I'm not really sure what to think of the current trend of remaking old, classic games for current systems, such as the Gameboy Advance. Technically, this should provide gamers who missed out on the original versions of these games a chance to play them. Unfortunately, it seems that many of these recreations are either half-hearted or bastardized attempts, sometimes peppered with meaningless new features. And as fate would have it, Super Mario Advance, a GBA remake of Super Mario Bros. 2, falls flat on its face into that category.
The graphics are almost exactly the same as they were in the Super Mario All-Stars edition of SMB2 for the SNES. If you have never played that game and need an idea of what it's like, basically the world is a whimsical fantasy setting filled with rolling green hills, waterfalls, starry skies, caves, snowfields, deserts, and buildings. The graphics are large, bright, and colorful. Parallax scrolling is used with multiple backgrounds for a nice effect. The animation of the characters, especially the playable ones, is improved over the NES version of SMB2. As I recall, most animations in that version were done with only two frames, with the Albatoss being the one notable exception. But in Super Mario Advance, several frames are used for walking, running, and lifting items, and there is even a whole new high-jumping animation. Thrown enemies now spin through the air, Mode-7-style, and there are many new things that bounce, spring, scale, and rotate like something out of Yoshi's Island.
Some changes, like the Phanto that smoothly scales smaller and larger as he retreats or approaches, are nice. But there were some things that I was none too pleased with. First of all, in the NES version of SMB2, there is a huge cave entrance that resembles a menacing face in World 6-3. In SMA, that face has been replaced with a lame gate. (Seeing that cool face was the one reason to not take the secret shortcut in 6-3!) I don't like how the once-black Ostros (ostrich-like birds) are now colored pink (why?). I also prefer the way the whale area of World 4 looked on the NES; all dark and surreal, but that's a minor nitpick.
The sound, for the most part, also remains unchanged from the SNES version of SMB2. I like the bouncy, happy-go-lucky SMB2 theme, as well as the more ominous cave music and the boss theme. I like them a lot, actually, but after three versions of SMB2, I am quite tired of hearing them! I wish that, if Nintendo insists on remaking this game, they'd expand on the game's music some more. For the most part, those are the only three songs you'll hear throughout the game's 20 stages! True, they did add new music for the jars and a boss "intro" theme, but those are hardly worth mentioning.
The characters now have voices, which is something no version of SMB2 had before. I don't have a huge problem with them, but some of the one-liners are lame (Mouser, "Here, have some...bombs!"), and sometimes it's hard to understand what they're actually saying. Characters usually say, "A crystal!", when picking up a crystal orb, but I've heard it as everything from, "Hot pizza!" to "Ah, pistol!", and it took me awhile to figure out what it really was. I still have no idea what the Princess is saying when she takes a hit. I swear it sounds like, "Oh...day-ammnnn!", but that can't be right. Finally, Toad has a completely different voice in this game than he had in Mario Kart 64, which in turn, was different from the voice he had in Wario's Woods, and this is probably the most obnoxious voice used for the squeaking mushroom retainer, yet.
Super Mario Bros. 2 on both the NES and SNES had perfect play control. The four characters had different abilities (Luigi jumped the highest, Toad picked things up the fastest, the Princess could float, etc.), but no matter who you were playing as, the control always felt precise. For some reason, things don't seem so fine and dandy in Super Mario Advance. While technically, the controls are the same as they've always been, they don't feel as refined. It seems easier to slip off the tops of things, especially if the object you're standing on is small, like a Birdo egg, Shyguy, or one-block-wide platform. Luigi's high-jumps seem more difficult to control. (I wonder if it has anything to do with being on a smaller screen?) When throwing a bomb against a wall, sometimes it hits the wall and bounces away. This was possible on earlier versions of the game, but it happens much more often here, meaning I had to redo many of the areas where you must bomb through walls multiple times. As a result, I'm reminded of just how important the pixel-perfect play control of the original versions was to the fun factor. These slight imperfections may have caused some areas of this version to be a bit more challenging, but challenge should never come from poor play control.
The story of SMB2 is the same as it's always been. Mario has a strange dream about an unfamiliar world, where someone has called for help in defeating the evil Wart. Later on, Mario and his friends go on a picnic in the mountains and discover that a nearby cave leads to the very world Mario saw in his dream. So begins the adventure of Super Mario Bros. 2 - the game that was originally based on the Arabian-themed Doki Doki Panic in Japan (which explains all the magic carpets, vases, pyramids, and the tonality of the cave music.)
A few things have been changed in this version, and that is, mainly, all the typos in the ending sequence. In the original SMB2, some character names were spelled wrong and a couple of them were even switched! (They didn't even bother to fix any of this on the SNES All-Stars version, either.) But Super Mario Advance has that all taken care of.
On another note, I have heard that the story of the original Japanese version of Super Mario USA merely states that Mario is asleep and dreaming of walking up a long flight of stairs. At the top, he opens a door and falls through it, hence why the game begins with you falling out of a door in the sky. I'm not kidding when I say that I laughed hysterically at this information when I first read about it, and it gives me a chuckle to write about it now! It's just really funny visualizing that and thinking that would be the entire plot of the game.
As easy a game as Super Mario Bros. 2 was on other consoles, Nintendo made every effort possible to make this version even easier. And let me count the ways:
There are life-refilling hearts stationed out in the open in some places, and in others, can begotten by pulling up grass.
In some stages, it is possible to increase your life meter to five hearts, whereas in all other versions of SMB2, it was only possible to attain a maximum of four.
There are larger versions of some enemies, such as Ninjis and Shyguys, that serve no purpose other than to give off a life heart when you throw them, or take out large groups of enemies.
The game now includes a scoring system, and you can earn extra lives by killing multiple enemies in a row (similar to techniques used in SMB1, 3, and Super Mario World.)
There are now large POW blocks to be found in some areas. When thrown, they eliminate all on-screen enemies, just like the original POW blocks, but these bigger ones continue to bounce along the floor. By chasing after it, you can defeat virutally all the enemies in a given area (plus probably gain a few extra lives in doing so.)
You can now save after every stage, whereas in All-Stars you could only save at the end of a world, and you couldn't save at all in the NES version.
The second Tryclyde boss was replaced with a much-easier Mouser boss.
Despite all these...ahem...innovations, for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, Super Mario Advance almost feels harder than the earlier versions! But it's not that anything in the levels has changed (except for a new robot Birdo boss in one area). Part of it may be the odd feeling of the play control, which I mentioned in that section. Another problem is the awkward way in which the screen sometimes scrolls. Instead of scrolling continuously as you run, sometimes a huge portion of it just slides over. This can cause you to run into off-screen enemies, fall off a platform, or throw the potion in the wrong spot, which results in you being unable to get the Subspace mushroom. Sometimes, the screen doesn't scroll vertically at all. On several occasions, I leaped up off the top of the screen, but it didn't scroll up with me (like at the end of World 1-1 where you have to climb the vines). Then my character took damage, and fell back down. I have a hard time swallowing the excuse that stuff like this happens because of it being a Game Boy game, considering I've played many a decent Game Boy sidescroller that didn't have such problems (Kid Icarus, Metroid 2, and Mega Man to name a few.)
Super Mario Bros. 2 was a very fun game that I greatly enjoyed, despite it being somewhat easy. Besides, when I first played it, I was very inexperienced with NES games, and it was a perfect "beginner's" game (even though I actually beat SMB3 first.) The great play control, diverse characters, fun level designs, and boss fights made the game work for me. The gameplay is slightly different than that of the orginal Super Mario Bros. game. Instead of stomping on enemies, in SMB2, you now pick them up and throw them. There is also a lot more emphasis on climbing and exploring then on jumping over pits. It was a fun and refreshing experience, even though it wasn't quite capable of dethroning its predecessor in terms of challenge and overall quality.
But the Super Mario Advance version just wasn't very fun to play at all. It's not because I've already played and beaten the NES and SNES versions. Those have never become "boring" for me. It's because many things just didn't feel right about this game, most of which have already been mentioned, but I'll get to a few more:
Two new features have been added - an "Ace Coin" challenge, and a "Yoshi Egg" challenge. For the former, the idea is to find all five Ace Coins in every level, which will give you a 100% completion score and open up the latter, in which the idea is to find both Yoshi eggs hidden in each level. I didn't find either of these things fun to do, and they seem to go against what Mario 2 is supposed to be about. It is not a "treasure hunt" game, and it obviously wasn't designed to be one! Many Ace Coins were out in plain sight, and some of the "harder" ones required me to sacrifice a life to obtain. Throwing the potion everywhere to find the Yoshi eggs was not fun at all! Many of them are hidden right in the same spots where you'd normally find mushrooms in Subspace, which makes the idea of it feel even more pointless. And believe me, it is, since you don't get anything special for finding all 40 of the eggs, except an animated Yoshi on the title screen.
Most of the new level features that have been added feel more like wasted potential than anything else. For instance, some areas have more enemies then what there was on earlier versions. But they are usually either situated in such a way that you would never need to go near them (such as a row of Shyguys on a platform above you), or there is a POW block or something nearby that will easily let you take them all out. Even the new robot Birdo boss, which I admit took me a couple of tries to conquer, did not do much for me.
Super Mario Advance (along with that bastardized GBC version of Crystalis from a few years ago) is enough to turn me against the idea of remaking older games on new systems. I would have much rather seen a whole new game featuring the SMB2 style of gameplay. Why not make a more challenging "sequel" to complement SMB2, the way The Lost Levels (SMB2j) complemented the original Super Mario Bros.? I will give Super Mario Advance some extra brownie points for one thing, and that is the Mario Bros. Classic mode. This is, undoubtedly, the best home version of the original arcade Mario Bros. game that I've yet played, so if you want this game for that reason, I can easily recommend it. However, if you want a decent version of Super Mario Bros. 2, I strongly suggest getting the NES or SNES All-Stars versions instead of Super Mario Advance.
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