This is a Mario game, but it's not a Mario video game. It's a ball puzzle/game/thing I got for my kid for Christmas, and we haven't been able to stop playing it since.
We spotted it on Amazon trawling for Mario merch (kid is nuts for Nintendo stuff), and figured that because the box was 100% in Japanese, and that we'd never seen anything like it on a store shelf before, that we'd be getting him something cool that would be a genuine surprise for him.
Mission accomplished. He lost his shit upon opening it. IT'S MARIO BUT NOT ON MY LITTLE NINTENDO, he yelped in his weird little three year-old voice, before helping me put it together (the Japanese instructions were surprisingly helpful) then spending the next few hours mashing his little fingers all over it.
It works like Mouse Trap vs Pachinko. There's a theme going on here: the little red balls are Mario, and you have to get them through the level by smashing little plastic buttons that propel the ball along the course. Sometimes you'll get stuck because you're not timing your button presses correctly. Most times you'll lose the ball because this is a cheap children's toy made of plastic, not a precision-engineered adult collectible.
Here's some, um, gameplay footage.
I like the way the course works like an actual Mario level. You've got to negotiate tricky platforming jumps, crawl your way through some spinning fire bars and then suffer constant deaths at the hands of cruel and seemingly random events, only to eventually find that you can overcome (most of) these through patience and hard work.
That said, your perseverance only gets you so far; we've only "finished" the course a handful of times since Christmas, because certain parts of the game are almost completely reliant on luck, whether directly (one spinning wheel will only grant access randomly, with three of its four turns sending you to DEATH) or indirectly (the last platforming section, where you have to skip the ball along some blocks, is brutal).
Of course, as cute as it all looks and works, it's still a fairly limited little trinket, something he's going to mess with occasionally from time to time while sitting on his shelf rather than a game he's going to play constantly for months. But me and my wife are still super happy with our purchase, because every time we walk past his room and see he's not playing it, we can sneak in and have a few tries ourselves.
If you want to try it out, it's not hard to find on Amazon Japan (update: or American Amazon) or eBay. And if you dig it, as you can maybe make out in the top right of the back of the box shot above, this is just one part of a larger set that can click together and form an even bigger ball-fiddling nightmare.