Using your SNES as a learning tool? I must be missing the point

Mario is Missing! (1993)

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll have been living your life dodging as much responsibility as humanly possible. After all, what good can possibly come out of having responsibility? Talk about putting an enormous target on your back, and inviting mouthbreathers to come up and take their best shot at you. Putting yourself in the hot seat may confer you with riches, adulation and fame – but it won’t be long before someone tries to knock you off your perch, or worse, they all come to you looking for a clue. And who needs that kind of pressure?

What you’ll come to learn as well is that even the bosses have bosses. Yes, just when you think you’re your own man or woman or beast, you’re not. That’s why I don’t ever want to manage people. The word “manage” makes me think of the word “hassle” and there’s nothing I hate more in the world than hassle.

How do you think you’d get on, then, if you were suddenly thrust into the limelight, ready to make all of the decisions? A lot of us tend to think we’d do a far better job than the incumbent Prime Minister or President, but would we really? Say the main man ain’t about anymore, how would we really do? Honestly, I suspect we wouldn’t perform very well at all. But Burkey, you cry, our politicians are utter buffoons. And in all likelihood, they probably are.

But when you have to answer a question on government spending, or why all those tech companies you cosied up to aren’t paying proper taxes, or the nukes are on their way to your front doorstep, what do you do? If it isn’t hiding underneath a big pile of coats in terror and hoping someone who actually has a bit of backbone and ability swoops in and takes care of it for you?

In an old job of mine, where every single day had you in a state of being dangerously disorganised, we would just about be able to keep a lid on things. Picture a little ducky swimming through the water: on the surface he looks serene and graceful, but underneath, his little webbed feet are going pitter-patter for their life to keep the whole body afloat. That’s what we were like, but once our manager had the gall to go on the most well-deserved holiday of all time, all hell would break loose.

Everyone would come to us lackeys looking for info that was about three or four brains ahead of us .Sudddenly we were answerable to the directors, on whose arrival there was often a sharp, pained intake of breath. You might even find yourself nodding uncomfortably to this story, because my tale is by no means a unique one. You see, I’ve spent my whole life trying to commit as much knowledge to my sponge brain as possible, in the hope that I would achieve mythic status and be considered a guru.

From there I could ascend to a higher state of intellectual being, someone who must only be consulted in an absolute emergency, but whose mere presence would save the day and have everyone swooning. Like House MD or one of those mad fellas. But of course not, what really happens is that, if you’re a bit of a brain, you get more people than ever pestering you and wanting a piece of you. And they’ll hardly ever give you the fellatio to which you certainly think you’re entitled, no siree.

So with life gone as hectic as it has, do you really reckon you could cope if the main man legged it and it fell onto you? I suppose if you’ve worked hard enough to get to that stage where you’re next in line to be the Pope or something, then your ambition isn’t gonna suddenly run out at the last hurdle. But I always think you’re far better off staying nice and safe and unridiculed in the shadows.

That’s the philosophy the man in green Luigi followed all his life, and he was happy to do so until one day, oh bugger, oh cock, Mario wasn’t there to take the bullets anymore and it was down to Luigi to carry a whole game on his back. Hence we have Mario is Missing for Super NES and PC, as well as an eleventh hour NES title into the bargain. They could at least have called it Luigi’s Shaky Stint or Luigi’s Reluctant Responsibility or something, anything to get his name into the title. But what I’m getting at here is that Luigi’s first solo effort didn’t go particularly well at all, at all.

He does a lot better on his own nowadays, though his earliest effort was a shocker, which I suppose gives him a similar solo career trajectory to Gary Barlow. Like its sister game (well, brother game) Mario’s Time Machine, Mario is Missing is an edutainment game which neither edumacates nor entertains. If Time Machine had more of a focus on history, Mario is Missing might (barely) test your geographical and world knowledge.

Indeed, it really does its best to fool you into thinking that it might be a good game, especially when you’re presented with a world map that looks broadly similar to the brilliant world map they employed in Super Mario World. The fact that you can also bring in Yoshi and ride around big cities of the world on his back, that alone gets even the most pig-ignorant, unwilling to learn punters to sit up and take notice – that’s me. And although there’s barely any collision detection, you can even stomp on Koopa Troopa heads during the game, which Time Machine didn’t offer.

You’ll actually need to crack some skulls if you’re gonna recover the artifacts and tourist attractions that have gone missing from each city,  while the game teaches you a thing or two about the Sistine Chapel. God knows how Bowser’s minions managed to make off with the Chapel’s roof, or King Kong himself, but you won’t even have time to begin figuring that out because Mario is Missing really does present itself as an esoteric, bizarre, even cryptic game. So much so, that it’s difficult to realise and understand what’s even going on right now, let along what you have to do later.

I suppose you don’t think an awful lot of my brainpower now, given how I outlined my aversion to even the slightest bit of responsibility earlier. And that’s fine actually – in fact I forgive you, but I just have to ask how children could figure out what the hell is going on here. There’s so much complicated text to read, and after all, this game is intended to educate kids right? But I guarantee you that any kid playing this didn’t care one jot about the Trevi Fountain – they just spent 10 minutes wandering about on Yoshi’s back, wondering when the cool Mario (er, Luigi) levels in real-world locations would begin, and of course they never do.

Then the game gets shelved in frustration, before you come back to it months or years later, hoping that this time it’s clicked and you’ll enjoy it. But you never will, because Mario is Missing is not a game. It was another dent in the Mario license, and it’s true that the cartridge will work on your SNES, but this is not gaming. Gaming is about mindlessness, designing your own course, and most of all, it’s about having fun – which is the absence of responsibility. And best of all, in spite of all that, when you play a real game, you still get to be the main man.

16 November 2021

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