SNES A Day 207: Mario Is Missing!

Approximate Release Month: June 1993
Genre: Adventure/educational
Developer: The Software Toolworks
Publisher: The Software Toolworks

Mario Is Missing! is notable for several reasons – it’s a Mario game not made by Nintendo, and it’s Luigi’s first starring role – but the biggest might be that it is a reasonably well-done educational game.

Uh oh, Mario Is Missing! Bowser has kidnapped him and locked him away in his Antarctic castle, and it’s up to Luigi and Yoshi to rescue him by traveling the world and recovering lost real-world landmarks and artifacts. Yes, Mario Is Missing! takes place on Earth, and it’s odd seeing the Super Mario World graphical and musical styles applied to places like Rome and Beijing. The map of Earth done with the 16-bit look is neat, though!

The gameplay loop is simple: Bowser’s castle serves as the hub, and each door takes Luigi to a different, unknown place on Earth. In each location, you have three tasks: find and return the three artifacts that have been stolen by Koopa Troopas, figure out what city you are in, and then return to Bowser’s castle. You find the artifacts by stomping on the Koopas, and you learn information from talking to the same people that happen to be in each city. You use this information to answer a little quiz when you return the item. Return all the items, summon Yoshi with the, uh, “Globulator”, a giant world map where you select the location you’re in, and exit back to Bowser’s castle.

Rinse. Repeat.

Mario Is Missing! is still an edutainment game (made by The Software Toolworks, the same people who did Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing) and should be graded on such a curve. No, moving Luigi around San Francisco doesn’t feel close to as good as moving Mario around Dinosaur Island in Super Mario World. It’s also a bummer how Luigi is yet to get an original design in his first solo game*! He’s just green Mario here. It’s disrespectful.

But when I compare Mario Is Missing! to a game like Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, though, I feel more positive. There’s no ticking timer here, and you can explore and make mistakes at your leisure. The Wikipedia-opening-paragraph amount of information you get for each artifact is a good amount of information without dipping into minutiae. And it’s not just history or trivia questions; adding geography puzzles with Yoshi’s Globulator is a welcome extra dimension. This game is where I, as a child, learned that Italy is shaped like a boot!

If you are reading this, you shouldn’t play Mario Is Missing! It’s not for you. It is tedious and tough to play for more than a level at a time. It’s not just a cash-in, though, and it lets people play at their own pace. If you know an elementary school-aged child of a certain reading level, it’s not a bad choice, even today.

* Luigi’s Hammer Toss does not count. Don’t @ me.

Next time: With the holidays and the busy season at my day job coming up, don’t expect weekly updates for a few months. Keep an eye on the SNES A Day account on Twitter for updates. The classic co-op shooter Pocky & Rocky is next, though, so you have that to look forward to!

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