Mario’s Time Machine (1993)
There’s one very simple, selfish reason why I don’t want time-travel to be invented; because it just wrecks all credibility in any given story. Honestly, if fiction has taught us anything, it’s that if you introduce time travel to your book, film or pornographic magazine, there’s no coming back from it. They did time travel in Harry Potter, and it was a nonsense, all kinds of new plot holes everywhere until J.K. Rowling sensibly had the Time Turners destroyed entirely.
They brought time travel into Artemis Fowl as well, although this was a few books after the initial craze had died down, and the Disney-backed film was so badly thought out that time travel may even have saved it, if we could have only gone back in time and destroyed the workprints first.
That said, time travel’s not such a bad prospect when it happens early on, or behind the scenes. Hence, when Arnie and Robert Patrick get sent back to our present right at the outset of Terminator 2, it’s fine. But when they’re taking spins through time in the likes of Terminator Genesysis, as easy as you or I nip to the shops and back, then forget it. And you needn’t bother bringing up Back to the Future, because there’s a film with a perfect script that knew what it was doing… even if the Delorean was a bizarre choice. And we may yet debate the merits of Bill & Ted, but not today.
No, where I have the issue is when time travel is crowbarred into a series in a desperate attempt to liven things up. And even worse, when it’s used in a pitiful manner to try and educate us. At the outset, you’’d probably think it’s a bit needlessly harsh of me to go after a game like Mario’s Time Machine on the SNES. After all, shouldn’t a game that attempts to give you an ould learning lesson be celebrated? After all, I always say knowledge is the bomb, and there ain’t many brains out there bigger than mine. Haven’t you seen the size of my head?
But there’s the thing, when I finally got out of nappies and got a SNES controller in my hands, we already had Mario’s Time Machine in our house. As a kid you see Mario ,you see a Super Nintendo cartridge, and you even see something as cool as time travel. And you think that it’s got to be, well, a splendid little software title, or whatever way a child would put it.
So you lash the game on and lo and behold, it’s like being back in school. No really, you’ve got to do some fill-in-the-blanks exercises before Mario gets the chance to meet Isaac Newton or George Washington. And these were signifcant historical figures, sure, but how come Mario couldn’t go back in time to see Vlad the Impaler? Or hell, the man himself Adolf Hitler, they wouldn’t come much more interesting than that.
I’d have loved to put Mario in a verbal joust against those lads, even with his Super Mario World-style graphics clashing wildly with the realistic (well, that’s 16-bit realism) graphics of the humans. As it is, you’re learning about history that not only won’t come up on your school exams, but it never even comes up in conversation either, unless you hang about with some crashing bores. In any case, you’re not gonna retain anything you might learn in Mario’s Time Machine because it’s such a relentless, dull, tedious experience.
Case in point, in that same household where I was weaned from the breast to the bottle to the Nintendo, we also had Zelda: Link to the Past. And because that particular title is the Back to the Future of video games, I found it such a compelling experience that just by playing through it I learned how to read and count. And any Hylian lore I learned there was worth just as much, academically, as whatever Mario’s Time Machine tried to teach me about Beethoven.
Edutainment, I ask you. Even the much heralded history lessons you can get in Age of Empires, or the comprehensive Civilopedia in Civ games, might as well not exist for me. Games is not the time for doing all that learning. During the day, I’m an ivory tower dwelling polyglot, who likes to debate about the tenets of communism. At night time though, I melt poor unfortunates in shooting games, and smoke fools on Mario Kart. You’d think a game like this would combine my day and night routines in beautiful harmony… but it doesn’t, you know.
You may already know my feelings on history, in that you’re better off making it rather than sitting in a dingy room studying it. Better again, you should spend some of your time actually trying to control the future instead, seize your destiny and all that cobblers. And if you can control one thing in your future, ensure that you do not buy this game. Don’t buy it, even if you feel enticed by the fact that Mario takes up a surfboard for the first time in the interquel Mode 7 minigame whenever he travels to new time periods. This is about the most playable that Mario’s Time Machine gets, and it’s still an almighty boring waste of time.
Do you know what the worst part of this game is? It’s not the music, sound or graphics, which are all fine actually. And it’s not even the gameplay either, which has probably taken sufficient kicking from me by now without adding more on top. No, it’s the fact that I actually did sit down and played all the way through Mario’s Time Machine once, being the shit-hot historian that I am. Do you remember how jaw-droppingly attractive Indiana Jones was, when he’d be teaching the classes? That was me that was. Even then, when I did beat this game, it admonished me by telling me that I didn’t do it all in the right order, and that I’d need to do the whole rigmarole over again correctly to get the proper ending.
Nah, you’re alright mate. I did my best to indulge this game, and all it did was rebuke me. And needless to say, as genial a guy as Mario is, there was no chance he was gonna lend me his time machine to let me get those two hours of my life back. I could try to create my own time travelling device of course, but I think I’d rather go surfing instead. Who knows, maybe the last thing I’ll see before drowning will be Sir Francis Drake, laughing at the smell of his own farts.
5 November 2021