perjantai 11. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Mario's Early Years! (1994)

Genre(s): Edutainment
Released: 1994
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): The Software Toolworks
Publisher(s): Mindscape
Players: 1

Even after two commercial and critical disasters, The Software Toolworks still thought they could accomplish something with educational Mario games. In fall of 1994, they released a series of three more Mario games, in the vein of simple preschool edutainment that was very common and popular on home computers. Only these three games were EXCLUSIVE to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Capitalism is no longer an issue - stupidity is. The SNES was meant for playing GAMES!

At least they're being honest this time

Exactly the same what I thought just before I lost
my virginity. Just kidding.
I've reflected on this for a while now, and come to the conclusion that I really should not review Mario's Early Years!. I've just simply outgrown its possible potential by well over 20 years, and definitely passed the point I could see the world through the eyes of a small kid. I'll just tell you about it instead, and from a purely political standpoint. For the first time in history, I will not rate these three games; just their audiovisual values, so let's start from those.

So, these three games are all exactly the same. The sprites are a kind of a mixed bag - this time, they aren't just imports from Super Mario World, instead they're literally from all over the place. The games probably look fine to a kid - there are lots of colours and funny faces to simulate a pleasant learning environment. The very narrow list of songs once again contains about a million remixes of different themes from Super Mario World, and they're really starting to get on my nerves; it'll probably be a long time before I take on the masterpiece again, all thanks to The Software Toolworks.

Since the games were made for very young people who might not have learned to read yet - and Fun with Letters doesn't really teach them anything concrete either - full digitized speech is a notable feature in all three games. Back when the games were released, it must've sounded so grand and fancy, but today, it strongly reminds me of the awkward waiting room slur in Twin Peaks. "YOU PICked THAAA foUR!", "YOU PICked THAAA da-da, DDDEE, DINOsaur!", and so on.

He hid his shroom stash.
For over six-year olds, the games hold no value whatsoever. Maybe even targeting six-year olds is exaggeration; American kids start school at the age of four, whereas at least us Finnish have to wait until we're seven. Let's say the games are targeted at kids between three and four years of age. Kind of a small target group, don't you think? I, for example, started playing video games when I was four. I wasn't that "late" because video games were not that common in Europe in '88, but it was because at that age and before it, I liked to watch rather than play. About a year ago, I dated a woman (not a girl, a woman) who had two kids. Her daughter was the same as me as a kid; she liked video games, but she liked to watch her brother play. She was more or less afraid of the controller although otherwise, she fiddled with just about everything she could get into her tiny hands - tapestry, the TV remote, ashtrays. God, she was irritating. But cute.

Anyway, getting back to the subject, what exactly did The Software Toolworks and Mindscape hope to accomplish by releasing three separate games targeted specifically and exclusively for a very small, and fast-changing group? Home computers would've been one thing, you could program any game in your very own home if you had the skill and the hardware to do it - but producing three commercial Super Nintendo games and releasing them back to back wasn't very cost-efficient in my opinion. Moreover, these games are so small they could've easily fit into one single 24 Mbit cartridge, and be released under the collective title of Preschool Fun. Again, I'm not making any statements whether the games are fun or not. I must compliment the developers for one thing, though - at least they didn't disguise these as real Mario games.

I would seriously go insane sooner or later if
Toadstool was my preschool teacher.
The worst thing about the whole of trio of games is that I used to work at a kindergarten and I've seen many good educational games. They didn't have Mario, or any other host of familiar video game characters, they had generic storybook heroes to just colour it up, not divert attention, and kids loved the games because they were FUN, truly educational, and informative. Hell, even I enjoyed watching the games and solving their puzzles together with the kids although I was 20 at the time; I even envied the children since there were not much games like that when I was a kid, I never went to actual preschool anyway. These Mario games are just so damn shallow, they don't really teach you anything. There are lots of numbers and letters, but what's the point in having them if you don't really have to do anything with them? There are very few puzzles, and even fewer of them are of any challenge to a kid that has passed a certain age.

After Fun with Numbers, Fun with Letters and Preschool Fun, The Software Toolworks' licensing agreement with Nintendo expired - about fuckin' time. Today, you can get perfectly fine educational programs for your home computer, completely free of charge. 17 years ago, you had to pay an approximate total of 200 dollars for this series of three games, that your kid never played after his first day in school. Not so fun with numbers, huh? Har har! Oh, how the world turns.

Graphics : 6.5
Sound : 4.0
Playability: -
Challenge: -
Overall: -


GameRankings: 59.00% (Fun with Letters), 54.50% (Preschool Fun)

All three games were released exclusively in the United States.

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