Super Mario Advance 4: The Unfortunate Circumstances of the Special E-Level System

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When it was released in 2003, Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 marked the end of Nintendo’s act of bringing updated versions of classic Mario platform games to the Game Boy Advance. It was a grand send-off, however, as the final game in the Mario Advance series was a port of a game that many consider being one of, if not the best, Mario game ever made on account of its level variety, excellent power-up items, and thrilling challenge level. The send-off would have been even better if one of the port’s special features, the E-Levels, were completely utilized outside of Japan. These new stages would require the e-Reader accessory and special e-Reader cards just to access them. Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, many people would never be able to legally access a lot of these brand new levels. This was the reason why Super Mario did not do very well. However, this was not the case with Minecraft. With constant updates, shaders minecraft, and easy access the game did really well in terms of sales. Moreover, there are still millions of players that are playing Minecraft regularly. 

First, a little background information about the Nintendo e-Reader. Released in 2002, the device was designed for people to attach to the Game Boy Advance and swipe cards to access a variety of features. Some cards would allow people to play various classic NES games. Others would activate mini-games not featured anywhere else or add features to other games, including trainers for some Pokemon games. Apparently, Nintendo wanted to make a lot of money and try to utilize the e-Reader’s functions so that people could access the new stages included in Super Mario Advance 4. As neat as the idea sounded on paper, the execution would end up backfiring.

The new stages, which were located in a place called World, accessible from the main menu, were rather like a combination of elements from the entire Mario Advance series. In addition to features from Super Mario Bros. 3, there were vegetables to pick like in Super Mario Bros. 2 and ghost houses to explore like in Super Mario World. Also, players could collect special coins (like the Ace coins in Mario 2 or the Dragon coins in Mario World) in order to unlock new mini-games and other features. Nintendo also decided to implement the e-Reader by creating two other types of cards which could also be used in the original levels. One type would give players a certain power-up the item at any time, while the other type would unlock demo movies which were rather like the hint movies from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

When the game was released, it initially came packaged with a pair of e-Reader cards, and some copies even came with another five cards. To get these cards, you would have to pick up the game at Wal-Mart, which carried the cards exclusively. Two packs of cards, divided into Series 1 and Series 2, were released at about the same time as the game. These cards would be used to access the levels, demos, and power-up items, and the initial set of new levels was covered in the Prima strategy guide. Nintendo promised and even advertised, more cards so that players would be able to enter even more new levels. However, fate had other plans.

Soon after the game and cards were released, additional card sets beyond Series 2 were taken off the release schedule, as were any other planned e-Reader projects outside of Japan. As it turned out, Nintendo had decided to quietly cancel any further support for the e-Reader. Consequently, the remaining cards were not released worldwide. Americans would not get the chance to use any other cards, and neither would Australians. In Europe, the e-Reader was never released, and thus they did not even get the opportunity to access even the initial set of new stages. Thus, Nintendo’s big plan turned out to be a huge bust.

Perhaps it is no wonder that their plan failed, because people may not be willing to spend a lot of money just to access some new levels. Having to purchase the game, the cards, and the e-Reader would be a hassle. The levels could just as well have been unlocked by clearing special conditions in the main game, such as beating all of the stages in a world or defeating Bowser. Nintendo would make the same mistake with The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, in which multiple players needed Game Boy Advance systems and game links in order to simply play the game. The unwillingness for players to spend too much money just to play a game caused the company to cancel any further Gamecube-Game Boy Advance connectivity projects. Companies should learn that people should not have to shell out too much cash just so they could play a game or access a certain feature.

What really makes the entire tragedy worse is that the new stages themselves appeared to be quite fun and challenging. Mixing elements from past Mario games would make for some fresh new challenges…something that New Super Mario Bros. Wii pulled off beautifully. About the closest that one can get to experience many of the new levels legally is to watch videos on YouTube that feature these stages. However, I wish that Nintendo could release all of the E-Level stages so that players could experience them without having to buy several things. Surely it would not be out of the question for Nintendo to release the stages as DSiWare under a title such as Super Mario Advance 4: The Lost Levels. That way, we would finally get the opportunity to experience the levels for ourselves.

The concept of accessing optional stages is always a strong one, and other Mario games have pulled it off rather well. Super Mario Advance 4, on the other hand, did not, and all because people needed the e-Reader and a lot of cards just to enter them. In the end, everyone lost: Nintendo because they ended up canceling e-Reader support, and the players because they would not be able to explore any other new stages. Had the e-Reader not been required to reach the levels, they would have been accessed by and enjoyed by, a lot more players. The next time that Nintendo wishes to have people spend a lot of cash just to access a portion of a game, or the entire game, they would be wise to learn from their past mistakes, or else history will repeat itself, and the company would become a laughing stock.

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