bros. 3. It makes sense – it’s a great game, a classic – but there’s little attempt to redefine how we saw it in the way players did back in 1988. It’s interesting to me, because it made me realize the subtle way in which Mario games have evolved or adapted.
Unlike modern Mario games, power-ups are rare and really valuable, and while designed around subtly teaching you how to navigate its world, the game doesn’t have that on its mind nearly as much. Similarly, playing it like those current Mario games (whose levels encourage more constant movement and are almost balletic at times) will often get you killed; there are a surprisingly high number of traps that’ll spring on a player holding down the “run” button. On the whole, it’s more interested in fun gimmicks and single moments (the “Goomba’s Shoe” level being the most iconic) than in iterating upon and evolving a smaller collection of ideas. If I might digress, you might even say that Mario 3 and Mario World – which represents that latter idea – form a sort of dichotomy for the franchise. Even individual sub-series, like the two Mario Galaxy games (which themselves frequently reference 3 and World, respectively), may represent this.
Getting back to Advance IV, the big change is that, as the game doesn’t set you back to the latest save point after losing all your lives, extra lives are entirely meaningless. The whole mechanic has been feeling outdated for a while, and generally when Mario games use it there’s an attempt to give it some juice. Super Mario 3D World, for instance, uses it nicely to balance co-op difficulty by having players share a pool of lives for each level. Here, though, there’s nothing; I appreciated the greater accessibility that makes the game much less arduous than the original, but it is disappointing how transparently extraneous the system is.
Spazzy_D: Super Mario Bros. 3 was, upon its initial release, a phenomenon. It was the first true successor to the original Super Mario Bros. that the West would see, and it did not disappoint. It introduced the concept of a world map to the Mario series, and the sheer variety of environments and enemy types were such a massive improvement over the original Super Mario Bros. that it’s a wonder that they were both created for the same hardware. While Super Mario Bros. levels consisted of recycled assets and a handful of themes (grassland, castle, underground, underwater, and mushroom tops) Super Mario Bros. 3 had entire worlds with a diverse set of themes including Ice, Desert, and even Pipes. This might seem a bit underwhelming now, but remember that this is the first time the Mario series saw such level variety (also keep in mind that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was an edited version of Doki Doki Panic). Even more revolutionary was the sense of verticality introduced in this game. As mentioned earlier, Super Mario Bros. was a left to right affair. Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced flight power ups that changed the way players would explore levels. The level design itself was also sublime, and the tight gameplay and level design is often regarded as the best in the series. Super Mario Bros. 3 is the sort of game I would still give a near perfect score to. Today, though, we aren’t reviewing Super Mario Bros. 3, but it’s port to the Gameboy Advance. How does this game stack up to its progenitor?
Fairly well, as a matter of fact. I would struggle to say that this is the definitive version of Super Mario Bros. 3, but the game does make several subtle “quality of life” changes. One change that stood out actually originated from Super Mario World. Mario now transforms into Raccoon Mario or Fire Mario when touching the power up as small Mario, completely skipping the “Super Mario” form as in the NES version of the game. Much like the Super Mario All Stars version of Super Mario Bros. 3, the game sees a wide variety of small graphical changes. While the sprites themselves are largely the same (although the brother’s gloves are now white, more closely mirroring their artwork and modern incarnations), most stages have new and more detailed backgrounds. Luigi now has his patented flutter jump, and sound clips using Mario and Luigi’s now iconic voices were added. The overall sound, however, is not great. The Game Boy Advance’s sound processor was not as advanced (pun intended) as the one found in the Super Nintendo, and the music is therefore noticeably worse when compared to the Mario All Stars version. The music is still recognizable and catchy, it’s just a definite step down.
Wolfman_J: The audio work in general was frustrating; the remixes are less satisfying and Charles Martinet’s voice clips, while not bad, get repetitive very quickly. I do like that it’s not really a singular “upgrade” meant to replace the original (in the way, say, Halo Anniversary is essentially meant to replace the original Halo). Really, the biggest new and exciting part is also the one that’s never been really brought back to quite the degree: the e-Reader levels. For the most part I really liked the latter, levels that brought in content from all the previous Mario Advance titles in a series of increasingly nutty challenges, but I didn’t look into them as much. You were really excited about them, Spazzy, what did you think?
Spazzy_D: The e-reader stages are very much the main event. While various versions of Super Mario Bros. 3 have been available for years now, relatively few Mario fans have had the chance to play through these “Bonus” levels. The e-reader stages are accessed through a mode that is separate from the main game and consist of 38 unique levels. That’s right, this game comes with 38 stages developed by Nintendo EAD that you’ve likely never seen. While 5 of these are remakes of stages from the original Super Mario Bros., the vast majority of them are completely new and remix ideas from other classic Mario games within the Super Mario Bros. 3 engine. To give you an example of the sort of combinations you might see in the game, one level incorporates thrown vegetables (Super Mario Bros. 2), poison mushroom (Super Mario Bros.: the Lost Levels) and Chargin’ Chucks (Super Mario World). All of these disparate elements come together in a very natural and fun way. Really, seeing some of these items made me realize just how limited Mario Maker is, and how much potential there is in a future Mario Maker game. Some of the stages are a bit on the short side, and many of them lean heavily on a gimmick, but they all have the polish you would expect from Nintendo created stages. The difficulty of the stages vary, but suffice to say that Mario gamers of every skill level will find something to enjoy.
Overall, this Wii U E-shop release is a very attractive package, especially for those of you that don’t already own a version of Super Mario Bros. 3. For a small price, you can own one of the best 2D platformers of all time, 38 fun and creative bonus levels, and a version of the original Mario Bros. with updated graphics.