The elusive secret levels in Super Mario Advance 4

Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros 3 (GBA) is now out on the Wii U eShop. Why is this such a huge deal? And what’s with this confusing name?

I’ll explain. First, there have been four Super Mario Advance games for the GameBoy Advance which all have been remakes of original classics. In 2001 Nintendo released “Super Mario Advance” which was based on “Super Mario Bros 2”, the same year SMA2, which was a “Super Mario World” SNES port, then came SMA3 “Yoshi’s Island”, another SNES port in 2002 and finally in 2003 SMA4, which is a port of the iconic “Super Mario Bros 3”.

The game plays the same as SMB3, but with updated graphics. This is all good, but there is a catch, too: the US and JP versions had a special world, called World-e in the system. This world could unlock special levels (and special abilities) with the compatible Nintendo e-reader hardware (not sold in the EU). The unlocking mechanism was quite interesting: the map data was not in the game, just the tiles, sprites, mechanics etc, therefore you really had to get your hands on the cards to upload the levels, hacking the ROM itself didn’t lead you anywhere.

One of these levels is “Mad Dash” (unofficial translation). This level was not circulated on e-reader cards, in order to obtain this level, you had to bring your GBA and game to select retailers (in Japan!) where they’d upload the level to you. And if you did all this? Well, you had a speedrun level where you need to finish the level in just 20 seconds, so at max speed. Here is a playthrough on the level:

If you played all these special levels, you would find “Advance coins” scattered around, which would open up these Toad houses you see above on the minimap, where you could play three minigames. Better yet, certain levels contain “e-coins” scattered that you can only pick up once.

e-coins have a striking resemblance to Super Mario Makers’ medals

Upon collected, these coins are then just displayed in the World-e castle. The castle has 8×3 = 24 displays, but only the first 8 coins is obtainable from the released secret levels (and out of those 8, only cards for 3 were released in the US), so the remainder 16 slot will forever be empty. Nintendo had more plans for the e-reader cards, but I guess it didn’t turn out the way it should’ve.

I found ROM hackers on long forgotten forums who’d recreated the Mad Dash level, I was also able to source the savegame itself and whatnot, but the icing on the cake is that Nintendo has released this game just before new years with all these levels. Unfortunately only for the JP market, without English translation, but anyway, there is now a chance to experience World-e once again! (I’m secretly hoping for an EU release and for the 3DS.)