Mario Pinball Hands-On Impressions

We spend some hands-on time with an E3 demo of Nintendo's latest GBA pinball game.


Earlier today we paid a visit to Nintendo's E3 booth to check out the first playable version of Mario Pinball for the Game Boy Advance. We went expecting to find something along the lines of Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire, but while the two games share some obvious and unavoidable similarities, what we actually discovered was something quite different.

While Pokemon Pinball: Ruby & Sapphire offered a fairly traditional pinball table experience, albeit with pocket monsters wandering around and waiting to be captured, Mario Pinball looks set to offer an experience that should appeal not only to pinball nuts but also to any who have enjoyed the Nintendo mascot's other games. The game's clean and colorful visuals are arguably some of the finest seen on the GBA to date, and the way that Nintendo has combined pinball with gameplay elements from some of Mario's previous outings makes Mario Pinball a tough game to say anything negative about at this point.

After a brief animation of Mario being transformed into a ball ready for launching, the demo version of Mario Pinball on display at E3 puts you at the foot of a single GBA-screen-sized table (no scrolling up and down) that appears to conform to a circus theme of sorts. The only goal on this table, as far as we could tell, was to make a cannon appear in the middle of the screen so that ball-shaped Mario could get into it. Once Mario had been successfully flipped into the cannon, we were presented with a crosshair and were invited to shoot him into one of four different environments. Since the Egypt-themed level was locked, we were left with a castle, a snow level, and green fields to choose from.

Once Mario had done his human cannonball bit, we found ourselves presented with another single-screen table, which, to be perfectly honest, didn't offer a whole lot in the way of things to do. There were a couple of beehive-shaped bumpers, a few enemies wandering around, and a door with a "one-star" logo on it. By ridding the table of enemies a couple of times, we were able to earn bonuses, including points, a warp pipe to stop Mario from dropping between our flippers, a lightning bolt for destroying all onscreen enemies simultaneously, and, eventually, a gold star.

If you've played any of the recent Mario games, you won't be surprised to learn that--with the star in our possession--we were able to unlock and subsequently roll through the aforementioned door to an entirely new but equally simplistic table. The second table had two more doors, a one-star and a two-star, and by the time we stopped playing, we were being confronted by--wait for it--doors requiring three gold stars to unlock. What was waiting for us behind those doors we won't know until we can spend some more time with the game, but given what we've seen of the game to date, we'd be surprised if there wasn't an encounter with Bowser in there somewhere--although you'll undoubtedly need a lot more than three stars and 10 minutes with the game to reach it.

We'll bring you more information on Mario Pinball as soon as it becomes available.

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