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Hotel Mario – CD-i

Hotel Mario – CD-i

Hotel MarioPlatform:  Philips CD-i

Release Date (NA):  1994

Developer:  Philips Fantasy Factory

Publisher:  Philips Interactive Media

Genre:  Puzzle, Platforming

Nerd Rating:  3.5 out of 10

Project Obscure




Well, here it is: the much hated, exceedingly notorious, widely panned, critically derided, universally shunned…Hotel Mario!  As Nerd Bacon approached its 700th article, NerdBerry and I were trying to figure out a suitable review to mark the occasion.  Do we go popular?  Obscure?  How about a little of both wrapped up into one game?

Hotel Mario is probably one of the two reasons why most people have heard of the Philips CD-i (the other being a particularly infamous trio of Zelda games).  It’s been called many things, including one of the worst games of all time, Mario’s most embarrassing moment, and a game based entirely on “shutting doors.”  While it is by no stretch a good game, I do have to wonder how many of its detractors have actually played it.  Some widely circulated misconceptions and oversimplifications have made their way into the consciousness of gamers, and though there’s plenty to bitch about, Hotel Mario is perhaps not the utterly miserable experience often cited.

Hotel Mario

The CDI! One version of it anyway. Use this controller if at all possible. The various CDI remotes will make Hotel Mario even more difficult than it already is.

If you want to know more about all the background dealings that led up to the collaboration between Philips and Nintendo, you can read about it in our Top 10 Unreleased Consoles – SNES-CD article.  If you want the short version, stay right here.  Spurred by the growing popularity of the compact disc medium, Nintendo began drawing up plans for an add-on to the Super NES that would play CD-based games.  At first, Sony was contracted to develop the hardware, but when negotiations soured, Nintendo turned to Philips.  The project, however, was never to come to fruition, likely as a result of the lukewarm reception surrounding the Sega CD; a comparable device manufactured by Nintendo’s main rival at the time.  Somewhere in there (perhaps as compensation for the canceled SNES-CD?), Nintendo licensed a couple of their most beloved franchises – Mario and Zelda – to Philips, who were eager to transition their CD-i device from a multimedia and “edutainment” machine to a gaming console.

With the 5th generation on the horizon, time was running out for the relatively unknown CD-i.  Philips played all their trump cards at once and quickly developed 3 Zelda games and 2 Mario games, though one of the Mario titles was subsequently canceled.  What was left were 4 games with a rushed schedule, backed by inexperienced development, funded with a shoestring budget, and very little input from Nintendo.  Nintendo quickly distanced themselves from the results, and these games, much as the CD-i itself, have faded from memory and remain as little more than historical footnotes.

Hotel Mario

Each hotel is a pun on famous or well known hotels, such as Chillton = Hilton.

So what is Hotel Mario?  It starts off looking and playing an awful lot like a puzzle game, though I’d argue that as the game progresses, it turns into more of a restrictive platformer.  There’s not much here to “figure out” or “plan for;” like a lot of games, it largely hinges on one’s ability to react quickly and jump precisely. Hotel Mario is divided into 7 hotels, and each hotel hosts 10 stages (except for the last, which has 15 or 16 and includes the final battle(s)), and within each stage, Mario must close each of the open doors across 5 separate floors.  Elevators make it possible to move from one floor to the next, and although at first they are laid out quite simply (two on each floor, one goes up, ones goes down) they quickly begin behaving in erratic patterns.

All the while, enemies are coming out of these doors, and some enemies are even opening doors you’ve already shut!  For this reason, it’s advantageous to eliminate all enemies on a floor, close all doors, continue and repeat.  This is complicated by the fact that enemies can sometimes come out of closed doors and also by the rather short time limit on each stage.  Mario doesn’t have to dispatch every enemy on the screen, but he does have to get all of the doors shut, and if at any time all doors are open, he automatically loses.

Hotel Mario

During all of the action, coins are floating around which can be collected for an extra life.  Lives are also awarded after a number of points, though I haven’t bothered to work out the total.  If you’re lucky, powerups will pop out of the doors as well, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get the opportunity to start throwing fireballs, and that, as always, will make Mario’s life a hell of a lot easier.

That’s the basic model of gameplay.  Mario can jump and maneuver similar to how most people are used to.  Most enemies are recognizable from other Mario games, and each hotel is “owned” by one of the Koopalings.  The stages within the hotel all share a similar visual motif, from trees to ice to rocks and lava.  Before moving on to the next hotel, Mario has to go up against whichever Koopaling is in charge.  These guys act totally differently than the usual brainless goons, and though the objective is still to get all doors closed and not necessarily defeat the Koopaling, those damn kids put up one hell of a fight.

Some have complained about the very concept, but a lot of older games have us doing arbitrary or even abstract tasks.  It would be nice if there was some explanation about the doors, but otherwise I can live with it.  The cracks start showing when it comes to design and individual mechanics.

First I’d like to tackle jumping.  Mario has always been an amazing jumper, and jumping is a crucial part of Hotel Mario.  As per the norm, it’s Mario’s duty to stomp on the heads of foes; the problem here is that there is an infinitely small margin of error when landing directly on top of a baddie.  Many, many deaths will occur as the result of landing a decent jump only a few pixels to the left or right.  One never really gets used to the precision needed to nail these guys, so there’s always a bit of luck involved.

Hotel MarioBesides the constant fear of dying after a perfectly good jump, there’s always the above floor to worry about too.  Mario’s jumps carry about half of his body into the floor above – enough to slam right into an enemy, but not enough to make it up there without the use of an elevator.  So if you’re on a lower floor and about to jump on a bad guy, you’ve got to make sure that your jump won’t put you in the path of a goon on the floor above.  Because of this, it’s extremely easy to get trapped in a corner where your only choice is to let a bad buy run into your or jump straight up into.  If Mario could make it all the way to the above floor then I’d understand the trade-off, but this issue appears to be the result of poor design more than anything.

What continued to frustrate me during my 4 hours with Hotel Mario is Mario’s speed relative to the pace of the rest of the game.  The enemies move around at a respectable rate, some more than others, coins whiz by like gnats in the summertime, and powerups fall off the screen before Mario can even make it to the elevator.  The fact is that Mario is too slow to effectively navigate these stages, and the elevators are even slower.  Coins are always bouncing around, so I quit paying much attention to them after about 30 minutes, but powerups are worth the effort…or so I thought.  One mushroom grants you an extra hit, and if you can catch a second one, you’ll get the beloved fireballs.  Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to get them if you’re on the same floor, or perhaps a floor below.  Otherwise, by the time you see the powerup, it’s too damn late to do anything about it.  The game ought to give Mario a fighting chance.

Several issues contribute to the slowness: being blocked by enemies on the current floor and prevented from kill or jumping over them by foes on the floor directly above, taking the time to move in and out of a doorway/elevator (you must press “down” to move out of the background when departing an elevator), and worst of all, using the elevators themselves.  All together, these make it impossible to move around the stage according to any sort of plan or strategy. Hotel Mario becomes a game of opportunity; you’ve got to shut what doors you can when you can and hope that a powerup finds you.

Hotel MarioOne feature that masquerades as a helpful mechanic entails “moving into the background” that I mentioned above.  Mario can move into open doorways or elevators to move out of the horizontal plane that the enemies are in and remove himself from harm’s way.  However, the controls get clunky, it’s difficult to tell if you’ve moved back into the line of fire, and the process itself falls short of instantaneous, contributing to the overall lack of speed.  In the early stages, it can be tempting to use this ability in order to methodically progress (more akin to a true puzzle game) but  you’ll quickly find yourself running out of time far too quickly.

Once you’ve spent about 15 minutes with Hotel Mario, you’ll realize there’s not much puzzle solving involved at all, and that you’ll have to rely on more conventional platforming elements albeit in a bizarre fashion.  The problem with moving the game so far into the “platformer” direction is that there is almost no room for quick decisions and split-second movements.  Mario, and moreover his interaction with his environment, is just too slow to pull the kind of crazy stunts that may net success in a more typical Mario game.

By the time you’re able to exert some mastery over the poorly designed gameplay, you’ll find yourself with a whole new problem: how to keep the damn doors shut.  Even when moving as quickly as the game will allow, you’ll still find yourself chasing down newly opened doors.  It’s not exactly feasible to bounce around from floor to floor in the interest of time, so it’s always best to do as much as possible on one floor before moving to the next.  So when doors start flying open all over the place even after the majority are shut, it can still be a real time crunch to get around to the all.  Yet again, Mario (and those goddamned elevators) are not equipped to deal with the speed of the world around them.

Despite how simple Hotel Mario is, it’s an extremely difficult game.  Two positive features are included for those of us intent on making progress: infinite continues and a save system!  I’d actually really love to see what this would look like without so many flaws, but c’est la vie.  All of what I’ve discussed can be found out by anyone who makes it through the first half-dozen stages.  As the game process, the environments become more hazardous, enemies are more numerous, and the elevators go completely insane.  By the time you get to the third hotel Mario is slipping around on the ice (yet strangely, can stop on a dime when landing a jump), and from the second hotel onwards the elevators cease being capable of normal transport; the one on the 5th floor may take Mario to the 3rd and so on, yet another factor that makes speedy progress impossible.

Hotel Mario

Yes, this is real.

Apart from the gameplay, there’s another notorious element to the Hotel Mario experience.  By utilizing  the CD, animated cutscenes were now a possibility.  After each hotel, there’s an animated clip of Mario and Luigi losing the Princess over and over and the introduction to the next hotel.  They break the fourth wall from time to time, including one memorable moment where Mario advises the player to “read the instruction manual.”  These cutscenes have received a significant amount of bad press, with critics panning both the animation and sound.  I don’t know that I find the sound to be particularly horrible, but the animations are noticeably weird.  Mario and Luigi look like their counterparts from the old 90’s cartoons, except their bodies are almost shapeless.  Well, maybe not shapeless, but like Jell-o.  They jiggle and morph and sway around in a slightly amorphous fashion.

Hotel Mario

Something about her face is just…not right…

They’re also strangely proportioned; I get that Mario and Luigi aren’t necessarily supposed to be paradigms of human beauty, but these guys have strange, bulbous midsections. The Princess looks like a couple of triangles placed tip to tip, and her facial features are dotted around her face in an almost random arrangement.  The Koopalings remind me somewhat of Gumby, having no discernible joints.  To top if all off, nearly every discrete object in the cutscenes is drawn with a thick, black outline, further adding to the amateur look and feel.  As rough as these clips are to watch, they don’t even begin to approach the level of awfulness found in the CD-i’s Zelda collection.

Thankfully, the in-game graphics function much better.  They aren’t mesmerizing or groundbreaking, but they are crisp and clear.  In fact, the background artwork is done quite well and although the stages within each world may be  somewhat indistinguishable from each other, each hotel does possess a unique and identifiable motif.  All in all, Hotel Mario is mostly pleasant to look at, betraying its difficult and frustrating nature.

Hotel Mario

I wasn’t able to get this far, but I did watch some footage from the final battle(s) with Bowser, and it looks unimaginably difficult!

And there you have it, all that is Hotel Mario.  Ultimately, it just doesn’t “feel like” a Mario game, though I’d argue that quite a few earlier titles don’t exactly “feel like” Mario either.  But were one to replace all Mario references with some other generic character, it would quickly be written off and forgotten.  Its status as a “bad game” is not, by itself, enough to propel it to such infamy; the inclusion of Mario is what has really kept Hotel Mario alive all these years.  Is it a bad game?  Of course.  But the worst?  Not by a long shot.  The worst Mario game?  Definitely.

There’s no reason to hunt this down, although Hotel Mario, along with the 3 Zelda games, might be the best reason to own a Philips CD-i in some strange, backwards way.  Naturally Mario fans and gaming enthusiasts in general will want to experience the horror for themselves, but the experience is almost underwhelming simply because it doesn’t live up to its awful reputation in more ways than one.  In the end, it’s perfectly playable, and maybe even a little fun at first, but it’s fraught with far too many needless frustrations and a lackluster concept.  If you ever do decide to pick up Hotel Mario, you might actually be surprised at how much time you’re willing to donate in order to beat “one more stage.”

Hotel Mario


There’s something to be said for a game that involves little more than shutting doors – it ought to be so easy, yet more often than not feels utterly impossible.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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