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Great Failures from the Past: Mario is Missing

Coming up with new, creative, dynamic video game characters is hard, which is probably why Nintendo long ago said “fuck it” and just slapped Mario in everything. Sometimes this works (go-cart racing, street fighting, puzzle games where a guy famous for plumbing suddenly unveils a doctorate in fucking medicine) and other times it falls flat on its mustached face. Nowhere is this failure more evident than the time Mario tried to teach us things.

For those lucky enough to have missed it, the early ’90s video game scene was enamored with the idea of “edutainment”: video games that would, well, educate while entertaining. I like to think some guy sat up for three straight nights working out the kinks in that portmanteau until he got it just right. The idea was that, because kids enjoyed Carmen Sandiego, having another character clad in red giving them math lessons while stomping on turtles seemed a shoo-in.

It was not. Perhaps one reason is that the most infamous flop of the bunch, Mario Is Missing, didn’t even give us the guy in red. Instead, they gave us Luigi, 20+ years before Nintendo’s marketing machine told us he was cool. But even if they had marketed ol’ greenie as hard back then as they do now, it wouldn’t have made much difference, because the game was utter trash.

Don’t mock Mario for his suspect joy; if abduction means you can sit out the worst game of your career, you’d happily embrace it too.

The plot, as it is: Bowser kidnapped Mario, and Luigi must save him. But not by going into the Mushroom Kingdom and murdering everything in his path while sliding down flagpoles and gathering power-ups that Bowser really should’ve removed beforehand: no, he did so by walking around various real-world cities, stepping on the occasional enemy like doing so’s a mere afterthought, and collecting priceless artifacts that Bowser stole just to be even more of a douchebag.

Remember, his original motivation for Peach-napping was “just to be mean”. It’s not laziness, it’s consistency!

The “educational” part comes in when you try to return the artifacts to their proper city. The curators are so happy and grateful that they refuse to take them back unless Luigi answers trivia questions about them. Considering they could probably lose their job if there are no artifacts to curate anymore, these guys sure are ballsy.

“Only those who paid attention in History class are allowed to save the day!”

As far as the action goes, there is none. The enemies are virtually non-existent, and the bosses can’t hurt you. I don’t mean that as in they’re easy — they literally cannot hurt you. You simply stomp on them until they go away, and they can’t do anything to stop you. And you thought today’s games were simple.

Finally, after returning all the artifacts and successfully convincing the museum people that you don’t actually think Master Splinter painted Adam’s holy schlong, you encounter Bowser. Was jumping over him and touching an axe too taxing for you? Well, this battle has got you covered!

Like his underlings, Bowser can’t harm you in the least. Instead, you simply grab his tail and pull his shell off. Instead of killing him automatically, like what would happen if you actually did that to a turtle, Bowser simply slinks off in embarrassment because now you see his undies. Soon, he returns, only to fall victim to Luigi’s patented “look over there” technique. As he looks over there, Luigi throws him overboard, defeating him and saving Mario.

And Mario didn’t even kiss him on the nose, the ungrateful bastard.

I don’t think anybody enjoyed the game, even ironically. The facts presented were the most basic, brain-dead tidbits imaginable, and the action was totally nonexistent. At least the aforementioned Carmen Sandiego presented challenging trivia, and its lack of action was fine because nobody expects that from the series. Not so with Mario and Luigi, who learned their lesson and immediately went back to teaching the only lesson the kids of the world cared about: how to cause deadly concussions in reptiles while continually re-reinforcing every bad Italian stereotype ever invented.

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