During the Game Boy Advance era, Nintendo was on a roll with remaking classic Mario games and giving them unnecessarily lengthy, confusing titles with the Super Mario Advance series. With this series, Nintendo took the opportunity to update the iconic plumber’s worlds and characters with contemporary visuals, sound, and features. Continuing with this tradition, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 was no exception.
Originally released in 2003, Super Mario Advance 4 was recently re-released for Wii U’s Virtual Console. To clear up any confusion, this game is the fourth entry in the Super Mario Advance series, which is a remake of Super Mario Bros. 3, and will hereafter be referred to as Advance 4.
For the one person out there who may be unfamiliar with Super Mario games: the game is a 2D platformer in which the goal is to run, jump, and stomp as Mario to the end of each level. Along the way, he squishes or ignores any bad guys in his path, collects power-ups, and tries to avoid falling into pits. Over the past 30 years, the Super Mario games have mastered such simple concept with their polished controls, vibrant worlds, cheery characters, and excellent level design.
Upon first glance, the differences in presentation between Advance 4 and the original Super Mario Bros. 3 are immediately noticeable. Taking advantage of the GBA’s advanced graphical capabilities, the characters and world of Advance 4 are more vibrant and detailed than the original, with every asset in the game receiving a full makeover. As you might expect, many of these visual upgrades were carried out in an effort to keep the game aesthetically consistent with modern Mario games — so say goodbye to Mario and Luigi’s black overalls of the original version. Due to the blending of SMB3’s established artistic blueprint and Mario’s modern appearance, the graphics of Advance 4 seem to land somewhere between SMB3 and Super Mario World, although they mostly lean toward the latter. As a side note, and an unfortunate detractor, SMB3’s heavy use of shadows in the game world, which helped give it a unique look and feel, have been largely downplayed in Advance 4.
Visually, Advance 4’s vivid color palette is pleasant and refreshing, while making the original game look a little boring and washed out in comparison. The sound department, on the other hand, falls a little short from the Super Mario Bros. 3 legacy.
One of the biggest leaps in sound design for the Super Mario games came with the 16-bit jump to Super Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Mario World. And along with the updated visuals, Advance 4 also adopted those modern sound effects. While many fans prefer the SNES sound effects for jumping, coin collecting, and brick smashing, some gamers might find them out of place in the context of SMB3. In addition to the retrofitted sound effects, Mario’s infamous voice actor, Charles Martinet, lends his vocal talents to Mario and Luigi as they hop around each level, adding some fun pep to the game.
While the borrowed sound effects from Super Mario World are decent, I found the music of Advance 4 to be sub-par. The classic tunes of Super Mario Bros. 3 have been “updated” to GBA standards, which means more synthesized tracks were layered into each song. Unfortunately, this meddling resulted in muddied renditions of the clean, crisp, and familiar original NES tunes. On a positive note, however, the bass track of each song has been replaced with a new slap-bass style track, which does a fantastic job of bringing the funk.
Thankfully, the gameplay of Advance 4 retains all of the original’s smooth-platforming perfection. Super Mario games are world-renowned for their controls and level design, and Advance 4 is built on the schematics of one of the best games in the series — and arguably one of the best platformers of all time.
Each level within the eight worlds was expertly crafted almost 30 years ago, and Advance 4 recreates them near-flawlessly. In true Mario fashion, the simple level design and difficulty eases players into the game with the first few levels, intuitively teaching the game mechanics in the process. By the time players reach the last world, they can expect to have developed the advanced skills needed to match the equally advanced difficulty.
The original SMB3 marked the beginning of when the Super Mario series began using a World Map in which the player advanced through the levels within the vivacious worlds — each with a unique theme such as desert, snow, and water. Not only that, but it also began the tradition of placing castle levels containing mini-bosses halfway through each world. These elements have become a staple of the Super Mario games, and Advance 4’s remastered versions are shining examples of why they became so popular in the first place — even if the mini-bosses are a little repetitive by today’s standards.
In contrast to more recent Super Mario games, common power-ups, such as Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Super Leafs, are sparsely scattered throughout the stages. Even with the ability to save some power-ups via simple inventory system, the scarce availability of power-ups makes each one feel momentous and coveted, rather than status quo. The more powerful power-ups, such as Tanooki Suits, Frog Suits, and Kuribo’s Shoes, are so rare you may not actually find one during a playthrough, depending how you play.
Nintendo is well-known for adding content — and occasionally changing it — with their remakes, and Advance 4 was one of the first titles to do so in such a drastic manner.
One of the first instances of additional content in Advance 4 is its story. Yep, Nintendo gave the game a little context by adding an opening cinematic. I will forego spoilers, but do not expect the plot to be super enlightening. In addition to the new opening, what little in-game text the original had is slightly altered in Advance 4 to make the story a little more cohesive. In 1988, most gamers probably didn’t even realize SMB3 had a story. While playing Advance 4, most gamers will still probably forget there is a story, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it neither adds nor subtracts from the experience.
Perhaps one of the most welcome additions of Advance 4 is the ability to create three separate save files. In each file, the player can save their progress at any point and the game prompts you to save after you conquer each castle or airship. Although the saving feature was surely added because of the portable nature of the GBA, it is still nice to be able to take a break and pick it back up later in one of three separate playthroughs.
Before starting a save file, the player is given the choice of playing one of two separate modes: “Mario” or “Mario & Luigi,” which are basically the GBA’s adaptation of single player or two players, respectively. If playing in Mario & Luigi mode with a friend, players have to pass the controller after each turn, which does not really affect the core gameplay. However, it should be noted in Mario & Luigi mode that the Mario Bros. arcade-style battle mini-game of the original SMB3 has been removed from the GBA remake, which is likely due to each player having to share a controller. In its place, Advance 4 offers the ability to transfer and share lives between the two brothers, allowing this mode to be played effectively as a single player romp or a way for another player to easily drop in or out without interrupting the flow of the game.
Another small but welcome addition, players are given the opportunity to view a replay of their most recent level attempt, which comes in handy for learning from past mistakes made on difficult levels or revisiting epic moments of triumph.
During my several playthroughs of Advance 4, I also noticed a handful of changes to the levels. Unfortunately, most of these changes, while minuscule, were clearly intended to make certain parts of the game a little easier. For instance, I noticed that some platforms have been extended to make them easier to land on, or certain Piranha Plants were stripped of their ability to spit fireballs. I also found the classic slots and card matching mini-games to be slightly more frequent in Advance 4 than they were in the original SMB3, which is a positive mark in my book.
The biggest addition to Advance 4 is the inclusion of 38 “Level Card” levels. Originally, players could only access these levels on GBA through the purchase of a physical e-Reader and e-Reader cards — a likely precursor to today’s amiibo functionality. Fortunately, every e-Reader level is already unlocked in the Virtual Console version, allowing many gamers to play them for the first time.
The additional Level Card levels, which are found in the new “World-e,” are extremely varied and drastically different from the typical designs of the core game. Gameplay ranges from remakes of past Super Mario levels to challenge levels with specific gimmicks — a gameplay cocktail that feels a lot like something you might find in the depths of Super Mario Maker. Also, some levels employ Super Mario Bros. 2’s mechanic of picking up objects, among other past games’ trademark gameplay elements, which brings even more variety and enjoyment to the experience.
World-e takes diversity to a new level by allowing the player to choose between Mario or Luigi, with each plumber using their distinctive controls; Mario controls as usual, but Luigi jumps higher while having less traction on the ground. Even more, each Level Card level features up to five Advance Coins scattered throughout, adding an extra degree of challenge in a similar manner to Star Coins of modern Mario games.
As another bit of bonus content, Advance 4 comes with a remake of the original Mario Bros. arcade game, and the visual and audio assets have all been upgraded here, too. However, the controls for this game were polished ever-so-slightly, giving the player more traction on the ground than in the original version. This tweak, although tiny, makes the game much more enjoyable than its antiquated arcade ancestor, though its lack of multiplayer ability on the Virtual Console port is a shame.
Overall, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 not only improves upon the original, but it also adds a lot of value to the package by including the Level Card levels and the bonus Mario Bros. game. Although Super Mario Bros. 3 purists will most likely prefer the original NES version’s visuals, sound, and preserved level design, newcomers and anyone looking for a fresh take on the classic will find plenty to enjoy with this remake on the Wii U Virtual Console.