Mario, Toad, Princess Peach et al are all relaxing, playing around with a special device that turns you into a compact ball shape. Then each of them begins to take it in turns to shoot themselves from a cannon towards a target. However, the fun is cut short by some pesky Goombas who sneakily wait for the Princess to be rolled into the cannon, before quickly dashing out, changing the direction of the cannon and firing her off into a strange dimension. Appalled at the occurrence before his eyes, Mario opts to follow her and save the day as usual by transforming himself into a pinball and flipping his was to rescue his dame.
Switch on your GBAs and SPs then prepare to be amazed. What you will see before your eyes is truly amazing - far better than the techniques used in Donkey Kong Country and easily on a par with the tremendous Squaresoft SNES effort, Super Mario RPG. Whereas you might be bowled over by the stunning three-dimensionally rendered characters, all lovely and smooth with hardly and of the jerkiness found in the attempts at First Person Shooters on the GBA, this is not the only impressive instance in Super Mario Ball. What could be better, though? FMV clips, that is exactly what! Yes there are cartoon episodes available in the US from Majesco and Square Enix has FMV in its upcoming portable Kingdom Hearts RPG, but this is a small British group that has quietly been beavering away and managed to trump everyone and gets Super Mario Ball looking colourful, chunky, fast and still find room to squeeze in beautiful FMV clips! Who said our sector of the Industry was dying…
Rather shockingly for a Mario spin-off title, there is not the usual complement of remixed tunes from the plumber’s past outings littering the game. This really would not have been a problem had the newly composed tracks have actually been of a high enough calibre. However, that is definitely not the case, with the whole experience being filled with instantly forgettable ditties, most of which are festival-themed. Thankfully, though, the quality of the speech within is extremely pleasing and the sound effects hark back to the days of yore (well, the days of the NES and SNES anyway…). Somewhat of a letdown on the whole. Who would have thought we would miss those Mario remixes so much? However, should you be of the patient sort, then you will eventually find that the unusual style throughout will begin to grow on you (slightly).
If you wander into the shops and see this sat merrily on the store’s wall, you would be forgiven for thinking Nintendo had just launched a traditional pinball game, except with the action taking place within the trappings of the Mario Universe, complete with little Mario-isms to make the whole thing that little bit extra-special. However, a huge surprise awaits the game upon starting up the cartridge. You see this is no mere pinball title - it is a clever melding of that genre with Mario’s usual platform confines. Yet it will definitely test your skills and patience levels to the limit, with only the toughest seeing the whole thing through.
Therefore, this means that you will be massively disappointed if you were expecting you normal silver ball and so on. You will be ultimately gutted when you discover the aim is not to garner the most points before you ball slips away from the table. But you will be happy with the various objectives you have to complete and the amount of skill required to collect everything and defeat the pesky enemies around you on your route to rescue the princess…and you can still rack up high points totals to get your name to the top of the leader board at the end of the game, so you need not worry too much.
You start off on a screen with Mario stood waiting to be ‘ball-i-fied’, click the ‘A’ button and off he is launched onto one of the many interestingly-themed tables, that range from a carnival settings to sandy desert locales to underwater tests. There will be familiar enemies such as Goombas, Shy Guys and many more loitering around that you can smack into to gain coins - gold ones for a simple kill or blue ones when killing several in a row for a combo and red ones that are obtainable after hitting special ! switches. The aim is to figure out how to win the Star on each screen, with it normally taking the defeat of on-screen enemies, yet reaching to the solving of more complex puzzles. Eventually you will gain enough Stars to open up the doors to other areas of your current table.
This would not be a Mario game without the usual array of items to collect and in certain circumstances you will see Toad appear in one of the rooms you enter. Hit him and you can buy items with your coin stash like mushrooms that shrink you or increase your size, depending on what your requirements are; lightning bolts that kill all enemies currently on-screen and blue pipes that block the hole between the flippers for a short time, providing you with a safety net and delaying the annoying drop back to the previous room (this can prove so damn frustrating!) and Yoshi eggs that split into several extra balls on the table. Factor in the large bosses at the end of each world as well and you quickly realise that this is actually deeper than many people would have you believe.
Now there has been much talk of the length of Super Mario Ball and to be honest there are not that many tables overall. But then again the first Pokémon Pinball only had two tables and relied on the complexity of the game to increase the challenge. That is the same here in all honesty - with six tables, split into multiple rooms, each with special Stars in for you to work out how to get and then eventually claim as your own. Then there is the high amount of skill required to work your way successfully round each of the worlds, kill any enemies in your way, solve puzzles to help progression and be rid of the gruesome bosses that await you in the final room of each world. Therefore, suddenly the six worlds do not seem so short and with the points table that you can find in all pinball titles, it means that should you so desire, you can simply roll around trying to rack up the highest possible score to see your initials plastered above the rest.