|Reference added: 206|
"Some of the Pro Pinball designers went on in Fuse to make Mario Pinball Land."
I had great hopes for this one, but it turned out kind of different than developer Fuse's last work. Three founders of Fuse or something were supposedly three major players on the Pro Pinball series (see entry 206), a great, realistic Western-style pinball series with lots of scoring modes and so forth.
Well, since Fusing together they've changed their style for Nintendo and, apparently greatly inspired by Kirby's Pinball Land (see entry 655) or Power Rangers Zeo (see entry 203) have gone with Eastern-style "adventure" pinball, in which the focus is not so much on scoring modes in a single table as it is clearing a lot of little tables.
Whereas Kirby's has three tables, and Power Rangers has maybe between one and two dozen, MPL I think has thirty or so, all tiny little things that fit on the GBA screen without scrolling. Generally speaking you bop whatever is moving on the table until it's all gone, then you hit the star that descends and go on to the next mini-table. Gates with a number on them block access to other mini-tables, and you can only open the gate if you have at least as many stars as the number shown on the gate. There are separate themed worlds and boss fights and even bonus item collecting and so forth. The graphics are pre-rendered of course, since Westerners can't draw sprites apparently, but they look pretty good for that and the sound is peppy, although I could strangle that voice of Mario guy who won't shut up as Mario-ball bounces around.
So, great game, yeah? Well, I don't know. You can continue indefinitely, it seems, if you really want to get all the stars (this clears your score however). So eventually I could crack it, I think. But this type of pinball gameplay pretty much leads to forcing the player to complete ever-harder little action mini-puzzles, and if you slip up, you drain the ball back to the previous mini-table, and in this game that means you have to do whatever is necessary to get back out of that mini-table all over again. Yay. So instead of doing a mini-table once, you'll probably do it lots of times, but it only counts for something once and later times you'll just be gritting your teeth as you try to get through it as quickly as possible to get to the one part that you *haven't* cleared yet. Not only that, lots of times you clear a mini-table and then the game doesn't really have anything for you to do, so it just blinks a big red arrow down the middle and you have to let your ball drain out to backtrack.
Furthermore, the puzzles really aren't explained to the new player--I was genuinely confused when I picked this thing up and tried to play it. It doesn't tell you what the numbers on the gates are, or how you get stars, or anything really. Sure you figure it out eventually, but there are always parts of new minitables where you're left wondering "did I get everything here?" And in fact you may not have since the game routes you back through previously-cleared areas once you do certain other things, but at least in this case it shows clearly that something has re-activated there. Of course, that doesn't make playing through that part again much more fun.
Regular pinball tables are a constant high because you're always getting points, and points are the point. Here, the real point is stars, since there are no scoring modes to make point-getting interesting, and you are definitely NOT always getting stars. Setbacks to your quest abound, and it gets frustrating.
So for that reason, I hesitate when I think about whether to play it more. I've seen others complain about the physics, but I see nothing wrong in that department, in fact they're probably the best you'll find on a handheld. Now, these people might be frustrated with the way that the ball just whips circularly around the outside of a table, hitting nothing, but that's because so many of the tables are frickin' round!