Overall Rating: 1/5 Stars
In 1993, Radical Entertainment developed an educational video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System that was published by Mindscape called Mario Is Missing. This was the first (and only, until Luigi’s Mansion on the GameCube) Nintendo game to feature Luigi as the sole playable protagonist, in a geography-focused “game” that sought to teach about landmarks in cities worldwide as Luigi ventured through their streets and spoke to members of their populace. It was also released on PC and SNES. The critical question, though, is: Is it any fun?
The storyline involves Bowser, hiding in Antarctica, forming a plot to take over the world by melting the polar ice caps using hairdryers. To fund the nefarious deed, he has dispatched Koopas to steal famous landmarks and artifacts. He has even kidnapped Mario to prevent him from spoiling world-domination plans like he usually does.
Luigi sets out to storm Bowser’s castle, each door within leading to a pair of pipes that warp to certain Earth-city destinations. In each city, Luigi must talk to the people inhabiting it in order to find out where he is. He must also stomp on Koopas to gather items that also serve as clues and stolen items. Once Luigi knows where in the world (quite literally) he is, he is able to summon Yoshi (using something called a “Globulator”; no, seriously) and talk to the woman in the information booth (without riding Yoshi, Luigi is just too short) to turn in the items and earn a trip back to the castle to get to the next area to try.
Anyone who works hard enough at it could find plenty to say about any particular video game, but for this title, there are three enormous, glaring, obvious flaws that demand to be pointed out: Firstly, this game is boring. It is a step above watching paint dry or watching grass grow, but it is truly astonishing how slow-paced and repetitive this “game” is, and astounding to wonder how programmers could have intentionally written it this way, or expected it to interest kids in geographical education. You spend the majority of your time walking around. After all, why go for a real walk when you can walk in a virtual, 8-bit environment? Secondly, Luigi cannot die. There are no lives, no continues, no second tries; as soon as you begin, you are guaranteed to succeed as long as you persevere. None of the Koopas, even the final boss, can harm your character. You just have to jump on them. Do not worry about challenge, as there is none. Third, the edu-tainment aspect is atrocious. Consider this: Given a few clues about where Luigi is located, doesn’t it follow that the only way to process these clues correctly is to already know about that location? Rather than teach anything new, Mario is Missing just reinforces common beliefs. If you do not know that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, then you do not learn it; rather, you are just doomed to wander the streets forever, not knowing where you are. This is not education, this is torture.
Oddly enough, the graphical standpoint is a highlight of this NES video game. It did take place in 1993, very near to the end of the Nintendo Entertainment System official support cycle, so by then, Nintendo developers definitely knew how to bend the hardware to its best. The sprites are almost 16-bit quality, with the opening cut scene very much resembling Super Mario World (which, by the way, was released in 1990) on the Super Nintendo. The animations are smooth, there are no glaring faults (like flickering problems present in many other NES games, etc.), and the towns look okay.
As mentioned earlier, this was somewhat of a landmark release, being the first video game that featured Luigi as the sole controllable character. Although Super Mario Bros. 2 had him available for us even in single-player mode, and many later titles for future consoles would take place in the Mushroom Kingdom canon with non-Mario protagonists, at the time this was quite a notable choice. It is just a shame that Luigi’s stardom was cheaply used as a hook to draw consumers into purchasing a poor educational title. Otherwise, beyond good graphical implantation and being an early educational-“game” title, there was no noteworthy advance to be found.
There may be a viable niche for educational video games, but it is a very fine line to reached, and most attempts have failed. Mario Is Missing is not fun. It is a bland, boring, repetitive marathon. Really, since there is no danger at any point in time of losing or dying, it is more of an exercise in futility than a true competitive, enjoyable game. It cannot be emphasized enough: This is not really a video game and it is certainly not really fun. Mario Is Missing finds one star out of five and probably did not help a single kid on their geography quiz.