Review by Malorkus

Reviewed: 07/14/06 | Updated: 06/16/16

Gutter ball.

Pinball is becoming a forgotten art. The only place you find a pinball machine these days is in a collector’s basement. In the process, pinball video games have also fallen by the wayside. It’s a shame, because many of these games were really fun. Sonic Spinball, Kirby's Tilt n' Tumble, Pokemon Pinball, and so on breathed innovative life into an an otherwise dull game. Mario Pinball Land, however, was a sign of the genre’s dying breath. Yes, it was only a matter of time before Mario was introduced to the pinball world, especially after Nintendo’s success with Pokemon. But instead, it was handed off to a new developer called known as Fuse Games. With Nintendo's guidance, they were able to bring Mario's world into the pinball world beautifully. What they forgot, however, is virtually everything that makes a pinball game a pinball game.

In one of the most unnecessary story additions ever (even for a Mario game), Mario and Peach go to the carnival together for a nice fun time that doesn't involve lava pits. Some Toads have opened a new "ride" that sticks you in a machine and shoots you out as a ball, which sounds no fun at all, but whatever. When Peach gets to the front of the line, some Goombas take over the ride and launch her into Bowser’s Castle, which happens to be conveniently located right next to the carnival. Mario jumps in the machine himself to become a ball and save the princess. As soon as you begin the game, you are thrown right into the pinball action. You do not even get to launch your ball. Everything begins immediately, which smacks of the presentation of a Flash game. You can control the flippers to launch Mario into different parts of the table, with a pipe acting as a “blocker” at the bottom that does not even work properly.

There are five different tables with unique environments, such as a windmill and a sunken ship. Familiar Mario enemies are used as obstacles. Usually, you are required to defeat all the enemies in an area before you move on. Clearing an area will earn you a star, which allow you to access new parts of each table. Coins from enemies can be used to purchase items from randomly placed Toad tents. Collecting all the stars is the main goal, which is easier said than done, given how broken the game actually plays. The physics, arguably the most important part of a pinball game, are awful. Mario has no controlled speed, and the table dynamics have zero effect on Mario’s physics at all. The game even lacks a tilt feature, which is a necessity for video game pinball. This means that if Mario is heading straight down the middle of the table, out of range of the two flippers, there is no way to adjust the table to tilt Mario to the right or left to prevent him from falling out of the machine.

Falling out of the machine to your death is usually bad enough, but Mario Pinball Land’s punishment is even worse than death. Every time you fall out of a puzzle area, you go back to the area you were before, and have to start that entire previous puzzle over. This is extremely annoying in situations where you have to go back through a series of puzzles in order to get back to a certain chamber. Because of this, you feel constantly frustrated but never challenged. Words cannot describe how annoying it is to defeat a boss and fall into the gutter before claiming the star, meaning you have to defeat the boss all over again. Speaking of bosses, each table has one hiding behind a series of puzzle rooms. The boss fights are pretty annoying, especially since their breakneck speed make it impossible to control Mario, usually killing you.

Items are yet another seemingly cool idea that end up being more of a pain than a help. Toad tents will randomly spawn on tables, and hitting them will take you to the shop whether you want to or not. If you are actually doing something in that room, like defeating enemies or solving a puzzle, it will reset everything if you accidentally hit the tent, which is very easy to do. Basic Mario items like mushrooms and stars will let you grow and become invincible respectively, just as they would in a standard Mario game. It is again a cool concept that is implemented poorly. In fact, if the awful physics were not enough, Mario Pinball Land is almost completely unplayable thanks to a poorly-tested save system. The game automatically saves after you either get a game over or pause and save. But if you decide to turn off your game without saving, you lose your whole save data completely. It's painful enough to play through the game once, and I can only imagine it would be well-near impossible to play through it again.

Mario Pinball Land is one of the biggest failures to ever sport the Mario name. The physics are basically nonexistent, which mean everything in a pinball game. The table layouts are terrible, the puzzles are annoying, and the game as a whole was clearly rushed if such ridiculous things as a faulty save system made it through. When you consider how other such landmark franchises as Pokemon and Sonic were able to have great pinball games, Mario's misfire is all the more perplexing. Perhaps pinball games have simply run their course. But more likely, Mario Pinball Land is just a terrible game, and possibly the biggest atrocity the plumber has been put through since the infamous CD-I incidents. Don’t bother refilling this ball with air. Just throw it away.

Rating:   1.0 - Terrible

Product Release: Mario Pinball Land (US, 10/04/04)

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