Mario Pinball Land
By Zach Patterson Wednesday, 22 Apr 2009

Mario Pinball Land was the inevitable merging of Mario and pinball that was released on GBA. This game piqued my interest for a number of reasons; I’ve been a pinball fan as long as I can remember playing games in arcades, I’m a sucker for themed pinball, I’m a Mario fan, and it is the predecessor to the highly entertaining Metroid Prime Pinball, both developed by Fuse Games. While the basis for many of the great ideas for Metroid Prime Pinball can be seen here in their infancy, this game unfortunately has a few more issues that prevent if from being truly great. One thing that I feel hurts this game right off the bat is that each field you can play on has no scrolling at all, so what you see on the GBA’s wide screen is what you get. This leads to wide, fat fields that don’t have a ton of cool things on them. Also, one pinball staple, totally sweet ramps, are completely missing for the most part. So instead of shooting for ramps, the main goal of MPL is to reach certain objectives on each “level” in order to gain stars to advance. Most of these goals involve killing wandering enemies on the screen, or hitting certain bumper-type targets to unlock other areas. This is by no means a deal breaker on the game, it just means it’s a different type of pinball. And I just happen

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to prefer pinball with ramps and long fields of play. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to find that the controls just aren’t that great. While the flippers are responsive and Mario bounces around about as you would expect him to, the accuracy in landing your shots just doesn’t seem to be there. I racked up quite a few hours on this game, and I still have trouble accurately hitting anything at an angle. This unfortunately really hurts the game in many crucial points. The reason for this being that the game is based on hitting certain doors or openings to get to other parts of levels, and sometimes you might need to successfully hit 4 or 5 different spots in order to get to a boss or an area you need to be in order to collect a star. Once you get there, if you make mistake, well, you are bumped out to the next room, now you have to try again to get back in there, except that if there was a trick to getting into that room, it has been reset and you have to do it again. And if you fall through to another lower level, well, it’s even more frustrating to get back. Sometimes an easy boss is harder to get to than it is to kill.

Mario Pinball Land's opening field

Mario Pinball Land's opening field

The game does nail a few things though, and graphics are one of them. This is a pretty looking game, full of big colorful bosses, diverse worlds, and many enemies on screen at once in many instances. Fuse did an excellent job with the atmosphere. The presentation is a little lacking, as I feel they could

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have made it feel a bit more like a Mario adventure and less like a “Mario themed pinball board”. It’s a subtle difference, but the game gives you a solid progression system via stars and such but doesn’t tie it together with much story or too much nostalgia. The music is arrangements of Mario stuff and a few original sounding tunes. Not bad, but nothing really stuck out. The game also provides a lot to do, but I think the controls make it rather hard to actually complete it, as I found myself repeating fields over and over again trying to get certain goals which were very difficult to meet, while i kept falling through to lower levels or advancing when i didn’t want to. So in other words, with a little better control over where you could shoot your ball, the game would be pretty great. As such, it comes off a little harder than a Mario game should be. Overall, this game was very close to getting it right, but it just doesn’t feel as polished and as “right” as a Mario game normally feels. Had there been scrolling fields, ramps, tighter controls, and more immersion into the idea that this is a Mario game in pinball form, I think this would have been a great game. As it is, it is a flawed, fun, and frustrating title all at once.

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