Not many know about the Mario Discovery spinoff series. There were five educational games by The Software Toolworks, only being licensed by Nintendo. While Mario is Missing and Mario's Time Machine are the most well known ones, there are others. These were also multi-platform. See below for details.
The infamous early game where Luigi takes center stage. This game from 1993 was on the NES, SNES, PC, and later Mac. Nintendo only licensed the characters so you know this will be a fun one..Not really The plot involves Bowser trying to flood the EARTH. (Yes. The real world.) However to do so, he needs a multitude of hairdryers and to buy that, he has his minions travel all over the world to steal landmarks to sell.
Mario and co follow Bowser to stop him and while details vary between versions, the end result will be Mario getting captured so that Luigi must save the day. Interesting notes is that Brooklyn is mentioned in manual so the game makers were more influenced by the cartoons than the games!
Above: The map you guide Yoshi around.
This is a ‘side-walk-scroller’, get it? You traverse the streets and look both ways before crossing, all in the hunt for clues then Koopa Troopas with artifacts. It's "educational" in the sense that you must put artifacts were they belong based off of their real world location. That is why the ‘curators' are there to quiz and accept the items. Luigi has to call Yoshi once he knows where he is and to get out of the level or the exit will be blocked. No, it’s not as easy as simply looking to know where you are and you can't just ask a local point blank. (The game would end in five seconds.) Secure the cities and move on through Bowser's castle and occasionally fight Koopalings that may or may not have voice actors depending on version. There is a password system to save some progress.
In short, it’s a fascinating game to me in ways but over all my least favorite of the non-Nintendo published games. It's just not a good in gameplay or education considering it’s known errors and repetitive nature.
SNES version: Bowser's stealing valuable stuff with the ‘Timulator’! Oh no! Bowser's museum is in his castle and Mario has to get in there to return the items. Notably Mario has narration, kind of, and the music ain’t half bad. That’s just the intro though, so how is the gameplay?
You pick an item and pick a location and time. Kind of asking a bit if you are just jumping in. You are sent to a mode 7 surfing thing (called the fabric of time) where you need to pick up mushrooms and then hit a whirlpool. Now you are in whatever historical place you need to be. Return the item by completing the tasks there. To figure out information needed you’ll need to talk around like in Mario is Missing. Yes, riveting! You can come back home using a device that seems like a huge mecha of Mario’s hand. It’s kind of cool for five seconds. This game does have multiple ending depending on how well you do so there’s that. Overall a snore fest for me.
NES: Mario and Yoshi stumble upon the Bowser Museum and Yoshi just waltz inside getting kidnapped, a plot point nonexistent in the other versions. Now to time travel you play a brief Mario Bros inspired game to get an item then jump into a pipe. Certainly feels a bit more like ‘Mario’ doesn’t it? You don’t have to do the npc detective work either to return stuff. I actually like this better. The visuals are alright for the system it’s on. It’s still a snore fest because the enemies can’t hurt you despite it being a real platformer but it at least feels like a Mario game.
PC: More of the uncanny valley sprites and what not. Set up is like the SNES one (in fact the SNES one is based off of this) with the surfing part as well and all the zany sound effects you’re imagining. Technically aside from the off sprites this does look the best of them all as you’d expect.
Overall: The NES one is something different but otherwise they’re not the most fun way to learn anything since they all, except the NES one, make the cardinal mistake of taking the Mario out of Mario. With Mario in these real life locations it’s just not that interesting and interrogating NPC’s gets old. I will say that the score system does something this time and is in fact tied to the ending you get. The password system also returns so you can jump around if you wish.
Now the other two games were trying to be games. Mario's Early Years! Fun with Letters is purely for very small kids as indicated in the title. There is a PC and SNES version with some slight changes. Both teach basic English and are controlled by clicking around a cursor. Mario and Peach and Yoshi are playable characters but you don’t really ‘play them’ because again you’re mostly clicking around to pick the right answers. The graphics are way off in both versions. There is some voice acting so imagine the fun there. There is actually quite of lot of lines in this game. It’s worth a Youtube watch and that’s it.
Above: Be careful how you answer that one! Also, Luigi is using Super Mario 64 strats three years early!
For PC and SNES this game focuses on numbers but also comparisons and geometry. Again we have the same type of voice acting and point and click gameplay. The locations feel a little more Mario with some Super Mario World backdrops depending on minigame but overall are similar to the above. The SNES version lacks the Sing Song World but this is a favor trust me! Again, check it out on Youtube and that’s it.
Above: That part of Isle Delfino no one talks about..
Above: I know this image is small. It's all I could find.
The series ended with a whisper rather than a bang. This is a sort of free for all game for small kids. You count objects, identify body parts (yes), find opposites, match sounds to animals, match whatever to whatever. You get it. Last is the Sing Song World again left out of the SNES version. Aesthetics are entirely the same deal. In Counting World Peach teaches a class room apparently.
Above: Yes this belongs in a Mario game.