Games should be a distraction from school, but the video game market is often awash with educational games. Even Nintendo’s mascot Mario has starred in his own learning-themed titles that tried to make education fun.
From SNES titles like Mario is missing to DOS “classics” like Mario teaches typing, the worlds of entertainment and education collided with the Italian plumber in the middle. Although only a handful of educational Mario titles were released, some were actual games, while others are only remembered as cynical takeovers from the Nintendo license.
7 Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up (1992)
The first PC games were noted for being simple, but in 1992 they could do much more than what was presented in Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up. Essentially a digital coloring book, the game allowed users to color various images of familiar Nintendo characters as they appear in scenes depicting different careers, both mundane and unusual.
The game offers very little real education and isn’t even particularly advanced for an early 1990s computer game. The colors are as limited as the graphical capabilities of computers at the time, and the use of Nintendo characters it’s pretty boring and uninspired. Each image is accompanied by a small animation and has a bit of information about each race presented. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the game itself, but the inclusion of Nintendo’s mascots makes it feel rather underwhelming.
6 Mario Games Gallery (1995)
While the best games of the 1990s pushed the limits, Mario Games Gallery he seemed content to take the industry back to the Stone Age. The game introduces the titular character as he interacts with and plays against the user in a series of 5 extremely common board and card games.
Featuring Mario as an afterthought, the game is useful for teaching younger gamers how to play the games it contains. At the time of its release, it was praised for being a good game for its intended audience, though others complained about the wasted potential of the Mario license. Nintendo has always been a marketing machine, but Mario Games Gallery Many gamers instantly recognized it as a cynical cash grab that damaged the Mario brand.
5 Mario’s early years! (1994)
Released as a trilogy of games in the last months of 1994, Mario’s early years! touched on a number of early education topics. From basic number and reading skills to a more diverse set of themes in the final game, the trilogy was aimed at the younger demographic of potential gamers and the quality was reflected in its aim.
The player has the option to select one of three playable characters, although none possess abilities that distinguish them from each other. All three games are divided into a series of islands that can be explored, each with their own themes and mini-games that reflect the overall theme of the title. The game features a wide range of familiar characters from the Mario mythology, and attempted to make the visuals conform to typical Nintendo standards. Judging an early education game based on the quality of other games is unfair, but its popularity seems to indicate that it got the educational aspects right.
4 Mario teaches typing (1992)
Best known for being Charles Martinet’s debut as Mario’s full-time voice actor, Mario teaches typing was an educational computer game developed by Interplay with the Nintendo seal of approval. The game hoped to teach the player typing skills, and used a series of mini-games to engage the user in proper finger placement on the keyboard.
Unlike more cynical games that just seemed to slap Mario around as an afterthought, Mario teaches typing was able to integrate familiar images of Mario into the game. The user navigates through levels taken directly from the best Mario games and uses their typing skills to help their favorite player defeat enemies and traverse the stage. Although it could never be as exciting as a typical Mario game, teaches typing it featured nice sprites and a good approximation of Nintendo’s signature style.
3 Mario Teaches Writing 2 (1996)
Educational games rarely have sequels, but the relative success of the first Mario teaches typing The title showed that there was demand for more. The sequel is based on the same concept as the original game, but integrates a story where Mario and Luigi retrieve pieces of a magical typewriter to use to defeat Bowser.
Expanding the game with bigger scenes and more narratives, Mario teaches writing 2 it looked a bit like the common tropes in a Mario game. Like its predecessor, the game is a useful tool to help players learn keyboard skills, and it’s a rare educational game that actually teaches the player something. Despite these positives, it’s still extremely limited in scope and doesn’t feature anything that would entice players to replay it.
two Mario is missing! (1993)
Although most of the Mario learning games were unabashed in their educational nature, Mario is missing! at least it tried to disguise its learning elements behind the actual game. After learning about the theft of famous monuments and the kidnapping of his brother by Bowser, Luigi must travel the world to stop the evil plans of his archenemy.
The main educational theme of the game is geography, and there is so much going on that the player sometimes forgets that he is learning. The SNES version featured platforming elements to further disguise the education, and there’s enough to categorize Mario is missing! as a complete game. Unfortunately though, the level design is frustrating and there are long text sequences that dump vast amounts of information about the player.
1 Mario’s Time Machine (1993)
Although far from being the best game of all time, Mario’s time machine is considered by some to be an underrated Nintendo game from the company’s classic era. The game finds Mario traveling through time to retrieve various historical artifacts that were stolen by Bowser and placed in his personal museum.
The PC version of the game used a point-and-click system, but the console versions featured the familiar side-scrolling controls from Super Mario world. Like his brother game, Mario’s time machine went a long way to incorporate real game elements that made learning that much more enjoyable. The graphics are nice, and the game actually feels like a labor of love rather than a quick cash-out to get ahead of the educational gaming craze of the time.
NEXT: 10 Best Mario Sports Games, Ranked