Nostalgia Tripping is a column in which Dan Tallarico explores his collection of retro games to see how well they hold up. You can expect heartbreak, childhood flashbacks and a ton of Capcom games. Want to yell at him about old games? Find him on Twitter.
What I Remember
I don’t know why I rented Mario is Missing. Mario is the character that you want to play as. Traveling around the Mushroom Kingdom, squashing goombas, and slipping down pipes like a well-oiled otter wouldn’t be the same without the plumber in red. I thought maybe there was a word missing from the cartridge label. Mario is missing his hat. Mario is missing the other half of his friendship bracelet. Mario is missing Peach’s birthday party. The list of items Mario could be missing goes on as long as a congo line at Mario’s eventual retirement party. But Mario is nowhere to be found.
Booting this game up as a kid was perplexing. More confusing than arithmetic and definitely more confusing than conjugating verbs in Latin. I was forced to play as Luigi, which was strike one. Strike two came when I was given a cryptic clue: “You’re in the place shaped like a boot.” Oh. Okay. I assumed it was referring to Kuribo’s shoe. I found the world map and was shocked that it was so familiar. It was not the Mushroom Kingdom world, but the actual 70% water world. I scurried up from my basement dwelling like a dog freshly off the leash to seek my Grandma’s help. She was in the middle of preparing spaghetti for dinner when I asked, “Hey, what country is in the shape of a boot?” She laughed as the weight of the spaghetti shifted out of the pot into the colander.
I laughed at her answer. Yeah. Okay. I returned to the basement and globe trotted to Italy and the game progressed. Unfortunately, after that I exhausted my global smarts. The only places I could safely travel were Pittsburgh and that’s if they asked “What city in the United States has the most bridges?” or “What city were the 1979 Superbowl Champions from?”
Playing it Now
Mario is Missing is a trojan horse of knowledge. Kids in rental stores, environments that often lacked even the boxes for games, were suckered in by the classic Mario name and intrigue the title carries. I pity the army of children that were and fooled just as Mario was tricked by Bowser. Never mind that sprites are torn out from Super Mario World, one of the greatest Mario games ever created. This game had the stink of Bowser’s foul play all over it.
The game begins with Mario falling down a pit right in front of Luigi. This trap is conveniently placed outside Bowser’s fortress in the arctic. Having successfully captured Mario should have been the first tip that this game wasn’t what it seemed. Luigi keeps his cool and tells Yoshi that he’ll find Mario. Thus begins this globetrotting adventure starring Luigi and Yoshi. I like to think of this as a real bonding opportunity that confronts, and extinguishes, a lot of the issues that dinosaurs and Italians have had in the past.
Working in tandem, the green team stomp on Koopas and digest knowledge that would only come in handy during the final rounds of a Jeopardy! tournament. References to the government’s “Make Work” program and African tribes elude me even as an adult. To progress, Luigi has to “save” a number of cities. Inside Bowser’s castles are doors that lead to an exotic destination. Each city is overrun with koopas, some of which are carrying national landmarks such as: a baby elephant, a human skull, a spear, paintings, and bricks from the Great Wall of China. Justice is to be restored to these cities before the path to Mario will be revealed.
Mario is Missing steals from the Mario franchise just as the Koopas have pillaged from history. The controls and sprites are similar, sure – they’re iconic. But the soundtrack takes classic Mario music and puts it through an ethnic filter. As I traveled through Bejing, China, the Mario theme looped with a stereotypical China tinge. Moscow tickled my ears with a Russian theme that could’ve easily been in Tetris. It’s a nice touch that helps convey the setting, not to mention that the background’s “pick and choose” architectures that are easily recognizable. Blending together history and video games could have gone horribly wrong, but The Software Toolworks did a fine job of not getting overzealous.
Also inside these cities are pedestrians. Citizens frolic back and forth in these worlds ready to give clues about the city Luigi is in. When in Rome I asked a professor where I was. His response was, “This place was home to Caesar, the original italian Stallion.” I actually laughed. For content that is incredibly dull, repetitive, and ancient, the copy is punchy and full of puns. It makes the avalanche of facts and texts much easier to digest.
Learning is unavoidable. Once you stomp on a Koopa and earn the monument back, to return it to the proper place you have to answer questions about the relic. This means reading a pamphlet handed out by Peach who mans the tourist huts when in the Princess off-seasons. Here’s a few things I gleaned from my adventure:
- The Golden Gate Bridge is 4,200 feet long.
- The Great Wall of China was built by 300,000 men and is wide enough for five horses to gallop side-by-side.
- The Transamerica Pyramid changed the distinct shape of San Franscisco’s Skyline.
- The Emperor’s Cannon in the Kremlin is the biggest cannon in the world.
- No ballet troupe is more famous than the Bolshoi Ballet company.
- Ivan the Terrible built St. Basil’s Cathedral.If you throw a coins over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain you will one day return to Rome.
- Michaelangelo wasn’t used to painting on plaster when he began painting the Sistine Chapel.
- The Maasai are one of more than 70 tribes in Africa. Also, they’re famous warriors that, at the age of 15, dye their skin orange and go hunting.
- Anthropologists believe Kenya is the birthplace of all mankind.
I still don’t know what Bowser’s inspiration was to go after actual monuments instead of a princess. It must have stemmed from a revelation he had watching reruns of Antique Roadshow. Of course I could actually make money stealing things of value instead of that lousy princess he thought to himself. With a roar of vigor, he flipped his TV Dinner over and ordered his Koopas to take over the monuments.
Wikipedia kind of ruins this game today, but in 1993 it was a successful piece of educational software. I wish I was a bit smarter back then to have fully understood the concepts and lessons Mario was trying to teach me, but I’m glad I know more about the Golden Gate Bridge than I ever did before. Mario actually sacrificed himself in the name of knowledge and for that he should be commended.