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Super Mario Advance: Don't panic! Third time is the charm

When I bought a Game Boy Advance at launch, I was stoked to play Super Mario Advance, because Super Mario Bros. 2 was one of my favorite childhood games. Super Mario Advance is a sort-of sequel to Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. That game had brought the original Super Mario Bros. to the Game Boy Color with some bells and whistles; Super Mario Advance did the same for SMB2. It also includes an updated version of the original Mario Bros.!

Super Mario Bros. 2 was already remade for the Super Nintendo as part of the Super Mario Bros. All-Stars four-in-one cartridge. That version serves as the foundation for Super Mario Advance, but numerous further improvements have been made. For example, characters no longer begin stages in their Super form with two hearts; they begin small. This and other changes were made to bring the game more in line with its Super Mario Bros. brethren. In addition, you can now change characters whenever you die. This makes the game easier as you can always switch to Peach, whose ability to float makes many of the difficult platforming segments a breeze! There are giant versions of some enemies, giant POW blocks, and giant vegetables; recovery hearts appear more often; Koopa shells bounce off walls instead of disappearing; each level contains an additional Subspace Mushroom, so you can now get up to five health bars (another change to make the game easier). Notably, there is a new boss for world 3: Robirdo is a giant, robotic Birdo on wheels. This replaces the second fight with Mouser. There is a point system so you can track a high score (for whatever that is worth). There are numerous other, small changes, such as extra 1-up mushrooms and new pots, some of which contain ferris wheels with Shy Guys (a nod to Yoshi's Island). 

But perhaps the most important—and annoying!—change is the addition of excessively frequent voice samples of the character saying things like, "Okey dokey!" and "Oh no!" and "Just what I needed!" This seemingly minor detail can become so grating that it detracts from my ability to enjoy the game. Setting aside my childhood nostalgia for 8-bit games, Super Mario Advance would be the perfect way to enjoy Super Mario Bros. 2 if not for these voice samples. If only you could turn them off!

The main extra challenges from Super Mario Deluxe are included (minus the Game Boy Printer stuff!). There are five ace coins to collect per stage; these look almost identical to the dragon coins from Super Mario World but with an "A" on them instead of an image of Yoshi. The game remembers which coins you've grabbed, so you don't have to get them all in a single run (not that doing so is hard). Once you beat the game, you can hunt for hidden Yoshi eggs. In Super Mario Deluxe, an invisible block in each stage holds an egg; here a big egg is hidden in Subspace near where one of the three Subspace Mushrooms normally is. These extra modes add some good replay value to a familiar game.

If that weren't enough, this cartridge also includes a modernized version of the Mario Bros. arcade game. Gone are the stiff controls of the original; now you can play the game with fluid controls that let Mario and Luigi change direction mid-jump. (Interestingly, a version of the game with good controls had also been released for the NES but only in Europe, under the title Mario Bros. Classic Series!) The game is a lot easier with the "Super" controls, and the GBA version includes nice backgrounds and music. The game is also easier because there are now two POW blocks in the stage instead of one. Because of the GBA's screen size, the entire level cannot fit on screen at the same time, which is a bit unfortunate. Still, unless you enjoy the arcade difficulty of the original, this is probably the best way to enjoy Mario Bros.

I've played Super Mario Bros. 2 so many times, on all three systems, that it's hard for me to evaluate the game objectively. It's become as familiar and beloved to me as a childhood blanket. Last week I was gratified to see Den of Geek (apropos of nothing) admit what I've always known: this, and not the Japanese game of the same name, is the "real" Super Mario Bros. 2: "That “other’ Super Mario Bros. 2 has always been a Super Mario game in spirit and, eventually, name." Far superior to the Japanese sequel, it has contributed greatly to the Super Mario legacy (Bob-ombs, Shy Guys, Ninji). Despite the grating voice samples, the GBA version is the technically superior way to experience this classic. For me, though, the 8-bit original still reigns supreme.

Grade: A
Linked Review
"Super Mario Advance contains two historic games attractively presented. The additions don't do enough to make it a 'new' experience if you've played them both on NES, but the presentation and tweaks offer a welcome alternative."
— Lee Meyer, Nintendo Life, 7/10

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