Well, this is it. After delibrating whether or not to splash out the vastly inflated price for an import GBA and game - ordering one, cancelling the order in a rare moment of adult decision-making and common sense then re-ordering it ... it's here, and I'm impressed. Very impressed.
The GBA itself is awesome, it looks good and feels comfortable. Although the cross-key control pad and position of the shoulder buttons (L in particular when you're using the pad at the same time) mean I'm a bit concerned at how playing SSF2A will turn out. But anyway - the machine is a wonder, and the first game I've played is a suitably impressive piece of software to match.
Right from the start you can tell that SMA is part game, part ''look at our hardware'' show-off demo. The same way Super Mario World had all sorts of neat Mode 7 tricks to make you think ''wow! The SNES is incredible!'' - the same way the first level of Mario 64 was basically ''LOOK AT WHAT WE CAN DO ON THIS THING!!!1'' -- it's hardware pimping at it's finest.
As soon as you press start you're assailed by tonnes of clear sampled speech ''Choose your game! Super Mario Brothers ... USA! Choose a player!'' etc. The four selectable players; Mario, Luigi, Kinopo (Toad) and Peach
(Toadstool) all have plenty of things to say, from grunts and shouts while jumping and throwing, to amusing little phrases they utter when the collect something useful. Peach says ''Fresh from the bottle'' after killing several enemies at once, while Mario says ''A tasty treat!'' - and of course the Mario brothers' classic ''Mamma mia!'' when they die never stops being funny.
I must say Kinopo's insane screaming delivery disturbed me a little, especially when you consider the happy fun things he's saying. Brrr - never trust a mushroom man. The cutest thing ever is when you pick up the crystal after beating the egg-spitting thing - all the players say ''A crystal!'' in the sweetest voice. Whatever. All the bosses speak too.
It's worth noting that none of the speech of the GBA version was in either the NES SMB2 or the SNES All-Stars remake - it's all new, just put in to show off the audio capabilities of the console.
The music is impressive too. Not quite SNES-quality (though how could that tiny speaker match a decent TV/Sound system?) - but leaps and bounds above any other handheld. There's a noticable lack of variety in the tunes - an ''outdoor'' song, and ''indoor'', a ''boss'' song and the classic SMB theme song when you go into 'subspace' is pretty much it. Oh well.
The graphics have been enhanced too, there's an occaisional moment of sheer gratuity (the rotating wheels and platforms in the rooms inside the jars) but most of it is subtle -- the way thrown enemies rotate when you throw them, the sprite scaling on the select screen, the new giant vegetables, POW blocks and Shyguys. The ''super jump'' move (charge down until the character flashes then jump) has been redrawn to look like a ''Mario 64'' somersault, complete with the same ''Wahoo!'' sample, rather than just an extra high version of the normal jump.
The actual graphics themselves are awesome - clear, bright, highly detailed and colourful - with no blurring,
flickering or slowdown. The GBA is a mighty piece of hardware, make no mistake.
However ... as great as the thing looks and sounds ... the sad truth is, it's still Super Mario Brothers 2, my least favourite Mario platformer. We all know the story of how the game was Doki Doki Panic and it was altered etc And the problems I had with it then are still here today. The altered gameplay, the weird setting, the lame characters -- all draw a resounding ''EH'' from me. It's fun enough, but it just lacks that spark that makes its brethren so special.
The thing that gets me, is why on earth, out of all the NES/SNES era Mario games to choose from, did Nintendo pick the worst one? On it's own it's fun enough, and a great showcase for the handheld - but every other 8/16 bit Mario title leaves it in the dust. And personally I'd rather replay a great game I've played to death but on a handheld; than play a less-popular ''black sheep of the family'' title that I've only ever completed once.
There are a few GBA-only features. The inclusion of the original Mario Brothers game - where you throw shells at another player, or attempt to kill all the Spinies if you're playing one-player is a nice little diversion, and the challenge of collecting all 5 coins from each level is tough, rewarding slow, methodical exploration over blindly dashing through the level.
I suppose any Mario game is better than no Mario games, and if you're a bigger fan of the original that I am (not hard) then you'll find a lot of fun in it. As it stands, I think it's a great first attempt on a brand new handheld - it's just let down a bit by the source material. As a demo of what can be done it's first-rate - and when you consider the vast gulf in terms of looks and technology between the first SNES games (Super Mario World and Zelda 3) and the last ones (Yoshi's Island, Mario RPG etc.) -- the fact that the first GBA game looks far better than the first SNES titles -- the future looks bright indeed.