I really should have known better, but I went ahead anyway. 1993 was a difficult year for Super Mario fans such as myself. Super Mario World had been released two years prior, while the next Mushroom Kingdom adventure was still two years away. What was a Nintendo fanatic supposed to do to bridge the gap? The Software Toolworks must have sensed the building demand in the marketplace, because the company licensed everyone's favorite plumber for a series of edutainment titles based on the popular Super Mario franchise. The gaming magazines of the day made it seem palatable - almost enjoyable, even - but after all these years my one gaming regret involves that boring summer day when, at the age of twelve, I walked up to the gaming counter at K-Mart and said "I would like to buy Mario Is Missing."
It all started with an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly that teased a screenshot of what looked like a Super Mario World sequel for the Super NES that stared Luigi instead of everyone's favorite plumber. The brother in green was standing in front of a tourist kiosk being staffed by Princess Toadstool with nary a Koopa Troopa in sight. It didn't look exciting, but that didn't matter. This was a new Super Mario game! Coming off of the joy that was Super Mario World, there could have been no better news. Even reading about the educational slant didn't change my opinion, nor did the news that Nintendo wasn't actually developing this adventure. That screenshot was enough to capture my attention and imagination, and the text that went along with it painted an intriguing story about Mario being kidnapped and Luigi attempting a rescue. It all looked so promising at the time, but aside from mentioning the game as a curiosity, there was not much more coverage about Mario Is Missing in the months ahead.
Then came that day at K-Mart when I was determined to buy a new Super NES game to stave off the summer slowdown. Having tagged along with my mother on a shopping errand, I broke away from her and made a beeline to the gaming section. When I asked the sales clerk for Mario Is Missing, his face scrunched up into a baffled expression as he replied "Are you sure?" In hindsight, the man tried to warn me, but I pressed on anyway. "It's not like Super Mario World," he cautioned, but I was insistent, and that's when this fool and his money were parted. I went home with my prize and fired up the game. The quirky title screen animation in which Mario falls down a bottomless pit after being shocked at seeing the title to his latest adventure was basically the only enjoyment the game had to offer.
Mario Is Missing sends Luigi to real-world locations spanning the globe in search of artifacts stolen by Koopa Troopas. The objective is to recover the artifacts and return them to the princess at her kiosks, then answer a simple geography question. This repeats what seems endlessly, but is actually about twenty-five levels or so. Despite the presence of Koopas (and even a few of the Koopalings), Luigi cannot be harmed. There is no way to lose this game, and one doesn't so much win it as reach the end. Even at my young age, the geography questions offered little in the way of new information or challenges. There was no challenge in this title, and I finished with it later that same afternoon.
I still have the game in my collection after all these years, but I haven't been back to it. I keep it around as a reminder to always research a game before buying it even if I think I know what to expect from my purchase. Nice try, sequel Mario's Time Machine, but I learned my lesson the expensive way.