When we reviewed the "original" (there's an abstract use of the word, eh?) Super Mario Advance back in June 2001, we said "blah blah blah not bad but why not Super Mario Bros. 3? What is this Mario Bros. 2 shit about? It isn't even Mario! It's based on some random Japanese platformer that Nintendo bought up and then repainted!"
Nobody listened. And as much as we've loved the ports of Super Mario World and Yoshi's Island since then, we've always just... I dunno... preferred the way SMB3 was put together. It was a pixel perfect double-jump over its predecessors in terms of visuals, level design and virtually everything else, and although its 16-bit successors were unquestionably magnificent, neither of them affected us in the same way.
More than two years later, we're finally getting our way. Super Mario Bros. 3 is being released on the Game Boy Advance this Friday, and after a day of slipping back into our old SMB3-related habits, we can't help but recommend it.
Let's face it: it's been ten years since you played this [confession: I was an Amiga boy, I was playing Superfrog, rather than £50 SNES games -Ed]. Even if you played Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES (Mario Bros. 1-3 and a rock hard "Lost Levels" data disk for the original game), chances are you haven't picked up a pad, bopped a giant fish on the head, or watched a shell rebound endlessly between golden coin-filled blocks for more than half a decade.
And it's time to get back to it. Trust us. Yes, there are loads of games out this Christmas. Loads. On all formats. But this is so much better than 90 per cent of them that it demands attention. There's something simple and elegant about SMB3. Like Mario 64, which gave us the simple joy of collecting big, shiny stars, SMB3 was never complicated, but equally there was never any danger of getting bored, because each new level was a different challenge, a different style of playpen, with different toys. Better toys. And it's chock-ful of ideas that became convention. Perhaps for some that'll be a turn-off, but then nobody really hit the nail so squarely on the head...
You could even vary your approach, often being allowed to pick the next level out of a couple of options. You could usually even get by without completing every level in a world, but if you did then you'd miss out on extras unlocked through match-the-card, match-the-pictures and bop-the-hammer-brothers mini-games.
In fact, you could feasibly complete it in a few short hours, but that wasn't the point. Heck, you could warp to world eight and polish it off in less than an hour, but then you wouldn't uncover treats hidden in the sky, find out what lurks on the other end of all those green pipes, or get anywhere near the value out of SMB3 that it offers persistent, inquisitive gamers.
On the surface of it, you've got the archetypal Mario adventure - loads of simple left-to-right 2D platforming levels, a range of power-ups, blocks to bash from below, enemies to bop from above, and simple, clean graphics to round it all off. Throw in the usual Mario Bros. arcade multiplayer game (one screen, several pipes, and shell-based enemies to use against one another), and you've got Super Mario Advance 4.
Although, to be fair, Nintendo has polished this Advance far more than the previous releases. For a start, it looks great. I mean, really great. It's been polished (and of course resized to fit the GBA's screen) to the extent that even the colourful SNES "All-Stars" port looks worse off. Blocks are remarkably shiny, level furniture is multi-coloured, neatly textured and carefully placed, and despite some awkward items (shells that rebound around, bouncing fireballs, plants that stick their heads out of pipes, etc), the collision detection is always spot on. It may not have the stylised, Super FX2 visuals of Yoshi's Island, nor the slightly refined and more detailed look of Mario World, but the chunky, blocky feeling of SMB3 was actually integral to its charm.
They've even padded it out with some daft, throwaway cut-scenes, showing us Lemmy Koopa as he seizes power from the king, and then filling other gaps periodically. Although they feel a bit forced, they all add to the sickly sweetness of the typical Mario adventure. Fortunately though we're controlling burly men who unclog drains and clobber bacteria for a living. Strong men who... yell "mama mia!" whenever they get poked by a Koopa Troopa.
Now this won't do. For some reason, Nintendo has taken its meddling with the core SMB3 a bit too far and dragged out poor Charles Martinet to give Mario and Luigi (who can take it in turns to help clear a particular world map) a few spoken lines. But after a few hours of listening to Luigi yelp "Ah, just what I needed!" like a helium-filled Julian Clarey on a bender, we were reaching for the volume dial. Which is a shame, because SMB3 housed some of the most infectious and iconic melodies in any platformer.
Bros. for Christmas No.1!
Apart from that though, SMB3 is exactly the game we wanted and expected to get, except now with mid and end-of-world save points. The levels are still as engaging and well thought out as we remember, the boss levels (the bobbing ships!) are still as tricky to navigate, and the raccoon/leaf power-up still lets you soar through the sky and make use of any cloudy portals and other bonuses. Oh, and it's still hatefully unpleasant to see a demonstrably simple level cut you down repeatedly because you went for haste over cautiousness. And you'll still fire it up for "one more go".
Perhaps sadly, a lot of people will continue to ignore SMB3 on the basis that it won't last them longer than a few days of concerted play. And with games like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on their way to the platform this month, it's an understandable position to take.
However, whether it's now or next October, you really should pick up a copy of this at some point, because there has only been one other platform game before or since that has exerted so much influence on the genre - and that was Super Mario 64. A genuine classic.