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Mario’s Time Machine – SNES

Mario’s Time Machine – SNES

Mario's Time Machine - SNESPlatform:  Super Nintendo

Release Date (NA):  December 1993

Developer:  The Software Toolworks

Publisher:  The Software Toolworks

Genre:  Educational

Nerd Rating:  5.5 out of 10

After my recent experience with Mario is Missing!Mario’s Time Machine seemed like the perfect followup.  As I mentioned in my review of the former, I’m not judging these games the same way I would a “regular” video game; they are blatantly intended to be instructional tools with a balance of educational and entertainment appeal.  That being said, Mario’s Time Machine isn’t really that bad for a piece of educational software that came out in the early 90’s, and it’s significantly better than the previous Mario is Missing! with greater depth of gameplay, a better presentation of facts, and an overall more well designed gaming experience.  Does it necessarily qualify as “fun” for my adult self?  I might not go that far, though the experience is somewhat satisfying and rewarding, and while it might not be very “Mario-y,” there was obvious thought and care put into this title.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

With regards to plot, Bowser has invented a time machine and used it to go back throughout history in order to steal certain artifacts.  He plans to decorate a museum within his castle with said artifacts.  I don’t think we ever really know why Bowser is hellbent on creating such a museum, but that’s the schtick.  Mario, always the thinking man, has realized that the course of history will be altered irrevocably if these artifacts stay missing for too long.  So Mario commits a B & E, slips into the castle, and starts using Bowser’s time machine to set things right.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

The eponymous “time machine”…which is really “Bowser’s Time Machine”…

Gameplay is fundamentally similar to other software from the period that aims to teach history or geography, such as the Carmen Sandiego series of games.  The player must get from Point A to Point B, using information picked up along the way to progress and succeed.  Like Mario is Missing!, the player must progress through 3 floors, and each floor contains 5 artifacts that must be returned to their appropriate owner in the proper time.  After picking up an item, the player can access a description of the item with some historical context, peppered with 8 to 15 blanks and with a heading at the top mentioning the place and the year.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

A not-so-great shot of the bizarre minigame. I guess the somehow represents the act of traveling through time?

The player then inputs the time and place into the time machine and is then taken to a short minigame.  In this minigame Mario surfs across a seemingly endless expanse of water, collecting mushrooms and avoiding spikes.  If he hits a spike, a he loses any mushrooms.  Once he’s accumulated 10 mushrooms, he can enter into a whirlpool to be taken to his destination.  If he enters a whirlpool without enough mushrooms or inputs an invalid date in the time machine (one that doesn’t match up item being held), Mario is taken back to the castle.  After making it to the correct time and place, Mario can go into various doors/openings and talk to people.  This is where some history about the item and its larger significance can be explored.  Eventually, the locals will want something and refuse to say anything more.  By talking to other locals, Mario can acquire the items wanted.  This back and forth trading of simple items can persist for quite sometime.  The point is not to necessarily hear everything that everyone has to say, but rather to get enough information to fill in the blanks mentioned earlier.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

For each artifact, there are 2 pages like this. The aim of the game is to fill in the blanks correctly. If you mess up too many times, it’s back to Bowser’s crib…

On the screen with the write-up about the artifact, the player can click on a blank, whereby he or she is presented with several choices of words to use.  By talking to the locals, the player will eventually be able to correctly fill in the blanks.  Ever watched a video in middle school or high school and had one of those sheets where you had to fill in the correct answer to a question based on the content of the video?  It’s kind of like that, though smarter players won’t need every single answer spelled out for them.  When the blanks are all correctly filled in, Mario will be able to seek an audience with the owner of the artifact (for example, historical figures like Guttenburg, Edison, Jefferson, Marco Polo, Queen Elizabeth I) and in doing so will successfully return the item.  With the item returned, Mario can use the time machine to return to Bowser’s castle back in 1993, grab another object, and do it all again.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

When you’ve returned the item to its rightful owner, it’s up to you to summon your own enormous hand to take you back to Bowser’s high-end museum.

It’s a decent system, though I’m a little confused about how the developer chose the lists of available words for each blank.  It’d make more sense if they were at least all the same parts of speech…like if the answer were “green” then the rest of the choices were at least adjectives.  Unfortunately, the lists seem to be somewhat arbitrary and it can be more than a little frustrating having to scroll through so many choices.  Oddly enough, for a few blanks throughout the game, there’s a tiny list of 4 words.  This decision/implementation seems haphazard and rushed and while it doesn’t really affect the gameplay much, it is an unnecessary aberration and annoyance.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

Fill in all the blanks correctly or the “main person” in each locale will rebuff your attempts at returning the artifact.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

It’s the ill-tempered Beethoven!

Is it a little repetitive?  Sure.  But the locations throughout history are varied fairly well, and I enjoyed the conversational setup of meeting people and talking to them, as well as the system of trading items from one NPC to another.  There isn’t really much to “do” besides read, but at least one isn’t endless roaming nearly identical streets as in Mario is Missing!.  In general I think the information given was fairly detailed and comprehensive for well.  The game sugarcoats issues of death by saying things like “Queen Elizabeth I did away with Mary Queen of Scots,” or “a few years later, Julius Caesar was done away with” but at least the deaths are being discussed and not 100% glossed over.  If you talk long enough with the locals, you may even get some alternative viewpoints in some situations; for example, one NPC mentions that some people don’t think that Shakespeare was actually Shakespeare.  The game also refuses to shy away from the issue of Thomas Jefferson owning slaves yet simultaneously working to abolish slavery…one NPC sums it all up by saying that such behavior confuses him!  We’re also given some unsavory facts as well – Caesar’s infidelity with Cleopatra is blatantly stated, Ancient Greece’s treatment of slaves and women as second class citizens is touched upon, Magellan’s reckless and costly ambition is discussedand the game makes many mentions of how disagreeable, unmannerly, and impolite Beethoven was.  This broad approach and adherence to facts that go above and beyond how great the Declaration of Independence is or how enlightened the ancient Greeks were was refreshing.  I wouldn’t have expected something like this to openly highlight negative and potentially contradictory aspects of history, though it’s certainly a trait that lends even more credibility to Mario’s Time Machine as a valid piece of educational software.

Perhaps the one big flaw of Mario’s Time Machine is how un-intuitive the controls are and how difficult it is to get around for the first few minutes.  Of course these were the days when instruction manuals were actually useful, but nonetheless, it takes a while to figure out just how to do everything and just what can be done in the first place.  Switching between which item is “active” when Mario is holding more than one took me some time to figure out, as did knowing what exactly I could and couldn’t interact with.  I also thought the minigame was a bit unnecessary (that was really confusing the first time around) not to mention wildly unrelated to anything going on in the game.

The graphics are done well enough in Mario’s Time Machine, though much of it consists of still artwork rather than actual animations.  Regardless, the scenery is bright and detailed and each location has a distinct look to it.  Famous folk (Joan of Arc, Michaelangelo, Kublai Khan, Plato, and so on) are rendered in simple but effective artwork.  Although the music changes from place to place and there are a few catchy tunes to be found, on the whole it gets quite repetitive and even a little annoying at times, mostly due to how short each composition is and the number of times it loops over the course of visiting a location.

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

I think the artwork is rather nice, even if most of it is static.

When judging this game as it was intended, it’s really not so bad, and even commendable in some ways.  It would be great if there was more to do than talk and read, or perhaps a more puzzle-ish way of putting it all together.  And while various times are well represented, there’s definitely a slant towards the late Medieval period to early Modern times.  I think Mario’s Time Machine could’ve benefited from a few less entries in the 15th, 16th, and 17th Centuries and perhaps a less Euro-centric focus.  Periods such as Feudal Japan, African colonization, 19th Century American expansion, ancient indigenous cultures of the Americas, the spread of the Vikings, the Industrial Revolution, and the World Wars are completely untouched, and instead the game is at times heavy handed with certain individuals rather than actual historical periods, such as Mahatma Ghandi, Shakespeare, Guttenberg, and others, along with a penchant for the Renaissance.

It’s not a huge complaint, though when I think “time travel” I tend to run through some very specific stereotypes – knights in the Middle Ages, traditional pirates, samurais, Wild West gunslingers, Aztec/Incas/Mayans (I know I know, I shouldn’t be lumping them altogether), and similar tropes.  Mario’s Time Machine touches on a sufficiently diverse cross-section of history, though not necessarily a widely inclusive cross-section.  The game’s time machine even contains a B.C./A.D. switch yet out of 15 locales only 2 of them occur B.C. (Egypt during Roman times and Hellenistic Greece).

Mario's Time Machine - SNES

Ah shit. Wait – what? The wrong damn order?!?

Oh and before I forget, there is one last thing worth mentioning that proves to be an interesting inclusion in such a game – multiple endings!  I’m not sure of how many there are, and nothing much happens except for a short outro screen featuring Bowser and  a message form the game, but I was able to run across at least 3 different endings: the best one, an O.K. one, and one where Bowser escapes.  I’ll leave it at that…just in case you ever want to give this a whirl!

In the end Mario’s Time Machine is just another educational game as advertised, but it exceeded my expectations as such, if nothing else due to its strengths compared to Mario is Missing! and its relatively robust dissemination of historical information of note.  Much like Mario is Missing!, this isn’t really a game you’ll need or even want to play, though it’s a decent example of education done right, at least mostly so.  There isn’t much of a Mario feel aside from NPCs calling Mario by name and a few references to his Brooklyn/Italian heritage, his career as a plumber, and of course Bowser himself; this is an aspect that could’ve been bulked up a little but then again I’m not exactly sure where it would be inserted.  At any rate, I’m glad I finally gave Mario’s Time Machine a spin, and for the record, it ain’t too shabby.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Check out even more Mario reviews as Nerd Bacon celebrates Mario’s 30th anniversary!

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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One Comment

  1. These educational games are such strange parts of Mario’s history. I wonder if we’ll see any more edutainment games from Nintendo now that they’re going after smartphones.


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