The Software Toolworks licensed Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers characters once again in 1994 to create a sequel to the edutainment title Mario Is Missing. Mario's Time Machine finds Luigi shoved back into the background as Mario travels to Bowser's museum. It seems the leader of the Koopa Troop has stolen some of history's greatest artifacts and if Mario can't return them to their correct time periods, history will be changed forever. There are three versions of this game available and they're all somewhat different. They all share some common themes such as the overall plot, the fact that Mario cannot be damaged, and passwords save progress.

The Super NES version borrows heavily from Super Mario World once again and requires Mario to answer a series of fill-in-the-blank questions about various artifacts, such as Sir Issac Newton's apple or Ludwig von Beethoven's sheet music. The time machine can travel to any time period, although only a few points in history have levels attached to them. Travelling to a non-existant level dumps Mario back to the museum. Here's how to play a level: Mario picks an item from the museum, them sets the time machine to the designated time period. Then Mario must surf over the ocean, collect ten mushrooms, and steer into a whirlpool to engage time travel itself. Personally I feel this aspect of the game is just to make the "adventure" longer. Once back in time Mario can talk to various residents of the past to find the answers to the questions he must answer. Once all questions are answered Mario can return the item to its owner. Once this is complete it's back to the museum for another object. There are a total of fifteen objects to return to the past. The actual educational parts of the game can be quickly if you know your history, but the surfing aspect of the game will take some time because it's just so dang repetitive. The PC version is very similar to this version, although it uses a larger interface, detailed graphics, and requires Mario to earn the artifacts by completing a series of repetitive mini-games.

The NES version plays quite different. The plot has an extra wrinkle to it as well: Yoshi has been kidnapped in addition to the whole museum aspect of the story. There are seven rooms in the museum and each contains a recreation of the classic Mario Brothers game. Mario has to bop three Koopa Troopas from below, then kick them out of the room. The last turtle will drop an artifact. Mario can then use the time machine to travel to one of fourteen pre-selected time periods, all the way from prehistoric times up to 1989. Artifacts in this game include generic items such as a sledgehammer and a torch. At each point in history is a small side-scrolling level that contains Koopa Troopas and Hammer Brothers, although they cannot harm Mario. There are also I-blocks that give up a historical fact when bopped. Mario has to take the correct artifact to the correct place in the level. For example, the torch must be brought to the Olympic flame and the sledgehammer must be brought to the Berlin Wall. Failing to drop an artifact in the correct place causes a small bird to steal it and it goes back to the room in the museum. After all fourteen artifacts are in place Mario must answer three trivia questions based on the I-blocks that he's supposed to have been reading along the way. After answering them he can fight Bowser (whose sprite was taken from Super Mario Brothers 3, by the way). If you know your history this game can be completed in under thirty minutes. I actually found this version of the game to be more enjoyable than the others because of its side-scrolling nature and short completion time.

Mario's Time Machine was not a commercial success and marked the end of the Mario/edutainment line of video games. While obviously aimed at a young audience, I found these games so frustrating that I cannot imagine myself wanting to complete them as a kid (and I was a major Mario fan in my childhood). I still believe that Mario can be used to teach, although only if done well. Nintendo's practice of licensing its top property to sub-standard game companies will never lead to a successful, entertaining educational title. These games have taught me that much.


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