Terrible Video Games: HOTEL MARIO - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Terrible Video Games: HOTEL MARIO

It's a CD, Mario.
It's probably quite tough to find a gamer who has never played a Mario game. From the side-scrolling platformers, to the 3D worlds, thru sports like golf, tennis and karting, to the RPG paper-animation style, as a character Mario is ubiquitous in all gaming formats. But notsomuch on all gaming devices. Yes, recent years have seen Nintendo branch out into cellphone apps and unleash Mario Run on the world, but by and large their number one mascot remains solely on their own in-house gaming systems; from the NES to the Switch, Ninttendo consoles are Mario's true home.

But in 1994 Mario stopped by at a hotel run by Philips. And it was a disastrous vacation.

The story of what would become Hotel Mario starts back in 1988 where a joint project between Nintendo and Sony to create a CD-ROM for the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo to us westerners) was being thrashed-out. Although Nintendo denied the existence of the Sony deal as late as March 1991, Sony went ahead and revealed a Super Famicom with a built-in CD-ROM drive called "Play Station" (also known combined as SNES-CD) at the Consumer Electronics Show in June 1991...
A day after that year's CES, Nintendo announced that it would be breaking its partnership with Sony, opting to go with Philips instead. Sony then redesigned their console as the PlayStation, which you may have heard of? By 1993, Nintendo abandoned plans for the CD-ROM drive add-on, and as part of dissolving the agreement they licensed Philips to use some Nintendo characters for their own CD-i console, which had originally been co-developed with Sony (it's like some bizarre consumer electronics love triangle, isn't it?).

This deal would see three Legend of Zelda games released for the Philips CD-i (which are equally terrible) along with Hotel Mario, and another Mario game, Super Mario's Wacky Worlds, which was canceled at the prototype stage. Nintendo themselves played no part in any of the games' development, rather they were created by inexperienced developers. Because that sounds like a good idea, right?

Not only were the developers inexperienced but the testers tended to be much older than the target age of the game. In a 2007 interview with background artist Trici Venola, who worked on Hotel Mario, she noted one tester was "well past retirement". Since the target audience of children would have faster reflexes, the game was designed to play well for the testers, then sped up! Because that sounds like a good idea, right?
Hotel Mario was a single-screen puzzle video game. Controlling Mario (or his brother Luigi in two-player mode) the player must search the Klub Koopa Resort for Princess Toadstool, who has been kidnapped by Bowser. The game comprises six hotels, which each feature several stages. Gameplay sees the player having to shut every door in the stage by moving up and down elevators and avoiding enemies. Mario can step on most enemies, as in previous games, but some must be avoided by changing floors or entering an open door. At the end of each hotel, the player engages in a boss fight with a Koopaling; in the final hotel, the player battles Bowser. Various power-ups are featured, including the Super Mushroom which allows Mario to take multiple hits, the Star Man which makes him temporarily invincible, and the Fire Flower which allows Mario to throw fireballs.

So far, so Mario. Ish. I mean it's no Super Mario Galaxy but then neither is Doctor Mario or the original Mario Bros game. Thing is, those games are fun to play, Hotel Mario notsomuch. GamePro caled it boring, and stated "the only intriguing aspects of this game are the well-fashioned animated sequences", which had been produced as FMV cutscenes by Russian-American animation studio, Animation Magic.

GamePro were about the only reviewers who did praise the cutscenes. 1UP.com described them as "outright terrifying", and IGN called them "abysmal", resembling "a bad flip-book of images printed out of Microsoft Paint". Joystiq described them as "amateurish, garishly colorful, shaky, randomly zooming animation". The voice acting was also criticised, with Mario voice actor Marc Graue's performance found to be ill-fitting for the character and lacking the playfulness of Mario's regular voice artist of the day Charles Martinet.
"Mario sounds more like someone's ex-smoker grandpa trying to imitate a Mafia hit man... The dialogue is meant to sound playful, but the character voices imply acts of menace and hate."
But of course, as bad as the cutscenes might've been, it's the playability that counts with any game. Things weren't any better here as the main activity of this Mario title was, simply, to shut doors! Because that sounds like a good idea, right?

Eurogamer described Hotel Mario as little more than a really rubbish version of Elevator Action.
"Apparently Bowser has nefariously plotted to have his underlings open doors in ... his own hotels, thus wasting air conditioning and increasing his own electric bill. Mario and Luigi must heroically latch all the doors and save their archenemy from having his hallways get too cold."
Sounds like hours of fun, right? You can almost imagine one of those inexperienced developers , perhaps as advanced in years as some of the eventual testers were, screaming at their teenage child, "Shut that door, you're letting all the heat out, I'm not made of money," and thinking to themselves, 'They treat this place like a hotel.... Wait! That gives me an idea.'

Sadly, it was a pretty shit idea.

If there's one good thing that came out of Hotel Mario and the deal with Philips it's that Nintendo kept a very tight grip on their intellectual property from here on out; not trusting other companies, inexperienced designers and senior citizen testers to develop anything featuring their much loved characters.

The saving grace for Nintendo at the time though was that the Philips CD-i just never proved to be that popular. It's price point was too high and its varying limited content was not produced sufficiently well enough to give it a 'killer app' (Hotel Mario being a perfect example of case in point) so not that many people owned one, meaning Mario's brief stay at this nightmare of a hotel was not anywhere near as ubiquitous as everyone's favourite plumber's latest adventure tends to be.

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