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Mario is Missing! – SNES

Mario is Missing! – SNES

Mario is Missing! - SNESPlatform:  Super Nintendo

Release Date:  1992

Developer:  The Software Toolworks

Publisher:  Mindscape

Genre:  Educational

Nerd Rating:  5 out of 10

The crown for “worst Mario game of all time” likely goes to Hotel Mario by most accounts, but there was a slew of games released during the early 90’s that most critics would probably call “among the worst.”  Mario is Missing! regularly falls to such criticisms, but I’m inclined to be a little less harsh on this oddity.  After all, it was intended to be an educational game for elementary school aged children and I think should be judged on those merits.  Whether or not an educational Mario game should’ve been made in the first place, well, that’s a different question that I think goes beyond the scope of a review.

That being said, I’m going to rate Mario is Missing! as an average game.  It plays well enough, there’s nothing really wrong with it when judged as an educational game, yet it’s not exceedingly original or wildly entertaining either.  The educational information is presented in a sort of hum-drum way, though I think it was adequate for the time.  In fact, I remember a lot of educational games for the PC having a similar look and feel during the early to mid 90’s; I’d spend hours playing this sort of thing a friend’s house.

Anyway, Mario is Missing! aims to teach its audience a little about history, particularly landmarks, and just a touch of geography.  The storyline isn’t easy to pick up on, but apparently the NES version makes it a little clearer – Bowser has a plan to flood the world by using a shitload of hair dryers to melt the polar ice in the Antarctic.  Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi all head to Bowser’s castle in Antarctica.  Mario and Yoshi press forward, but Luigi – in an early example of his trademark fearfulness – hangs back.  Eventually though, it’s evident that something has gone terribly wrong, and Luigi must set out to rescue his brother.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

Mario is Missing! is supported by a relatively robust menu and extra features.

Luigi ends up in Bowser’s castle anyway, which apparently contains doorways to all parts of the world.  His goal is to “clear” these cities (I guess confirming that Mario isn’t there) by defeating Koopas and retrieving stolen pieces of various landmarks.  After clearing 5 cities, he goes up against the floor’s guardian (looks to be some of the Koopalings) and moves on to the next floor and another 5 cities.  This goes on for a total of 3 floors for a grand todal of 15 cities.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

Typical shot of Luigi wandering around, learning about history while attempting to rescue his brother from certain doom.

Gameplay is really basic.  Luigi wanders around a given city gathering artifacts by jumping on Koopas.  He can then talk to inhabitants of the city about the artifacts or the locale itself, but his main source of information are the “information booths” (3 in each city) and the pamphlets received from each.  When Luigi finds an artifact, he must figure out which information booth to return it to.  Once the match is correct, the player must answer 2 questions to prove that the artifact is authentic.  (I don’t know how knowing a few facts about something means you’ve got the “real thing,” but that’s the game…)  Typically the questions are pretty easy and pluck out a couple of facts from the pamphlet – how many stories tall is a building, how many spectators can a venue seat, what year was something completed, etc.  Occasionally though, the game will throw the player a curveball and ask him or her a question that can only be answered based on information given by one of the city’s inhabitants.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

To move on to the next city, Luigi has to go down the blue pipe. But wait, there’s a Pokey! This is why we need Yoshi – to scare away the Pokey and make it back to the castle.

So yeah, Mario is Missing! is only really a “game” insofar as knowing where to look for information and subsequently putting that information to good use.  The game has a “computer” mechanic that will assist in organizing all the information once it’s been gathered to make it easier for the youngest of players, a nice touch for an otherwise simplistic title.  Once all the stolen artifacts are recovered, Luigi must then bring Yoshi to the city by way of a large world map.  Yoshi starts in Antarctica, and the player moves him across continents and cities, hopefully to the correct location.  To make things just a bit more challenging, there are a number of extra locations on the world map that do not appear in the game, something to test a youngster’s fledgling geography skills.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

Even some grown-ups might have a hard time getting Yoshi to the right place…

As an adult, the process gets a little tedious – one must essentially do the same thing 3 times per city in a total of 15 cities – though I want to keep in mind who the target audience of Mario is Missing! actually is.  There is a password system that will generate a new password after each city is cleared; a 9 or 10 year old is going to have a tough time getting through all of this at one time.  The educational material included is pretty much on point for a fourth, fifth, or maybe sixth grader.  It’s roughly the same sort of info one might find in a textbook – a few facts and figures and a touch of the larger historical context.  How much of it will stick?  I’m not sure, but I believe it does a reasonable job of trying to teach in a fun and slightly Mario-esque way.  The locations are sufficiently diverse, covering everything from San Francisco to Rome to Beijing to Sydney to Nairobi.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

Each city has its own map for reference. You can’t move around on this screen, but it is useful for finding the booths, Koopas, and locals.

The educational component of Mario is Missing! may be sound enough, but I think it’s the game’s “Mario-ness” that fails to awe and inspire.  No, it doesn’t feel much like a Mario game in any regard apart from the visuals; there’s no danger of dying or falling down a hole.  In fact, Luigi can’t even “bump into” an enemy.  If he tries, the two just walk past each other.  However, if Luigi times a jump to land on top of a Koopa, it will connect.  Same goes for the “bosses” at the end of each floor.  Sprites from Super Mario World are reused in abundance, including those for Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi and some of the baddies.  I’m not too sure where the graphics for the Koopalings were lifted from – they don’t appear to be the sprites from SMB 3.

Mario is Missing! - SNES

Luigi collects snapshots of the landmarks he visits during his search for Mario.

Apart from the familiar sprites, the backgrounds are fairly bland and lifeless.  The developers tried to give each city a certain look, and it succeeds to an extent, but within each city the storefronts get very repetitive block after block.  It doesn’t really interfere with the gameplay, but it would be nice if there were a more engaging environment.  Fortunately we do get some rather nice visuals of the landmarks via Luigi’s Photo Album, which are actually much nicer than I would’ve expected.

Finally it’s worth taking a moment to draw attention to the music.  Sure, it’s just the standard Mario theme over and over again, though it has several variations depending on what part of the world the player is in.  For instance in Moscow the theme is rendered with Eastern European-ish instrumentation; in China it’s done with the stereotypical “ting ting” sound reminiscent of the yangqin (Chinese dulcimer) and guqin (plucked instrument).  Personally I thought this was a neat little touch that kept the background music from wearing thin, an easy trap for simpler games like this to fall into.

Is there any reason you should play Mario is Missing! or go out of your way to acquire it?  No, not really, unless you just happen to be a rabid Mario collector.  It is a curiosity to be sure, but you don’t need to play it in order to know that you probably don’t want to.  Mario is Missing! really shouldn’t be stacked against other video games in general; it does hold some entertainment value but its primary purpose is to educate and inform, and I think it delivers well enough on this premise.  If you really need a pre-adolescent history/geography fix,  you’re probably better off picking up on old Where in ____ is Carmen San Diego?

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.

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  1. I had a Carmen Sandiego floppy disk PC game. Of course it’s long gone now. But man that would be cool to bust out some old floppies. I’m sure I can easily emulate it.

    I also remember the TV show! I friggin loved that show. We didn’t have cable so it was a normal thing for us. That and Wishbone, of course.

  2. Great review Cubistro. I never played this, and honestly I had no clue what this game was even about! Wasn’t aware that it was an edutainment game. But anyway, this is interesting, and all along, while reading, I couldn’t help but feel like this is so similar to Where in the World (or anywhere) is Carmen San Diego. And then you suddenly dropped it in the last sentence! Glad to know I wasn’t alone. Good read, tho.

    • Thanks!

      Yeah I’m pretty sure they just took the standard Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? formula and applied it to this ho-hum Mario scenario. 1992 would’ve been about the time that Carmen Sandiego was at her peak popularity…I even remember the game show that aired on PBS in the afternoons, right around the time that Wishbone came on. (Wikipedia’s telling me that the game show ran from 91 to 95, so that makes sense.)

      I’ve got Mario’s Time Machine on deck, possibly for sometime later today, which is said to resemble Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? Come to think of it, I think I have an old Carmen Sandiego cartridge for the Genesis laying around somewhere too. Might have to drag that out as well!


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