You may think a title like Mario’s Time Machine is pretty cool. The idea of Mario traveling through time could make for a compelling game. But it would only take one quick glance at this 1993 SNES title’s cover art to realize one thing: This is an edutainment game. Worse still, it’s from the same people that created Mario is Missing.
It can be hard to think that a game like Mario’s Time Machine actually exists. There were a few Mario edutainment games during the early 90s, but most were on the PC. It’s baffling enough to think that Mario is Missing managed to find its way onto actual Nintendo platforms, but for it to manage a quasi-sequel on the Super Nintendo makes this scenario all the more surreal. Somehow it’s even weirder to see Mario inhabit real world locations for a second time, as he’s now meeting up with historical figures.
In Mario’s Time Machine, Bowser has once again stolen artifacts from around the world, this time through different time periods. So Mario sets out to retrieve these artifacts from Bowser’s museum, and use his own time machine to get these artifacts back to their rightful place.
The game immediately starts with Mario in Boswer’s museum, where different pedestals hold different items. The museum is separated into three floors, with each floor housing five items that need to be returned.
Mario can pick up one of the items from a pedestal by pressing the X button on the SNES controller. After you’ve picked up a particular item, a press of the R button opens up a screen for the player to do some homework. Homework in a Mario game. How exciting.
The homework acts like a kind of Madlib,with players filling in blank spots in biographical papers on historical people. As if this “gameplay” aspect weren’t thrilling enough, the menus of words that show up for each space contain way too many options for how simple the questions are, all of which are listed in alphabetical order, and cycling through them is just tedious. No matter how easy the questions may be, you’ll spend a good amount of time on these homework pages just because cycling through the words takes so long.
To make matters worse, if you somehow get three wrong answers on a single word, it takes you out of the homework menu, and you have to open it back up again. Yes, that’s a small punishment, but that just makes the process that much more tedious. Why does it even need to close out of the homework screen? It’s not like a full-on game over or anything, so why bother closing the menu if the player can just open it right back up again?
After you finish filling out the homework, Mario needs to travel back in time. To do so, you first need to hit the L button, which brings down the time machine. Then, you have to scroll through different places in the world, fill out the year, and select either B.C. or A.D. and then press the A button.
Here’s where things get really messed up. Instead of taking you directly to the desired time and place, Mario is transported to a surfing mini-game. In this surfing mini-game, Mario must collect 10 mushrooms and then enter a whirlpool to finally get to the selected time. But Mario must also avoid sea urchins, which eliminate all of Mario’s collected mushrooms. And entering a whirlpool before gaining ten mushrooms won’t take you anywhere. To make this whole process all the worse, the player doesn’t actually know whether they’ve selected the right time and place until after the surfing mini-game. So if you accidentally hit a wrong number or forgot to flip the B.C./A.D. switch (which is very much possible with how small it is), you just have to wait until you’ve finished the surfing mini-game before you realize you messed up.
After you’ve arrived at the destination, all you do is find the historical figure, and talk to them to return the item. Rinse and repeat this process over and over, and that’s it. It’s hard to imagine it could be any more monotonous.
On the plus side, Mario’s Time Machine at least feels like it could be educational to young audiences, which is something Mario is Missing can’t boast. The problem though is that the game itself lacks any shred of depth, and its setup is overly convoluted, made all the more so by the fact that the game features no instructions on how the mechanics of the game work. It would be easier and less time-consuming for kids to just do actual homework than to try to figure out the details of Mario’s Time Machine. And even if they do figure it out, it doesn’t change how bland and tedious the game is.
There’s really not much else to say about Mario’s Time Machine. It may feel more educational than Mario is Missing, but it’s every bit as bad of a game. Just stay in school, kids. And keep playing actual Mario games. Let’s hope the two don’t come together again anytime soon…