Turn back time
Across the world Super Mario Brothers 3 is still widely regarded as the best Mario title ever released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. In its heyday, it demonstrated well and truly for fans of Sega's Master System just who was boss, and that spiky blue upstarts like Sonic would have to work a hell of a lot harder to outdo Mario. Following the release of Super Mario All Stars on the Super NES, it shot to fame once again, and stayed there. When Nintendo announced that Super Mario Advance would be a conversion, people immediately assumed that SMB3 would be selected, although some petitioned the company for Super Mario World or Yoshi's Island. Then Nintendo told people about Super Mario Advance, and jaws hit the deck. It turned out that although popular and certainly capable of working under the GameBoy Advance, Nintendo had opted not to convert the time-honoured Super Mario Brothers 3, instead favouring its less popular predecessor, a game that hadn't even started life as a Nintendo project. After the muted success of the official sequel to Mario in Japan, Nintendo snapped up popular competing platformer Doki Doki Panic, swapped some sprites around and shovelled it onto Western plates. The original SMB2 from Japan then became The Lost Levels, a much more difficult continuation of the original Mario adventure, which didn't arrive in the West until Mario All Stars immortalised it along with the other three several years later.
Doki Doki Panic, when it became Super Mario Brothers 2, gave the Mario franchise a new breathe of life. The Americans didn't particularly like it, but it had a lot going for it, with well-designed levels, four equally important main characters, and most important of all, the way that it branched out in places and helped prevent the Mario series from funnelling itself into the big pot of dull formulaic platformers. It offered a bit of originality and a bit of surprise, and helped Shigeru Miyamoto realise that we wanted more than running and jumping in our videogames. Cue Super Mario Brothers 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart, Yoshi's Island, Super Mario 64 and so on. Fabulous though we thought it was, it was still difficult to come to terms with Super Mario Brothers 2's failure in the West. A slightly more thoughtful game, it involved pulling plants out of the ground and using them as weapons rather than bopping the underside of floating brick platforms looking for powerups, and it replaced the plodding Koopas with hopping purple birds and little creatures in red coats that looked like natives ripped from Tatooine in Star Wars called Shyguys. What a lot of people ignored about the Super Mario Advance factsheets was that it also featured classic Super Mario Brothers arcade multiplayer as well, effectively making it half of the SNES classic Super Mario All Stars. If we were being excitable, we might wish for a Super Mario Brothers 3 / Super Mario World crossover for Christmas. Super Mario Brothers 2 is a brilliant Mario adventure, with lively graphics, finely detailed characters and a lot of things fans of "classic" Mario won't expect. Things like bouncing carrots for enemies, POW blocks which eliminate every enemy on-screen when you hurl them to the ground, and of course magic potions which when dropped produce a door that deposits you in a dark mirror world for several seconds. Quirky, bizarre, but wondrous.
In terms of additions to the adventure, Nintendo have taken a controversial step and added digitized voices to the four characters; Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and cute little Toad. Mario and Luigi sound fine and the Princess sounds royal, but Toad tends to squeak and jibber in a rather annoying manner with his Whoops and Yippees. The sound quality of these voices, like the rest of the game's audio is surprisingly good, and like the graphics the audio is crisp, despite the constraint of the GameBoy Advance's single speaker. Unfortunately, new additions to the levels (which we identified by setting up a SNES with Mario All Stars next to the GameBoy Advance) rarely herald anything interesting other than an extra life or a POW block. One addition though is Yoshi's Challenge, which is a short-lived egg hunt that may catch your attention, but there's no reward for completing it. As others have already pointed out to Nintendo, you added Yoshi here, why not turn him into a playable character? The multiplayer version of classic Mario Brothers is based on the arcade version of the same, so don't be expecting two sprawling single player adventures. The battle arena can hold four little characters, and the objective is to headbop enemy Koopas from underneath the platform and then kick them into the other Marios to score some points. You only need one cartridge, which downloads the data needed to the other consoles via link cable, so this is far more accessible than multiplayer life on the original GameBoys. The graphics have been improved quite drastically here, as you would expect for a game of 15 years or so, and amongst the inclusions are additional animations and altered music. Ultimately it's not exactly Super Smash Brothers, but it can be a lot of fun.
It's strange to think that Super Mario All Stars is now eight years old, and even stranger still when you realise that SMB2 itself has now been around in various forms for 13 years. It's high time it caught the public's attention again, and the few changes here and there are nice, but even with the addition of a multiplayer Mario Brothers game and Yoshi's Challenge, the game is still pretty tired. If you've never played it then you have absolutely no excuse for not buying this, and if any of your friends have bought the GameBoy Advance, you should hunt down a copy of SMA simply to try out the multiplayer linkup option. With Christmas only six months off though and something better bound to turn up by then, you might like to wait a while on this one. After all, the games do cost Ł32.99, and choosing Mario over the likes of Castlevania and Tony Hawk's is quite a tough decision to make at this price. We can't hide our disappointment at the choice of Super Mario Brothers 2 over 3 or Super Mario World, and we make no apologies for that. Thankfully Super Mario Advance is a good game and one well worth playing, but it does feel as though we're playing it because it's Mario, and because we have nothing better to play, and that's an unfortunate state of affairs for the game that's supposed to sell the console.