Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2
It takes a lot for me to be disappointed in a Super Mario game. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why it took me so long to play this one, since I had (mostly) enjoyed the other Super Mario Advance GBA ports.
Well, it looks like I’ve finally been letdown, this time by the Super Nintendo just being that darn good.
The Game Boy Advance’s take on Super Mario World isn’t inferior, but it does struggle with a lot of items that are hard to turn away from if you’re a fan of the SNES original – which I consider to be one of the greatest games ever made.
For starters, the colors are washed out due to the lack of color depth on the GBA hardware. The Mode 7 scrolling backgrounds are also changed in most scenes, giving the game a very dry and unappealing aesthetic. Tinny audio changes that downplay the classic soundtrack, along with the lack of the extra X and Y buttons on the console, really underscore what is a tremendous game otherwise.
Yes, Nintendo went ahead and played around with this, as they did the other Advance Mario games too. However, the changes aren’t to the same level as what they did for Super Mario Bros. 2 or 3, with no new levels and nothing much of substance here, other than changing sprites to align with the other games…
That is, unless, you actually want to play with Luigi, who has been 100% altered to be his high-jumping, slow and slippery-footed self. (It’s the change that no one really asked for – does anyone play with Luigi?)
There are a few extra cut scenes at the beginning and end, and the message boxes, I’ve been told, have been increased. Oh, and a list of levels on the map screen, because, well, I don’t know why that’s needed!
I know this game so well, that the only thing I noticed that was different, and somewhat neat, was that the Top Secret Area (above the Ghost House in World 2) is now a hill instead of just a dot on the map.
Is this game really that bad though?
It just suffers from the same lack of screen real estate you may have with other TV to handheld translations. Otherwise, it’s still the great game play and depth as the original.
I’m just that much of a purist when it comes to SMW that I would prefer playing the original over the squeezed down version with very little changed for the better. You may find it’s the same way should you feel compelled to play it.
Metroid: Zero Mission
Hot on the heels of the latest Metroid series release, Metroid Dread for the Nintendo Switch, I just had to revisit this Game Boy Advance classic, which I overlooked as simply the original Metroid with updated graphics.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Just as Nintendo had done with rebooting Metroid II: Return of Samus as Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS, they took the first Metroid game and gave it a shot of steroids on the GBA years earlier.
Retelling the same story with a map closely resembling the original game, the rest falls into brand-new territory with not only updated graphics and sound, but much of the map is laid out with new terrain, areas, and controls to help you navigate both.
In addition, many weapons and features from latter Metroid games make an appearance, which turns the old school experience into a unique one of its own. I was so blown away by this game, it has instantly jumped into my top list of GBA titles ever made.
My only knock on Zero Mission is that it’s a short four-hour run-through. I could’ve backtracked for a few more items to 100% the game, and add a bit more time with it, but as you can see, it wasn’t necessary to complete the game.
I will say that Zero Mission is much more forgiving than the original Metroid, and its also a lot more accessible. There’s a hard mode if you wish to crank the difficulty back to the first game, but the main items helping are more energy tanks, save rooms (which didn’t exist with the password system on the NES), and maps/map rooms so you can find your way around.
Extra touches with the new power-ups don’t feel out of place either, including the speed booster first introduced in Super Metroid.
Speaking of completing the game, the bosses are all revamped as well – from Mother Brain to Kraid and Ridley, expect a different experience than what you saw on the NES. It’s familiar, but also welcome.
The images below have some spoilers I won’t note here, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of playing this title yet, do so: it’s not only one of the better Metroid games (as if there’s a bad one) but one of the best in the genre it created too. Not only is it a great remake, but it successfully refines and adds upon its source material.
Mario Kart: Super Circuit
Mario Kart: Super Circuit is a cult classic that’s sort of an oddity as well. That’s because it was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2001, five years following the Nintendo 64’s sequel to the Super Nintendo original.
However, the GBA version here, despite being a 32-bit platform, more closely resembles that of its SNES predecessor than that of the N64.
Although that sounds like a knock in my review, it really isn’t. Many of days and nights were spent with this title in hand mastering a whopping 40 levels, which was the most of any Mario Kart game up until the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8 (which only trumps it by adding DLC).
New to the series was the concept of bringing back levels from the previous SNES game, denoted here as “extra” levels and unlocked as you complete each of the Super Circuit cups: five of them, which is also an uptick from the series’ usual four-per-grand prix.
The game plays much like you’d expect, tightly tuned to its controls despite having to once again use a D-pad in lieu of an analog stick introduced with the N64 controller. Regardless, it’s still a fun romp, with the usual nine returning characters as well as all of the same items.
There are some carryovers from the N64 game, but Super Circuit is at heart, and in my opinion, a direct sequel to the SNES original as it was unable to achieve a lot of the new 3D features that the more robust N64 could accomplish. In spite of those limitations, this game is much more polished than what was capable on the Super Nintendo, and shares a closer link with its successors just based on the art direction.
I also like how the sprites are made to appear three-dimensional with a lot of different scaling and scrolling effects, not only on the opening menus but throughout the game. Some of the finer details include getting frozen (as in covered in ice) if you fall into a pit in Snow Land or seeing karts that are ahead/behind you fly above an overhead pass. Some levels also change from day to night or vice versa as the sun rises and sets.
The audio tracks are what you’d come to expect: catchy and used to where they don’t become too monotonous.
The game modes are a plenty, with the handheld nature of the GBA allowing for up to four players to link up against one another simultaneously too.
While you’re unlikely to dive into GBA games anytime soon, this title lives on with some stages reappearing as “retro” tracks in later iterations of the series. (Although there are several stages which I never want to see again… cough… Cheese Land… cough… why Mario Kart 8, why?)
As this game has been reissued in other spots, completionists and Mario Kart fans should definitely give it a look. The large number of levels and unlockables (despite no unlockable characters) will keep on busy for quite some time. The visuals aren’t so shoddy either that they’ll eventually turn you off from playing, which his maybe my biggest gripe for a game that should’ve never been on the SNES!
Pokemon FireRed and Pokémon LeafGreen were both enhanced remakes of the 1996 original Pokemon Red and Blue RPGs.
As my first foray into the series, I decided to skip the crappy Game Boy graphics and jump right into the updated versions. Knowing that each game has little difference (other than “catching them all” of course) I flipped a coin and went with LeafGreen.
Mind you, I did not grow up with the Pokemon craze, so my initial reasoning for checking these games out was to see what the hype was. Needless to say, I can see why they have appeal, but catching them all isn’t really my cup of tea.
Yet, the games have charm. They have a good mix of what you’d typically expect from Nintendo titles. This particular game borrows elements from The Legend of Zelda (trading sequences, overworld maps/levels) with that of something akin to Final Fantasy (with the monster battles). However, its unique premise is that instead of acquiring weapons or learning spells, you instead capture “Pokemon” creatures who are then leveled up and do battle with one anothers.
Of course, the more/better you capture, the more/better your odds.
With the groundbreaking double cartridge option, where each game has exclusive variations of certain Pokemon available, and tossing this on a handheld platform, Nintendo created a monster which was spun into its own company.
As for the game itself?
I rather enjoyed it.
As mentioned, the Nintendo hallmarks of a great campaign that didn’t feel too short (but almost bordered on too long) with the usual charm and solid game play, controls, and music helped firmly establish this franchise.
My main gripes are probably more attributed to the Game Boy Advance technology, with consideration that this was ported and remastered to some extent from a monochrome Game Boy title. Those grips include the tedious pacing of reading menus and slamming on the A or B button to labor through them, especially with battles. Thankfully, walking/running around is corrected eventually with use of the bicycle too. (Or else that would’ve been a reason to can this game entirely!)
I couldn’t imagine being a kid and wasting hours of my time without some ability to save states or fast forward through some of the time-killing components of the game. (I imagine the pacing was corrected in later versions, but have yet to verify that.)
Overall, the childish charm of these games shouldn’t be overlooked by any adults who missed this era. As mentioned, if you’re an RPG game type, this will be right up your alley – maybe even more than mine. For that reason, I definitely recommend checking these out, but start here, as the Game Boy graphics (along with the many hours needed to complete the game) may kill your eyesight!
Sonic Advance 2
The cartoony Game Boy Advance version of Sonic The Hedgehog received a sequel with Sonic Advance 2: a larger, faster, and much more difficult Sonic game than its predecessor.
As before, Dr. Eggman did something or other evil, and it’s up to you, playing Sonic, to run around stages and foil his plans.
Good luck in trying, as several bosses are borderline impossible to beat! Even using cheats, it was hard to get past them and that’s saying something for a handheld console directly marketed to kids. Geesh!
There are several different playable characters, which I suppose enhances the replay value of this game, but let’s fact it: you really don’t want to tackle this title without Sonic.
The graphics and sound give this game a general Sonic-like feel, but as with the first game, the overall style still reminds me of Sonic stuffed into a Saturday morning cartoon. However, for the retro-completionist in me, I felt compelled to play this game and I wasn’t sorely disappointed (save for the aforementioned difficulty – which I’m not the only one who felt this way according to reviews!)
If you feel the same way, then I recommend checking this game out. However, it still feels like a marginal upgrade to the first game and nowhere near the same experience as my favorite Sonic title to date, Sonic CD on the Sega CD console.
Super Mario Advance
Holy-cowza Batman! Anyone who knows me knows how much I loved Super Mario Bros. 2. It was the second game I ever owned as a kid, and first-ever purchase, aside from the pack-in Super Mario Bros. that came with the NES.
Little did I know that this launch title for the Game Boy Advance built upon (and bastardized) the Super Mario All-Stars version of SMB2! (And that’s not a bad thing!)
A synopsis of changes made in this edition of the game include larger enemies and plants, added platforms and hearts (that you can even pluck like a plant) plus more potions, and a better “super jump”, all to make a somewhat challenging game much easier.
But the biggest alteration of all was the addition of a completely brand-new boss that only appears in this game: Robirdo! (Who is the only “in your face” full contact of the main bosses.) She spits larger eggs and charges at you, and within this version of the game, it flat-out works.
I’ve had trouble panning any of the reissues of several beloved titles from my mouth and this is another that totally blindsided me with how good it is even in comparison of the original. It’s crazy how much they changed in this game, but I found the not-so-subtle changes to be fun! So much fun, I wish I could give this two thumbs up.
Note: My wife claims to always have a guilt trip as a child that they finished the original NES title without using Luigi, as the game will show you how many times you used each of the four characters after completing it. So I made sure Luigi got used at least once, because he’s still a terrible character outside of accessing one warp pipe in World 5!
This game restored my faith in the Sonic franchise.
The last “great” Sonic game I had played along my adventures was Sonic CD. Naturally, that came after the three Genesis titles and the Sonic & Knuckles add-on, which were all stellar.
Then came the (five) horrid Game Gear titles, which were mostly 8-bit bastards of their Genesis parents. Those games ranged from super easy to stupid difficult to beat. (There was no in-between!)
Most of that was due to awful programming with controls or smashing things onto a small Game Gear screen.
Imagine my surprise when I got my hands on the Game Boy Advance’s Sonic Advance. It was the first-ever Sonic game to be released on a Nintendo platform following Sega bowing out of the console wars.
In Sonic Advance, you can play as Sonic, Knuckles, or Amy. The graphics are altered for the Game Boy Advance and are an upgrade over the old 8-bit and 16-bit titles, with the exception of my personal preference of not liking the cartoonish art direction, especially with the main characters themselves.
Nearly everything else follows the same formula: each zone has two acts, you collect rings, fight a boss and/or “Eggman”, etc.. The game is brief but satisfying, with many nods to other games in the series (no spoilers!)
I urge any Sonic fans to check this out.
I, myself, can’t wait to check out the sequels.
Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3
A reissue of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island for the GBA, SMBA3 (love these acronyms) makes some slight adjustments for the small screen while also cleaning the game up.
One of the most notable changes is playing with shoulder buttons, as the GBA handheld only had two face buttons (B & A). This is actually not a big change and seems “right”.
The Yoshi sprite has also been updated from SMW2 and looks cleaner. Animations don’t stutter like the previous Super Nintendo version, which really (REALLY) pushed the limits of that console.
Another update is a real clock, for when you lose baby Mario (the SNES version counted half seconds while this update uses full second increments). That helps for a less frantic but still challenging game.
Everything else is still here, but in true “Super Mario Advance” fashion Nintendo added additional stages which are only available in this title. Six “special” levels are unlocked after beating the game, and they are unique and challenging, which is a welcome addition to a title which has spawned several sequels.
In fact, if I were to redo my bucket list of games, I’d probably play this version over the original. It’s that solid of remake/reissue.
Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3
Continuing on my quest to play all things, Mario, this game may come as a surprise to anyone who never played it, as it contains what I feel is the best-kept secret in the side-scrolling Mario universe: World E.
First, this SMB 3 remake is based on the Super Nintendo’s “Super Mario All-Stars” compilation, which used upgraded graphics and sound. The Game Boy Advance titles further added tweaks, such as Mario’s voice (“That’s just what I needed!”) and other gameplay enhancements. (More on that in a second.)
To help sell the GBA’s e-Reader device, Nintendo also created a special “World E” for this remake, which could be unlocked by using trading cards (sold separately) and the e-Reader device. Like the good Nintendo fanboy (sucker) I was back in the day, I had bought a Game Boy Advance SP (because it had a backlight whereas the launch console did not) and therefore I had the necessary TWO Game Boy Advance consoles needed to use the e-Reader device!
The cards used added special power-ups and abilities that were not native to SMB3. Luckily, I was able to acquire a ROM with all of the levels unlocked which featured many of these abilities.
The best way to describe these levels is “NES Remix”. If you’ve ever played any of those, then the mashups here won’t seem strange. In fact, the additions were so cool I wish they’d release an entire game based on the additional 33 World E levels.
The first few boards are remakes of the first Super Mario Bros but all within the confines of the SMB3 “feel”. Included are elements from Mario 2 and Super Mario World, which, within that SMB3 “feel” are a welcome change of pace. You can pull weeds for veggies to toss, coins, or even the Lost Levels “poison mushroom” (which will make Mario small or kill him depending on the current status).
Rope/vine climbing and digging through the sand from Mario 2 also show up. Mario’s cape makes an appearance, as does a boomerang that you can throw.
Several other tweaks include enemies from all of the games (such as Wiggler), makeshift ghost houses, Koopa Kids, and areas that require precise speed runs.
The new airships are just as fun to play through, and without any more spoilers, there are several more surprises in these levels that leaves me wondering why they’re not more commonplace in the Super Mario lore.
This is a must-play set of levels for ANY fan of the original games.