Praising Mario is Missing is no way to impress someone with your gaming acumen. But it’s true; I thoroughly enjoyed Mario Is Missing as a young kid. My father didn’t know much about video games, but he did know that ‘Mario’ was a signifier of quality (or, at least, it should have been). So he bought me Mario Is Missing for my birthday, and I popped it into my Super Nintendo, expecting to see the sequel to Super Mario World.
Instead, I got… well, take a look at some online reviews. Just a quick visit toGamespot unearths some visceral gems: “Truly the worst Mario game in history.” “I wasted 15 bucks on this crap.” “Nintendo made a huge mistake.” “I neither learned nor enjoyed myself playing this absolute waste of time.” The user reviews on other websites are similar, if not worse. Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett dismissed it in an article with one word: “awful.” And that’s the narrative I see all over the Internet; it’s always the overarching slam. ‘Critically panned.’ ‘Universally panned.’ ‘Overwhelmingly negative reviews.’ ‘Critical flop.’
A brief primer for the uninitiated: Mario Is Missing! was released in 1992 for the PC and Super Nintendo (it got remade for the NES in 1993). Even though it stars characters from the Mario-verse, it was developed by Software Toolworks — also responsible for classics such as Mario’s Time Machine and Mario’s Early Years! Fun With Letters. The notable aspect of these games, which gave them some legitimacy, was that they recycled sprites from Super Mario World. Mario Is Missing! was also the first Mario game to star Luigi, and the advertisements framed this as a can’t-miss event. ‘Luigi! In his very own game. Stepping out of his brother’s spotlight!’