Everyone loves an established video game franchise. After all, some of gaming’s best loved characters have been going on adventure after adventure for years, prompting players to line up to reserve the next installment of Super Mario, Link, Samus Aran, or Sonic the Hedgehog. Over the years, however, some games just haven’t struck gold; they’ve been overshadowed by more popular fare that shares the store shelf or are even passed over due to something as petty as unimpressive box art or an unusual premise. They deserve to be remembered and revived, but instead they are The Forgotten.
Mario Is Missing!
Developed by Software Toolworks
Released for NES, Super NES, and PC
Back in 1993 Nintendo licensed Super Mario and friends to edutainment developer Software Toolworks for a bland little game called Mario Is Missing! in which Mario is kidnapped and Luigi must find him. Of course, nothing is ever easy and in this case Bowser has managed to leave the Mushroom Kingdom and come to the real world. He's planning on stealing some of the world's greatest monuments and mementos and he's sent an army of Koopa Troopas to do it. It's up to Luigi and Yoshi to track down the Troopas in each major city on Earth (New York, Paris, London, Sydney, and so on), find the three stolen objects, talk to locals to learn about those objects, and return them to information kiosks (helmed by Princess Toadstool for some reason) by answering a simple trivia question based on the knowledge learned by talking to the locals.
Sound exciting? Well, it wasn't. The trivia was banal, the geography lessons were forced, and the overall implementation of the game was quite lazy. The NES and Super NES versions of the game reused sprites from Super Mario World, while the PC version featured new visuals designed by the Software Toolworks team (which means that familiar characters were just about unrecognizable). The whole long affair finally comes to an end once every city has been scoured and every treasure returned. Bowser is blasted into the frozen tundra and Mario is saved.
So if Mario Is Missing! was so lackluster, why revive it? First let's dump the edutainment angle. It's never educational, it's never entertaining, and together it makes a dull game even worse. Instead I propose that the title be brought back as an investigative adventure game in which Mario disappears under mysterious circumstances. It's up to Luigi and the rest of the Mushroom Kingdom heroes to rescue him. Mario has an enemies list a mile long at this point, so any one of his foes could be behind the kidnapping: Bowser, Wario, Waluigi, Donkey Kong, Tatanga, Smithy, Cackletta, Kamek... the gallery goes on and on. Luigi would have to search the Mushroom Kingdom for clues, talk to locals for information, and recover items instrumental in progressing further through the game.
Imagine searching a dark alley near where Mario was last seen and finding his famous hat discarded in a dumpster. Consider receiving a box in the mail inside which the kidnapper has sent Mario's trademark mustache as proof of the abduction. Prepare yourself to receive a panicked phone call in the middle of the night in which Mario calls for help before being muffled and the phone line falls dead. A very dramatic story could be created from these elements, and although it strays from the traditional Nintendo fare, it would be an interesting departure from the Nintendo stereotype and could relaunch the detective genre of video games. Let's just leave Software Toolworks out of it this time.