Allowing another company to produce and distribute a game featuring Nintendo’s iconic plumber seems unthinkable today, but that is just what happened back in the 1990’s during the explosion of CD-ROM software for the PC (and early attempts at CD-based consoles). Yes, long before Mario captured our hearts as the star of an endless runner on mobile devices, he was featured in games and educational software for the PC, Mac, and even the Philips CD-i – in addition to his origins on arcade machines and early console hardware (a story for another day). Our focus today will be on three of the games you may not have heard of featuring Mario, and all three were developed by companies outside of Nintendo.
Hotel Mario, developed by Philips Fantasy Factory and released in 1994 for the ill-fated Philips CD-i, was a puzzle game featuring Mario, Luigi, and other characters Nintendo fans know and love. While perhaps not the best Mario game ever released (some might go so far as to call it the worst), the game did at least offer a thrilling new plotline for fans of the original Nintendo games: Mario and Luigi head over to their friend Princess Toadstool’s castle, only to discover that she has been kidnapped by Bowser! Sad times in the Mushroom Kingdom, indeed! Ok, so this is basically the plot of every Mario game ever made, and the fact that Nintendo had nothing to do with the development of Hotel Mario does not bode well for the finished game. And speaking of the finished game, it really looks like crap. There is just no way around this. A cluttered screen featuring the excitement of entering and exiting doors awaits the confused player, who probably expected something better than this with the Mario name attached. Surprise! Oh well, we can not have everything on our terrible short-lived Philips compact disc-based consoles, now can we? Of note, Philips only received a license to create games using these characters when Nintendo backed out of their deal with Philips to create a CD-based Nintendo console – this coming after Nintendo also backed out of their deal with Sony for the same purpose, with the never-released Nintendo Play Station (though we did eventually get the Sony PlayStation as a result, for which I am forever grateful).
Next we have Mario’s Game Gallery, which was developed by Presage Software and published by Interplay in 1995. Considering this title is a collection of traditional games ranging from checkers to everyone’s favorite card game (go fish, of course!) there is not much to report about here – other than the frequently-heard voice of Mario, that is. This was recorded by veteran Nintendo voice actor Charles Martinet, who went on to voice Mario in Mario 64 and subsequent games. Thankfully, Mario’s Game Gallery is one of the software titles now freely available for anyone to play in their browser at the Internet Archive, where the full, working version of this MS-DOS title (here) ran without incident for this author while writing this editorial. How much of your time is worth investing in this game will largely depend on how fond of traditional games (like dominoes!) you might be; though it was amusing to have Mario ask me to hurry up, and eventually begin telling knock-knock jokes, when I failed to make my move in checkers fast enough for his liking. The graphics are very colorful, at least, and this game is surely a step-up from Hotel Mario. But is it educational, you might ask? Well, I do not think that I learned any new skills after playing it for a few minutes, but Mario Teaches Typing (which is not a game, but a training program that teaches typing – a fact I learned by reading the title) just might. This earlier Interplay-developed software from 1992 is also part of the free software library available from The Internet Archive (here), should you wish to brush up on some very adorable typing skills.
Finally we come to Mario is Missing!, which was developed by The Software Toolworks and originally released in 1992 for MS-DOS. A year later the game was re-released for both NES and SNES consoles, placing this game in the odd position of being a Mario game released on Nintendo hardware but developed by another software company. And developed it was! The player controls Luigi throughout the game, as Mario is missing (remember?), making this a must-play title for Luigi super-fans and lovers of mediocre early-1990s software alike. The plot revolves around the evil Bowser’s plan to flood the planet using hair dryers (yes, hair dryers) to melt the ice in Antarctica. Have you started scouring eBay for the cartridge yet? Well, I will provide more of the plot and force your hand. When super-bros Mario and Luigi show up in Antarctica to foil Bowser’s plan, accompanied by Yoshi, of course, because the three of them just go everywhere together, Mario ends up being captured. With Mario now missing (do you still remember the title?) it is up to Luigi to get through some really fun artifact-retrieval-and-restoration action. Yes, artifacts from around the globe have been stolen, and it is up to Luigi to get them back, figure out what city they belong to, and return them to that city. I think. I did not actually play it. Without question, Mario is Missing! is a game that will live forever in the hearts and minds of dozens of people without access to better software.
There you have it: three games (and a typing program) featuring Nintendo’s famous mascot – but not developed by Nintendo at all. The 1990s were a strange time for Nintendo, but rest assured they took back their favorite mascot and now keep him secret, and keep him safe. Do you, dear reader, know of another non-tendo game featuring the famous plumber? If you do, donate $5 to Lusipurr.com and we will get back to you in 6 – 8 weeks. Or never. Whichever comes last. (Or just let us know in the comments, I suppose.)