Kickin’ It Old School – Mario Is Missing!

There are a lot of things in this world that should never have even been thought, much less actually produced. From Justin To Kelly immediately springs to mind. One of the worst ideas that I think never should have seen the light of day is the idea of ‘edutainment,” or, in this case, educational video games.

It’s easy to see where this idea comes from. People think that kids spend too much time playing video games and that it’ll warp their minds, hence, putting video games and education together should send test scores skyrocketing, right? In theory, it’s not a bad plan, but then again, that’s what they thought about communism, and look how that turned out.

The reality is this: kids go to school to learn and then play video games to escape from that and the other rigors of their age, ranging from chores to puberty. Nobody wants school invading their well earned downtime to be spent saving the world from whatever maniac is threatening it. One of the biggest offenders of this horrific genre is Mario Is Missing!

Mario Is Missing! (SNES, 1993)

Released in 1992 on the PC and in 1993 for the SNES and NES, with a few differences between them, Mario Is Missing! isn’t what you would call a traditional Mario game. I received this game for Christmas in 1993, and even as a 6 year old, I knew it wouldn’t be pretty just looking at the box. “A geography learning adventure that’s way cool?” I will be the judge of that!

In the game’s opening, Mario is blissfully wandering about when he falls into a gaping hole, landing in Antarctica (?) where Luigi and Yoshi are waiting outside a castle for him. They decide to investigate it, but before he can take another step, a second hole opens up under Mario and he falls in, right into (presumably) Bowser’s clutches. Boy, was he off his game that day. Luigi goes into the castle look for him, while Yoshi waits outside, looking dumbfounded as ever.

Luigi enters the castle and finds 5 doors. Entering one of these will transport you to a distant city, the first one being Rome. To find out where you are, you must ask people that are walking around the city. They give increasingly cryptic and non-helpful answers, such as, “This is sort of a riddle, remember Nero and his fiddle?” How about, “Why sir, you’re in Rome!”? Who knows, maybe they’re on Bowser’s payroll to stall Luigi.

Through his investigations to find out where in the world Carmen Sandiego he is, Luigi finds that Bowser’s Koopa army has invaded this and other cities and stolen 3 major artifacts from them. Seemingly seeing a chance to finally escape from Mario’s shadow and establish himself as the hero, Luigi puts off saving his incarcerated brother long enough to find and replace every artifact stolen by the Koopas.

“But Charlie,” you no doubt are wondering, “this doesn’t sound so bad.” Do not be fooled, dear readers (or, perhaps, reader, or less, whatever the case may be), for the game takes a sharp turn at this point. First off, the Koopas can’t hurt you. You can hurt them, sure enough, but they walk past you like you weren’t even there. Okay, so it’s a little easy, so what? It’s marketed towards kids, right?

Here’s where edutainment rears its ugly head. Once you find the artifacts, you have to bring them back to the landmarks they belong to, specifically, to an information booth outside the landmark. The receptionist, resembling Princess Toadstool/Peach, doubts the validity of the artifacts you hold, which makes one wonder exactly how many replicas of the Sistine Chapel ceiling she has been presented with to doubt the one you hold is true.

To verify the validity of your artifact, the prin-ceptionist puts you to the test. You must answer her questions 3, which she gives you the answers to in an informative pamphlet beforehand. What better way to catch someone in a lie than to give them time to study before you test them? Suddenly it doesn’t seem so unbelievable that someone could steal the Sistine Chapel ceiling from out under these idiot’s noses. After you successfully return the artifact, you are allowed to take a picture of the landmark as a souvenir. At this point, it seems that Luigi has completely forgotten that Mario has been kidnapped.

Once each artifact has been restored to its rightful place, it’s time to leave. To do this, you have to call Yoshi using the rather strangely named “Globulator”, which allows Yoshi to instantaneously transport to your position. Once Yoshi is with you, you can quickly make your way back to the pipe you entered the level through and use Yoshi to scare away the Spiney guarding it, since, in a rare bit of cleverness from this game, they remembered that Yoshi eats Spineys in Super Mario World, and this is the only way to defeat them.

Once back in the castle, you do the same thing all over again. Go to a city, find out where you are, return artifacts, call Yoshi, come back to the castle. That’s it. That’s the whole game. At this point in my life, I, as the British say, couldn’t be arsed to actually finish the game, or even the first level for that matter. It was just too boring. I have finished it in my younger days, so I can say that, unsurprisingly, the climactic battle with Bowser doesn’t even happen. Before you can attack he falls into a cannon and is launched into the Antarctic snow, where he freezes and crumbles apart. But worry not children; since we already know from Super Mario Bros. that Bowser can be reincarnated, he’ll be back. Hopefully his next scheme is a little more diabolical than stealing major artifacts from the world’s cities. What kind of evil genius is he?

The graphics aren’t as bad as the rest of the game. The character sprites are lifted directly from Super Mario World, and the background scenery pretty accurately reflects whatever city you’re in. Some of the music is also borrowed from SMW, and a few of the tracks for the cities aren’t too bad in my opinion. That’s pretty much the only bright point I can find in this game.

I must admit, I’ve actually learned something from this edutainment crap. That is that there is no discernible reason for these games to exist. Memo to anyone thinking of producing a game like this: leave the education to the people who get paid for it and make a game about slaying dragons, fighting wars or playing sports. You’ll make much more off of those.

Next week: The Kickin’ It Old School all request column! Shoot me an email or make your way to the Official Kickin’ It Old School Thread in the forums and add a request to the one’s already there, and I’ll talk a bit about those. Well, the good ones, anyway.