8.5

Real score: 8.3 Undoubtedly a strange Mario game... but it is most definitely "surprisingly good".

When Super Mario Bros. 2 was released on the NES, it was marked as the odd-one-out by a big portion of the rapidly-growing Mario fanbase, due to its "distinctly different feel than the rest of the series". This statement is definitely correct, but it never marked SMB2 as a bad game. Then on June 10th, 2001; Nintendo released Super Mario Advance for the GBA, which was essentially a remake of SMB2. Is it still the oddity of the series? And more important – is it still considered a good game?

Gameplay
What gives Super Mario Advance the "distinctly different feel"? This question can be answered with multiple statements. First of all, there's not one single mention (or implication) of Bowser throughout the entire game. Second, there's no more mushroom power-ups or fire flowers. And finally, the traditional Mario-style enemy bashing is no more: you cannot rid yourself of enemies by jumping on them.
Like the original NES title before, Super Mario Advance allows you to play as four different characters: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, measured on a five-star scale. Certain characters are better for certain levels, and this can either make the game easier or harder by picking a well- or ill-suited character for a level.
Jumping on an enemy doesn't do much (in fact, it does nothing), but once you're on top of one, they can't hurt you at all, provided they don't explode. After you jump on top of an enemy, you can pick it up and use it as a weapon against others. Besides picking up enemies and throwing them, you will come across what look like red sprouts in the ground, which when picked up with a simple tap of the B button, can be a variety of vegetables, from a tiny stalk to a gigantic sprout, that can then be used as weapons. In addition to various vegetables, you can pick up keys, bombs, shells, and potions. Keys are generally found in vases, and you can enter almost any vase you come across. When in possession of a key, you're being constantly chased by a golden mask that will hurt you if you touch it. These keys are required fairly often in the game, and getting chased by the mask can be somewhat harrowing. Keys can also be found in solitary rooms, or dropped by bosses later on. Bombs are used at various points in the game to destroy walls and similar impediments, and shells can be used as another weapon, destroying enemies on contact.
As mentioned earlier on: no more mushroom or fire-flower power ups. You can still be tiny and normal-sized Mario, but that's about it. To gain life energy, you have to collect hearts, which act as shields for you. Every hit you take, you lose a heart, and once you're down to a single heart, you shrink down to small Mario, and after a final hit, you lose a life. At the beginning of a level, you start out with a capacity of two hearts, but the maximum can be up to five. This is where potions come in. In actuality, potions have three uses. The first use would be to raise your heart capacity. If you pick up a potion, there's probably a heart mushroom nearby. Toss the potion down, enter the door, and if you're in the right area, you'll see mushroom that you can grab. Each mushroom fills up your heart meter and raises the max by one. In addition to finding mushrooms, a potion can sometimes lead you to a warp space. In certain places, dropping a potion by certain jars hidden throughout the levels, entering the door, and dropping down the jar will allow you to skip a couple of worlds. The third use of potions will be mentioned later in the review. In each level there are five "ace" coins, and when all are collected in a level, you receive a 1-up and a special marker for that level on the world list. Not much to say here other than that.
For a Mario game, it seems that there's a lot more precision jumping in much more difficult situations required in Super Mario Advance than other Mario titles. The controls also seem a little different than in other Mario games, and since the difficult jumps come in on the first level, a beginner may find themselves slightly frustrated. In addition to difficult precision jumping, you often find yourself in situations where you are practically forced to jump immediately on landing, such as falling logs to prevent going off the bottom of the screen, and quicksand to keep yourself from sinking (requires button mashing). You find yourself in difficult situations, like where a cactus is coming after you while you're under a rain of snake bullets. However, after a couple of hours, these new controls become second nature and much less frustrating.
Super Mario Advance also sees a new army of enemies, from bees with spears to quick-footed purple starfish. Some enemies are missing from the game, like goombas and koopas, and we see some new and colorful bosses, like a bomb-chucking mouse and a fireball-spewing snake, all the way up to the final boss... a giant toad.
Beating the game grants access to the "Yoshi Challenge". This is where the third use of potions come in, although they way one uses them in the Yoshi Challenge are similar to the way one finds mushrooms to raise their health capacity. In the Yoshi Challenge, two Yoshi's eggs are scattered throughout the level. Your job is to find them. As far as I've progressed, these eggs are usually found where the heart-capacity-raising mushrooms are, so you don't have to go out of your way to get a "maxed" file on this game. While the Yoshi Challenge doesn't add too much to the game, there's always that strange sense of satisfaction to see the row of Yoshi eggs lined up in a row.
Aside from the main game, you have an option to play the original Super Mario Bros arcade. This little extra feature has been both graphically updated and outfitted with a multiplayer mode. The single-player experience is basically the same thing as before – knock enemies from underneath to flip them over, then go up to them and kick them off the screen. The multiplayer cooperative mode adds a level of strategy and coordination, as well as ways to annoy your teammate, and the multiplayer battle mode adds a level of challenge where up to four players battle against each other to knock each other out (also offers plenty of ways to annoy you opponents).

Story
The story of an average Mario game is always classic: we have Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, Bowser, and... hang on. Even after I beat the game, I never saw the word 'Bowser' on the screen. That's right. In Super Mario Advance, there is no mention of Bowser WHATSOEVER. This is probably the main stand-out aspect of the game, since basically every other Mario game has the mention of Bowser in some way or another.
From what someone can gather, the whole game is basically a dream. In the instruction booklet, it depicts Mario having a dream about people crying for help, and Mario wakes up and falls out of bed. It says that he goes and falls down some door, but apparently he just fell back asleep and was dreaming about the entire thing. Of course, for someone who bought the game without an instruction booklet, they would have no clue what was going on, since the only mention of the story is in the booklet. The ending cinematic shows Mario asleep, while the credits roll, and then he wakes up at the end. This would led someone to believe that it was a dream, but otherwise, it's a little obscure.

Graphics
The graphics of Super Mario Advance are a full-fledged improvement over the old 8-bit original. The sprites are animated better, and everything is much more detailed. Each of the seven worlds of the game has a theme to it, from desert to sky fortress, and each of these worlds has a distinctive feel and presence.
There are a few flaws among all this: for one, everything is bright. Outside, this looks just fine, but when you take bright colors and put them in one of the game's darker locations, it just doesn't look right. In addition to this, the camera frustrates you a lot. Sometimes, it seems like you can't tell whether you're going to lose a life if you fall or not. Although the camera is adjustable with the L button, it still doesn't help you 70% of the time, which leaves you with an unhelpful view.

Sound
I have not played the original, so whether the sound was improved or not I cannot tell you. There isn't really much to say about the sound, anyway. Thinking about it now, there's not too many tracks in this game. There's generally one constantly looping outside, a special one for being inside a jar, a cave theme, and a boss and final boss theme. The generic Mario sound effects like jumping have remained, and they still work well and even add a little comical feeling during play.

Value
The Yoshi Challenge and the arcade option are what gives this game the bang for its buck. With the original arcade mode and a multiplayer option, this game brings fun for everyone. The Yoshi Challenge doesn't contribute a lot, but it contributes enough.
If you're a returning fan (by that I mean you've played the NES version) this game should be a good refresher. Even if you're a newcomer, this thing kinda sucks you in like all the Mario platformers do. With immersing, fun (and sometimes frustrating) gameplay, Super Mario Advance is something to consider when looking for a new game.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Pros: The design has been improved, multiplayer is a fun little extra feature.
Cons: Frustrating for a beginner, environments are a little too consistent.

Gameplay: 9.5 – fun and easy to get into
Story: 7 – not applicable, I'll leave it at default
Graphics: 8 – colorful and detailed
Sound: 8 – although there's not much, it's kinda catchy...
Value: 9 – multiplayer adds a new way to play and Yoshi Challenge adds a bit of replay value

Final score...
8.3 – a Mario platformer with a twist that's worth every cent!

Discussion