MARIO PINBALL LAND / Nintendo / Gameboy Advance

Mario Pinball Land is a largely nice-looking, well-playing pinball game that just gets totally hamstrung by bad layout.

Story is that Mario and Peach visit a fair where the Toads have invented a new machine that smushes people into human pinballs and then launches them into a pinball course. Sounds extremely painful, but Peach can't wait to try it out anyway. Some sneaky Goombas re-route the cannon that fires you into the course to Bowser's castle instead, and uh ... for some reason you have to play through multiple pinball courses in typical Mario settings like grasslands, deserts, and underwater, collecting keys that will open up Bowser's castle.

The game fuses mainstream Mario gameplay concepts into a pinball framework. Each world consists of multiple pinball boards, and initially most are locked off by doors that require stars to open. To get stars, you frequently have to wipe out all the enemies wandering around on a board, but sometimes there's something a little more complex like hitting bumpers as quickly as possible to cause a sinking pyramid to rise. There's also a "boss" enemy lurking about on one of the boards in each world, a giant-sized classic Mario enemy that usually tries to grab you and chuck you directly back at the open space between the flippers. The ultimate goal is to defeat these guys to get a key to Bowser's castle, but there's optional areas in every level in which to collect coins and rack up points. Mario can also find power-ups, or buy them from the occasional Toad Store, which largely are lifted from Mario Kart (lightning that shrinks enemies, baby mushrooms, Koopa shells, etc.)

The gameplay is actually pretty fun and the Mario concepts are merged in pretty well. The problem with the game lies in the fact that you only lose a ball when Mario rolls off of the very first board of every world. How's that a problem? Well, when he rolls off of any other boards in that world, he goes back to the previous - and everything he's accomplished on that board resets! This also occurs if you shoot forward into a new board accidentally, which is far more likely to happen since there's usually two or even three doors at the front of the board. So you can actually have cleared the board and have a star waiting for you, get an unlucky bounce and shoot past it onto another board ... then it resets and you have to work your way back there and do it all over again!

To be fair, this is more in line with the nature of an actual pinball table, in which bonuses appear for only a short time after you've met some criteria or another, and if you don't take advantage it all resets. Mario Pinball Land is far from a standard pinball game, however; it touts itself as a "pinball adventure", and a lot of people pulling this off of shelves were likely big Mario fans but maybe not so much big pinball fans. To expect them to put up with this level of repetition and frustration was shortsighted on Nintendo's part and explains the masses of negative reviews this game got in its day. Another factor is that the boards themselves just aren't all that interesting or laid out very well, frequently with a lot of dead space, and the perspective makes aiming Mario with the flippers more a matter of guesswork than it is in a real pinball game.

I personally don't feel the game is quite as bad as some mainstream reviews make it out to be, but it's certainly not all that good, either.

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