Last week I looked at a game in the Mario series that I really like in the form of Super Mario Odyssey. After much effusive praise for a game, I guess we might as well bring back some balance to the Force in the form of this week’s article as I look at one of my least favourite Mario games in the form of Mario Is Missing for the Super Nintendo. This is a game that I despised in my youth, mainly because I was an idiot who didn’t do my research, a mistake that ended up costing me.
I’m a big fan of Luigi. In some ways I might actually like him more than Mario. This could be down to my natural impulse to root for the underdog or just the fact he has a snazzy green colour scheme going on with his clothes. Regardless, I’ve always been Team Luigi since way back in the day, so when I heard that Luigi was getting his own game where he’d have to rescue his brother, Mario, from the clutches of the evil Bowser, I was all on board for some awesome Luigi action!
I still vividly remember the box art of Mario Is Missing to this day. We see an anxious Luigi searching through Bowser’s castle whilst the dastardly dragon can be seen dragging a terrified looking Mario through a door behind Luigi. I would look longingly at that box art, just imagining how awesome the game would be as you journeyed through all of Bowser’s traps and minions on route to eventually liberating the pugnacious plumber from King Koopa’s clutches. My hopes were raised even further when the deceitful shop assistant at Electronics Boutique assured me that the game was just like any other Mario game except that you got to play as Luigi. I wish I could go back in time and liberate some of that bloke’s teeth from his mouth with a cricket bat!
The back of the box even shows Luigi on the back of Yoshi charging at Koopa Troopers on what looks to be a street in the real world. All of this conspired to make me think that the game was going to be incredible, and I longed to have the chance to play it. I pestered my parents about it over and over, and eventually they relented and agreed to buy it for me. I couldn’t wait to get it home and finally play it after months of anticipation. Oh, what a rude awakening I was in store for.
Sadly, the amazing game I hoped for was all a mere fabrication of my imagination, a mere passing dream, a mere whisper in the video gaming wind. For you see, Mario Is Missing is one of those dreaded “educational” games. Yes, rather than being a pulsating platforming experience like Super Mario World was, Mario Is Missing is instead a dreary fetch and find game where you have to locate famous artefacts in cities across the world and hand them in at appropriate sections of the map. Koopa Troopers are indeed in the game, but they can’t kill you and go up in a cartoonish puff of smoke if you jump on them. This is not only thoroughly unsatisfying but also incredibly frustrating as Mario Is Missing teases you with the things that you love from the Mario series of games but never actually delivers them. It’s like having a delicious plate of piping hot Chicken Tikka Masala with fluffy rice but no utensils to eat it with.
For example, the devious Koopalings make an appearance, and you can even do battle with them once you have completed enough levels. Ludwig Koopa, for instance, will be taunting you behind a dungeon gate while you complete level after tedious level. Eventually, you will complete enough levels, and the gate will open, thus allowing him into the room. Any excitement you might get from a potential boss fight soon ebbs away, however, as he can’t actually harm you in any way; this makes the battle merely a frivolous exercise in catching him as opposed to a satisfying boss fight to pay off all the penance you’ve been doing in the “educational” levels.
If you stand still and let him run at you, he will simply pass by you and keep running whilst Luigi looks on. Even the final battle with Bowser comes down to nothing more than a poorly animated cutscene. Yes, you don’t even get to fight Bowser at the end. Instead, you see Luigi walk into a room, flick a switch and Bowser gets fired out of a cannon. It’s actually quite an apt ending for such a thoroughly depressing experience.
To be honest, coming back to it after all these years, I almost struggled even to hate Mario Is Missing. It’s boring more than anything else, and I never really felt like I was actually learning anything. I certainly didn’t retain any of the nuggets of information that the game bequeathed to me back in my younger days. I did eventually complete the game, but that was mostly down to a healthy helping of spite on my part, along with the eternal hope that something interesting might eventually happen. To this day I lament the fact I made such a fuss about getting it, especially as there are so many other great SNES games that I never owned back when the console was still active that I could have asked for instead.
Mario Is Missing is a game that could have been excellent if they’d just allowed it to be an actual Mario game with Luigi as the lead. Instead, we get a churlish attempt to educate, which the game doesn’t even do a good job at either. When you find an artefact, you have to take it to a tourist information centre to return it. However, rather than just gratefully accepting your act of charity, the lady behind the desk instead quizzes you to make sure the artefact is genuine. This is where you’re supposed to find information within the game (usually in the form of newspaper clippings giving out facts about each tourist destination) to answer the trivia questions and thus “educate” yourself. All I did as a nipper though was just keep randomly choosing answers until the game allowed me to advance further. What really frustrates is that, should you fail at answering the questions, you then have to wait for a set period of time to elapse before the ratty woman behind the desk will allow you to have another go, thus elongating the agony for seemingly no good reason.
The idea that this game exists to “educate” is fatuous at best. It’s a cynical cash-in on the Mario license, which I fell for hook, line and sinker. Sadly, younger me wasn’t savvy enough to understand what the game actually was (I was still quite young), and it didn’t help that the store assistant outright lied to me about what the game was. Mario Is Missing remains one of my biggest disappointments when it comes to video games, and I certainly think it contributed to me being a bit more cautious when it came to purchasing games going forward.