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Psychotic Reviews: Mario’s Time Machine

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Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

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Why Did I Play This? Episode 11: Capcom Fighter Power Stick

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When it comes to retro arcade sticks there are a few which everybody knows about, the NES Advantage, Super Advantage, Sega’s Genesis Stick & Saturn Stick, and then the Capcom Fighter Power Stick. But, it has been 20 years since this bulky controller has released so does it hold up?

You’ll just have to stay tuned and find out!

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Why Did I Play This? Episode 10: Stargate

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The series returns with a nice look at one of the many ignored movie licensed games of the 16 bit era. Stargate was made by Acclaim and released for the SNES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in 1995, but not all was well in this land of milk and honey.

What happens when your low class nametag goes away and you can’t use it anymore? Well it looks like you just have to use your own name and hope nobody notices and ignores such MEDIOCRITIES!

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Spooky Plays: Zombies Ate My Neighbors

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I would have loved to play some more survival horror games this year, especially with the relevant holiday this month! Driven by time constraints I decided to pick my halloween game based on the ability to pick up and play, so a good childhood classic came up as the forerunner.

You can smell the cheese through the monitor!

Zombies Ate My Neighbors is a tongue-in-cheek top down maze like action game for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive (just called Zombies for the MD players out there) that released in 1993. The game is meant to be a spoof of old drive-in monster movies, putting the player in charge of a boy wearing 3D glasses, or a girl with a pony tail and baseball hat. Armed with only your trusty squirt gun you must go around and save all the civilians in each level while staying alive and avoiding all the monsters, or killing them for points.

No teens were harmed in this game.

Zombies is packed so full of levels it is ready to burst, boasting 49 on a regular playthrough, but 55 counting all bonus levels! That is a long haul for even some of the most dedicated gamers, thankfully the game has a password system that works. All you need to do is write down the 4 letter password you get after completing every few levels. 4 letters. Its glorious. All of these levels are built from many different tilesets which are smartly spread out through the entire game, no 5 hedgemazes in a row here.

Cliches are this game’s best friend, the team at Lucasarts really showed their love for all of those old cheesy monster movies by putting nearly all of them in the game. Secret areas are where many large nods are placed, the first one having a big Frankenstein’s monster guarding an extra life in the lab. Of course every game has its own first enemy, and in this one the choice is as clear as day, the name is in the title! It will not take long to encounter more difficult and annoying enemies though, like all the Evil Dolls, werewolves, chainsaw maniacs, mummies, and martians among others.

Others like gigantic babies for like, no reason.

In order to deal with all these enemies the developers gave you a ton of weapons to use, but first you have to find them strewn about or hidden in the various levels. One should never run out of ammo for their squirt gun, soda cans are used as grenades, popsicles can be thrown, paths can be blown open with the rocket launcher, forks and plates can be thrown, footballs can kill zombies. There is so much hidden around to find that the fun might never end! On top of weapons there are several secondary items to find, such as first-aid kits, keys, potions, shoes, and lazy clowns to name a few.

The game’s controls are smooth and responsive, the only real problem comes with the perspective. Since it is top down and some of the weapons require precision then sometimes you’ll shoot something and it will just barely miss. Think of beat’em-ups and how you have to be perfectly lined up with your opponent to hit them. The music and sound effects in this game are amazing, perfectly fitting given the game’s background and goal.

Now so far I’ve just been laying down my thoughts and a review of the SNES release of ZAMN but as of this writing I do not own the Genesis version, so can’t reliably comment on it. The Super Nintendo version is a must play, whether it is around Halloween or just at some random time. It is easy to pick up and play and get into, it doesn’t matter if you start from the beginning or use an old password, there is plenty of variety and challenge here to keep anybody busy until the dead return to their eternal slumber. Go play this classic right now if you have it for SNES, Genesis/MD, or Virtual Console!

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