Mario's domination of the Game Boy Advance continues with his entry into yet another genre: pinball. But Mario Pinball isn't just a collection of virtual pinball machines with a Mario theme; instead, it's a sort of hybrid pinball/combat game that features multiple worlds, zany enemies, and some pretty challenging gameplay. We went hands-on with an early version of the game and found the mixture of traditional pinball mechanics, some light puzzle-solving, and classic Mario style to be pretty entertaining.
The story goes that Mario and Peach are on vacation on a tropical isle when--surprise!--Bowser swoops down out of nowhere and nabs the hapless princess. You'd expect a game called Mario Pinball to star the mustachioed plumber, and indeed he's here--acting as the ball. You'll play through a progression of seven themed worlds (the lush, green world, the snow world, and so on), which are broken up into a series of smaller pinball levels, in an attempt to reach and rescue Princess Peach. We don't know how Mario decided that pinball was the best way to accomplish this, but hey, whatever works.
You're not just knocking Mario-the-ball around with two paddles to score points. In fact, you'll be using him mainly to fight enemies and occasionally to solve puzzles. For instance, one area we played had four chain chomps progressing down toward the bottom of the screen, and we had to aim Mario at them to continuously drive them back. Another area had a large block of ice sitting atop a frozen pond with a crack at one end. We had to keep knocking the block backwards so it would break through the crack, all while several penguins were trying to stop our progress. One level even took place underwater, where the ball mechanics were altered to make things move more slowly.
Mario Pinball is being created by a studio called Fuse and it is due out in the fourth quarter of this year. The game looked pretty nifty when we got a few minutes with it--everything's as brightly colored and fanciful as you'd expect from a Mario game. The pinball gameplay is solid, and though it's a little challenging to get the hang of at first, you can really do some damage after you get a feel for it. We'll bring you more on Mario Pinball soon.