Mario is Missing devs wanted to use the game to compete with the Carmen Sandiego series
Hard to compete with that sticky-fingered filcher
There are a great number of critically-acclaimed Mario titles under Nintendo’s belt, but Mario is Missing! isn’t exactly one of them. That educational title came through a partnership with Software Toolworks and first released on PC before making it over to the NES/SNES. It’s not a bad game in most regards, but it’s not exactly up to snuff with Nintendo’s output.
In an interview with Time Extension, Mario is Missing lead designer Donald W. Laabs admits that Software Toolworks had one major goal with the game at the time. As Software Toolworks created a lot of PC titles, they wanted something that could compete with the incredibly popular Carmen Sandiego edutainment series. The team saw the partnership with Nintendo as a way to do that.
“We wanted to compete with the Carmen San Diego series by Broderbund. At the same time, we had an early relationship with Nintendo and had developed Chessmaster titles for the NES and Game Boy. To compete with Carmen San Diego, it was thought that a licensed character like Mario would carry a lot of weight. One of our new execs had an excellent relationship with Nintendo of America and was able to secure a licensing deal for Mario edutainment products.”
Mario is Missing did well enough for Nintendo and Software Toolworks to continue their edutainment efforts, which resulted in Mario’s Time Machine and Mario’s Early Years: Fun with Letters, Fun with Numbers and Preschool Fun. None of these titles ever reached the popularity or success of the Carmen Sandiego franchise, but they certainly hold a place in the hearts of Nintendo fans.
You can really tell, with the structure of the game.
This and Mario's Time Machine fooled me as a kid. They both ended up weekend rentals at different points in the mid 90s. I had no idea they were edutainment games. With that being said, I think Mario is Missing was a better game. Years later, Luigi's Mansion became a thing and I saw the plot and was like 👀