Super Mario
Image: Nintendo

Browser games might not be as popular as they once were, but once upon a time, they were huge deal – not just to kids who wanted to waste time during the school day and had access to a computer, but also to companies, which created promotional browser-based games in systems such as Macromedia Flash to 'subtly' advertise their products.

Amazingly, even Nintendo got in on the act, releasing a title called Mario Net Quest in 1997 – although this wasn't to push one of its own games, but was part of a deal to advertise the IBM AS/400 home computer by highlighting the impact the system had on Nintendo's own distribution efforts.

Super Mario
The English-language version of the IBM print ad from 1997 — Image: IBM

If you've never heard of this particular browser game, don't feel too downhearted – it has largely been forgotten and would have been lost to the mists of time were it not for the valiant efforts of Reddit user WaifuGroove.

As detailed in this post, WaifuGroove (nice name, by the way) recalled The Mushroom having a 'secret page' when he was younger. This page provides information on the site's history but also has a link entitled "Mario Net Quest" which, according to the Redditer, "will toss your browser a .DCR file (used for Shockwave games, not playable in-browser these days) and give you a nearly-blank webpage with just this text: 'Released 3/14/1997 as part of a contest promoting IBM AS/400 servers. Info page coming soon!'"

Spoiler alert: no info page was forthcoming – and, as WaifuGroove discovered, there was little on the internet to suggest this game ever existed. Was it even real?

Having struggled to get the DCR file working, WaifuGroove submitted it to the Flashpoint archives, which has preserved over 100,000 Flash and Shockwave browser games. While this was being processed, WaifuGroove took to The Internet Archive to see if they could find any reference to the game, and stumbled across an Italian newspaper which contained an advertisement for the game and the AS400 computer.

The web address given in the ad linked through to another copy of the game, which proved at least that it wasn't some kind of elaborate hoax by the administrators of The Mushroom

Then, the Flashpoint curation submission came through, giving WaifuGroove their first glimpse of the actual game. Since then, a page has appeared on Mario Wiki for Mario Net Quest, which means it is finally 'preserved' after more than 25 years in obscurity. Thanks to WaifuGroove's efforts, we also know that it was coded by C3 Incorporated, an early Internet design and branding company that would later be merged into FutureBrand.

According to the game's page on the Mario Wiki, "the gameplay resembles that of a whack-a-mole game. In the game, the player controls Mario inside a room with tiles using the cursor. The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible within sixty seconds."

While it's certainly not a classic Mario outing and was created seemingly with little input from Nintendo itself, this is nonetheless an interesting piece of Mario history – and it's somehow comforting to know it has been saved from digital obscurity.