Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Super Mario Advance

Posted by Tracy Poff on February 15, 2016

A break from game reviews to look at a curio from 2001: Super Mario Advance. Wait, isn’t that a game? Well…

Super Mario Advance (book) - cover

This is Super Mario Advance by Craig Wessel (perhaps the same as the author of A Parent’s Guide to Computer Games?), a choose your own adventure book based on Super Mario Advance the game (the GBA version of Super Mario USA). Hints for secrets in the game are scattered throughout the story, and it includes a tiny (seven page) game guide at the end.

The book entices the reader, in its introduction, with “This special book is more than just one story about Mario and his friends — it’s a choose-your-own-adventure book. You get to decide what happens every time you read this book!” Exciting! This freedom of choice, Wessel promises, is “the best part — there are several endings to this book! Some are good, but some of them are bad. Every time you read it, you can make a different set of choices and read a brand-new story.”

I’ve probably given away already by writing this that the book doesn’t quite live up to its promises. As I read it, I found that I was doing a lot of flipping through the book without too many choices, and some of the choices didn’t seem to have much impact. Well, I’m a suspicious sort.

I made a chart.

Super Mario Advance (book) - graph

As I suspected, Super Mario Advance is as on-rails as RollerCoaster Tycoon. There aren’t some good endings, there’s one, plus one bad ending per character, and the whole thing is very linear, with each route joining up in the middle. Depending on your choices, Luigi’s individual story is the shortest, lasting for only five pages, while Mario’s could be up to fourteen pages before everyone joins up on page 50. Poor Luigi is always getting the short end of the stick.

I was pretty excited when the book promised to be a combination CYOA and strategy guide, neatly combining my interests, but this book doesn’t deliver on either. The story isn’t particularly good, nor is it a good example of CYOA, and the guide is fairly useless, being limited to very brief descriptions of the characters, items, and enemies. I suppose it’s not surprising when an adaptation of a video game is subpar, but it’s still a shame.

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2 Responses to “Super Mario Advance”

  1. Craig Wessel said

    Greetings from the past! I’m Craig Wessel, the author of this little book. There were actually 4 in the series I did for Scholastic..another Mario Advance title, and then two from the Zelda world, Zelda Seasons and Ages. Given that my publisher was Scholastic, that should clue you in to why the books were much simpler than you’d think. I received several letters from kids who loved the books…never one from an adult as you might expect – they weren’t targeted to adults. It was an interesting concept, but difficult to deliver for right age group. Taken in context, I’m still proud of what we did with them. They never sold massively, but it was something Scholastic and I had never done before.

    Just FYI, you can look me up on Amazon.com and you’ll see some of the strategy guides I wrote over the years…forty or so, including Doom, Quake, Unreal, etc, etc…also the Parents Guide series you mentioned. I worked with id Software, IonStorm, GodGames when they were around, and more, al oer the country. When the publishers decided to take the writing inside, my work in the industry dried up, but it was quite a ride while it lasted.

    I like what you’re doing here – keep it up!

    Take care,
    Craig

    • Tracy Poff said

      Thanks for stopping by! It’s always a thrill when the authors of the books and games I write about leave a comment (if, perhaps, a little dismaying when it’s a comment on a negative review).

      Regarding your other CYOA books: those are surely on my list to read and review, though I mean to work on the books I already own before adding any new ones to my shelf. As any lover of books knows, though, the to-be-read pile never does get any smaller… and CYOA books about video games really are right up my alley.

      The components of these books are of course not so novel. Looking at Scholastic alone, in the eighties they had published video game strategy guides, done CYOA with their Twistaplot series, and novelizations of video games in the early nineties with the Worlds of Power series. The combination of these three elements, though, is rather unique and interesting. I hope to discover more books that have tried similarly interesting approaches, in the future.

      You’re right to point out that the book is targeted at children, and much of its weakness (from my perspective) can be laid at the feet of that fact. If I’d read the book (had it been yet written) when I was in the target age group, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it without complaint. The remaining problems with the book are simply that in trying to be three different things, it doesn’t excel at any of them. It’s not the worst offender in any category–I’ve read more linear CYOA, less original novelizations, and less helpful strategy guides–but I don’t believe I’d recommend that an adult should read it except out of historical interest.

      On the subject of historical interest, your pointer to Amazon illustrates well why I am writing about books like this. Of the forty strategy guides you say you wrote, Amazon lists fewer than twenty! A terrible shame (although, if we’re optimistic, we could take this to mean that everyone who owns your books loves them so much they’re not willing to sell them!). I hope that with the diligent effort of myself and others interested in the history of video games, your work and that of other authors won’t be so readily forgotten.

      Future comment readers, take note: with the passage of just a few years, information can be lost or obscured, so if you know something interesting, write about it!

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