Mario’s Short Time on PC (and as a Teacher)

Screenshot: Mario’s Game Gallery
Written By: Elijah Moon Blackwell

It’s taken as a fact of life: Nintendo games can only be played on Nintendo hardware.

Well, maybe now-a-days.

Nintendo never releases their games on other consoles. It is the main reason why the Switch and 3DS sell so well. You can’t find official Super Smash Bros. or Legend of Zelda games on PC. But if you go back in time far enough, you can find Mario titles.

The 90s was a Weird Decade

In 1991, Ren and Stimpy debuted and was immediately met with a lot of criticism. A program that was marketed as a children’s show was vulgar, kind of gross at times, and often disturbing. The band Nirvana was gaining mainstream success in the 90s, bringing a new genre of music with them. Whether it’s weird cartoons or grunge music, one could say the 90s set a strange precedent in culture.

If television programming and music aren’t enough to convince you that the 90s was a strange decade, then how about playing Go Fish with the plumber himself? How about finally playing as Luigi only to find out it’s an educational game? Oh, better yet, let’s learn how to type!

From 1991 to 1997 North America would see eleven Mario games released for PC. All eleven were educational in some way. There exists a small community of fans who like educational games; I have fond memories of the Jump Start series myself. However, Jump Start didn’t have a set reputation of being something different.

The Mario series had a fan base of players who loved the side scrolling action platforming. But it was the weird 90s, and even Nintendo couldn’t escape the appeal of doing something different.

Nintendo made a Bad Call

1988 was the year Super Mario Bros. released. This game had an inventory system and mini-games, and would be the longest Mario game yet. It was an epic game considering the limited hardware of the Nintendo Entertainment System.

1990 brought Dr. Mario, Nintendo’s answer to the popular Tetris puzzle game. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1991, with Super Mario World right behind it. Both games are amazing additions to the Mario franchise.

Mario at this point had become a household name due to the amount of content one could consume. You had to be living under a rock to not know who Mario was. The games were receiving high praise and people still play these old games today. I find myself booting up Super Mario Bros. 3 from time to time, and I’m not even a big fan of the series. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins happens to be one of my favorite Game Boy games due to the incredible soundtrack. I could go on and on about good Mario games, but I think we all know the franchise is home to some masterpieces.

So in the midst of all this, what does Nintendo do in 1988? They make Mario a teacher.

Hindsight is 20/20 and of course we have the luxury of knowledge. Educational games are touchy and can only be successful if marketed correctly. The target audience immediately shrinks to a small population that the education benefits.

At the time, Nintendo was probably trying to find a way to generate a new source of income. Develop something every parent would approve of to sell more copies of their product; that was most likely the goal. If successful, Nintendo would be drawing profit from families that already accepted video games and the households that always saw the medium as a detriment to education. It was a win-win situation right?

Of course, this is all speculation, because I don’t have the contact info of the Nintendo employees from late 80s on hand. Whatever the motive for the move to make educational games, it was not the best call to make.

Nintendo-Famicom-Disk-System.jpg
Famicom Disk System

The 1998 Mario PC game was released for the Famicom Disk System, a console only available in Japan. It’s called I Am a Teacher: Super Mario Sweater.

Weird name aside, it sounds like a neat idea. The game was more of a design software. Users could design a sweater that was Super Mario themed and Royal Industries Co. would make it for them at a price. Sounds really cool in my opinion. Sadly, I can’t find a whole lot of customer testimonies online (in English anyway). All the info I just spouted was off the Wikipedia page. Sorry folks, foreign gaming is still my weakest area of knowledge.

It had to be somewhat successful, though, because Nintendo brought the idea of educational video games into the 90s. Most importantly, they brought it stateside.

Every one of the games developed would receive mixed reviews. Web shows like The Angry Video Game Nerd bash these games, calling them the worst Mario games to date. There is a reason why the NES and SNES Classic doesn’t have any of these games featured. The six games released were not very good. Some are worse than others but overall definitely disappointing when compared to the previous games.

One of the “games” to release is more of a Google Images before Google Images. Super Mario Bros. Print World is a 1991 program that gives you a bunch of images to use for crafts. You can create birthday cards or a basic story book. This is not uncommon for the time. I have a similar “game” that is just images from the movie Mulan.

The other educational products are actually games, as in they have some controls and are meant to spark some enjoyment.

They are all awful in my opinion. Well, except maybe Mario Teaches Typing because it did the job well. This program taught me how to type when I was in elementary school. But even then, who wants an educational Mario game? I sure didn’t! I wanted free reign! I didn’t want to be restricted to only moving when I typed the correct letter! I wanted to hop on Goombas!

Mario Enters the Classroom

It’s the early 2000s and I am in the computer lab at my elementary school. I never had a computer at home so getting to use one always got me excited. My grandma had a computer and she’d let me play games she bought me whenever I visited. I thought she was super high tech for the CD-ROMs she used.

I went to a public school in a relatively poor county in western North Carolina. The technology was from the 90s. I vividly remember using 3.5 inch diskettes. Our teachers taught us how disk drives worked and I do not remember ever using a CD-ROM at school until middle school, and by then we had made the jump to USB memory sticks.

Mario Teaches Typing released in 1992 and the sequel followed in 1997. You can play these games for free on the Internet Archive website. Both games were put on floppy disk and CD-ROM.

MarioTeachesTyping.PNG
Mario Teaches Typing had re-releases. This is the “Enhanced CD-ROM” which updates graphics and audio.

In elementary school we went to the computer lab to take online tests. These tests often had games tied to them. Each problem would be your standard multiple choice question. However, you had to play a game to choose which answer you wanted. So the one I played the most was a snake game. You had to use the arrow keys to guide your snake to the correct answer on a randomly generated maze. The tail got longer with each right answer you hit. It was a simple yet effective way to get us children to subconsciously invest in learning.

When we were not taking these tests with games tacked on, we played Mario Teaches Typing. Recently, I got a physical copy of the first game. I refreshed my memory of both games by visiting the Internet Archive. Without a doubt I can say I only played the first game as a child. The second game has a plot and various new features such as the ability to create a lesson plan. The keyboard guide on the screen is also color coded. The colors detail which finger should strike each key.

My elementary school’s version did not have all these additions. This means we were playing the first game. Which also means the school was using software from 1992 in 2004.

I don’t know why I am surprised. Throughout high school (I graduated in 2014) we had textbooks where people from the 90s had left messages. You’d see things like “Kayla and Josh 98” surrounded by a heart in a random page of a textbook. It was a weird historical record of teenagers long before us. Anyway….back to Mario Teaches Typing.

The program was quite successful at teaching me typing skills. Keep in mind that back then keyboards were sort of a luxury item to me. I never got to use one unless I was at my grandma’s or in the school computer lab.

Mario was definitely a good fake-out method of getting me to learn. It was still education though, and all it did was remind me that Super Mario Sunshine was at home waiting to be played. Out of all the educational games I am going to mention, Mario Teaches Typing is the only one that gets my stamp of approval. A basic game that provided a way to sneakily teach children. It is a simple formula that can be found in other games like Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego. You learn, yes, but the game is entertaining enough for you to not realize you’re learning.

Oregon Trail depicted life of settlers heading west in 1800s America while Carmen Sandiego taught geography in the midst of hunting down a criminal. Mario Teaches Typing teaches you typing skills. A good trilogy of classic educational games.

After Mario Teaches Typing, Nintendo tried to make their own geography game. A game that would feature Luigi as the main protagonist for the first time. A game that would teach players absolutely nothing. A game that would fail horribly.

Luigi Finally gets the Spotlight

Somewhere in 1991 Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up would release on PC. It is a coloring program. Nothing special. I’ve never had it myself but it seems very forgettable. Another lackluster game to add to the pile of sub-par Mario games.

1993 would roll around and Luigi would finally get his debut. Mario was no longer the main character. Instead, Mario gets kidnapped and it is up to Luigi to find him. Welcome to Mario is Missing.

MarioisMissing
The original release of Mario is Missing. The box is absurdly tall.

The premise sounds so awesome. The main star of the series is in trouble and now it is time for the other brother to save the day.

I am lucky. I was born three years after this game’s initial release. I didn’t experience the disappointment of putting this game in my CD-ROM drive only to be met by a point and click adventure game. Yes, the PC version is point and click. A point and click Mario game. I just can’t fathom the existence of this. A game series that is know for platforming action is now a snooze fest.

Good point and click games exist. This isn’t an attack on the entire genre. However, most point and click games are known for being just that. Myst, Full Throttle, and Maniac Mansion have the reputation of being point and click games.

The extreme change in style, tone, and gameplay is why I personally hate Mario is Missing. The graphics are absolutely amazing with a variety of locations to visit. It reminds me of The Pink Panther: Passport to Peril (which was featured in Games that Defined my Childhood by Katelyn Vause). The game is trying to teach you about different places in the world and what landmarks are home to that region. Pink Panther did it better due to the catchy songs and unique plot.

What about the Mario is Missing plot? Bowser moves his headquarters from the Mushroom Kingdom to the real world. He plans to steal all the world’s treasures and sell them to make money. For what, you ask? He wants to amass an armory of hair dryers so he can melt Antarctica and flood the Earth. Hair dryers…to melt Antarctica…

Luigi’s job is to return these stolen items back to their homes. So you go to a location without knowing where you are in the world. You walk around asking pedestrians about the area to get clues. With enough clues you figure out where you are and you can return whatever artifact belongs there.

It is boring.

Unlike Pink Panther, the game brings nothing new to each location. It is the same cookie cutter style towns with the same pedestrians. Buildings will sometimes accurately reflect the area, but not as much. Pink Panther has several puzzles and the mystery you were solving developed at a steady pace.

Even as an adult, Pink Panther is fun. Sure, it came out a few years after Mario is Missing, so maybe they learned from Nintendo’s mistakes.

Carmen Sandiego first released in the late 80s. But in 1996 (same year as Pink Panther) the game overshadowed Mario is Missing with it’s voice acting and full motion video sequences. Lynn Thigpen, who was an actress and stage performer, is the chief of police who orders you around. Her acting adds to the immersion. The game had you investigating an elusive female criminal who the game is named after. It is still a pretty cool game with tons of sequels.

If you notice, in both Pink Panther and Carmen Sandiego I talk about playing the games today. That is the last problem I’ll mention with Mario is Missing. As an adult it is just too easy. I did earn a degree and love learning about world cultures, so geography isn’t a problem for me. The easiness kills the game’s appeal.

Regardless of the mixed results and my hatred, Nintendo tried again. I’m losing the endurance to suffer through these educational games.

However, you can’t suffer what you can’t play.

It’s Easy as 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C

Mario’s Early Years is a series of three games, each with their own subject. Finding these games is incredibly difficult. I have yet to obtain a single copy of a game from the series.

I’m not hurting for these products, as they are targeted towards young children. One of the games is Preschool Fun. From what I understand, the games consist of basic learning exercises with Mario guiding the student. Many major corporations have tried this. There are Disney educational games where Mickey Mouse is the guide.

There isn’t much information floating around about this series and it is probably because there isn’t much to say. I have a Sesame Street: Early Steps educational game where Elmo teaches you how to count. It is probably the exact same as the Mario’s Early Years trilogy.

The games released in 1993 and 1994. A CD-ROM compiling all the games released in 1995.

I have found listings for the CD-ROM compilation and it is incredibly expensive. I’m sure cheaper listings exist if I am willing to dig, but I’m not. They just don’t seem that special. I don’t feel like enduring the experience of having Mario teach me how to count or read. If Mario is Missing! is too easy for me to enjoy then these games would kill me.

Time Travel and Go Fish

The last games to be mentioned are Mario’s Time Machine and Mario’s Game Gallery. I’ve only played Game Gallery, but before we explore that game let’s at least discuss the synopsis of the other one.

Mario’s Time Machine’s released on PC in 1993 with a deluxe version releasing in 1996. The plot is about Bowser building a time machine and going back in time to steal artifacts. As Mario you go back in time and return the artifacts to where they belong. Sounds kinda similar to Mario is Missing!, doesn’t it? The game is fairly cheap on Ebay if you just want the CD-ROM. I need to snag it one of these days. Judging by the reviews found online, it is a pretty hated game. Levi Buchanan at IGN called the game boring and dull.

It is time to finish on Mario’s Game Gallery. A fan recently send the Mac version to me. It is a collection of real life board games, except you play with Mario. My hypothesis is that Nintendo was trying to make something for young children that wasn’t spoon feeding education. The board games are Checkers, Go Fish, Dominoes, a Yahtzee clone that Nintendo calls Yacht, and Backgammon.

Mario's Game Gallery.PNG
The Mac brand takes up half the box art. Besides that, a very unique display.

This game is interesting in Mario’s level of interactivity. I mean, Mario even talks at you from time to time. He also praises your abilities. It is a weird, patronizing experience as an adult, and as a kid I would have been bored because it would have gotten old quick. The games included get old for me fast in real life, so a virtual version just makes me wish I could play the other thousand games I have on the computer.

The best aspect of Mario’s Game Gallery is that it features Charles Martinet as the voice of Mario. He since has been the sole voice of Mario.

I fall asleep at the keyboard just thinking about this game. Having Mario ask me if I have any Yoshis puts me right to sleep. It moves so slow. However, I am so glad it is in the collection due to it’s rarity. I have the complete big box and it will never leave my grasp.

Why do I feel love for this game even though it is just as trashy as the rest? Because it is weird. Mario talking to the player is strange. Mario never talks in full sentences or carries on conversations in his games. Just the idea of Mario telling me “Go Fish” has me shaking my head in disbelief.

In my opinion, this is the most unique, weird, and strange Mario games to ever exist. You can play it yourself at the Internet Archive. Give it a go. The humorously strange experience is worth a couple minutes of your time.

Phew, this is trip through history is tiresome. We just went through the entire PC Mario series. It made me relive my days in public school and reminded me why these games are forgotten. If it wasn’t for memes and hardcore fans, these games would have disappeared entirely. The games may be bad, but don’t deserve being left out of the history books.

Nintendo tried what many companies tried in the 90s and you can’t fault them for it. They were trying to make education fun. Sure, it failed, but Nintendo was looking out for the players. At least I like to think that was the motive…

Regardless, let us not forget Mario’s short time on PC and as a teacher!

Do you have any memories with the educational Mario games? Even if it is on console tell us all about it at cdromfossil@gmail.com or just leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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