Riding the Backlog - Super Mario RPG (Part 11)

By Chris Pranger 

Session 11: Nimbus Land to Barrel Volcano

Last time, I had intended to ride for just a few minutes and ended up plowing through a lot more than I expected, spinning my wheels for more than an hour and a half. I imagined that today I’d just begin my section in Nimbus Land and be done with it, but after nearly two hours I finally found a stopping point and put the exercise bike away. It’s hard to say whether this is my dedication to exercising or my raw love of this game, but I am finding it hard to stop once I get going.

When the good guys were last seen, Mario and his friends had reached Nimbus Land and learned that there was a woman named Valentina who was speaking on behalf of King Nimbus and a Prince Mallow who looked like a big fat bird because he is a big fat bird. Since this section really is Mallow’s time to shine, I switched the party up and benched Toadstool and Bowser in favor of the original Mario/Mallow/Geno team.

Since last using him throughout the fourth star arc of the game, Geno has just been sort of sitting and waiting for a chance to come in and shine once more, so it’s no surprise that he’s reached the glass cannon status that I remember from him. He hits hard, but his defense is pretty pitiful. None of that really matters to me though because his current weapon is a hand cannon, where his elbow opens up and he fires cannon balls. He has an elbow cannon and it feels amazing. Put Geno in Smash already, you cowards!

With the team set, the story continues with Mario and Mallow meeting Garro, the official royal sculptor. He immediately recognizes Mallow and explains that Mallow is in fact a prince, to which Mallow leaps into the air and lands in surprise. Fun little note here, throughout the game there’s a running theme of Mario proving who he is by making spectacular jumps, but for the sake of comedy we see Mallow launch himself off the screen in this moment with a jump. Don’t think too hard about logic, it’s just funny.

This entire section is funny though. Even though ultimately the Nimbus Land portion is shorter than I remember, it is PACKED with great and memorable moments, starting with Mallow learning that there’s a usurper trying to steal his parents’ throne and rushing out of the workshop to storm the castle himself. A beat passes with Mario and Garro just watching him go, then we hear him audibly fail and return in a sulk before Garro gives his plan.

And a simple plan it is! Mario will be painted gold to look like a statue, and then Garro will deliver him and another statue to Valentina per her instructions, allowing the crew to infiltrate the castle without causing a ruckus. I like that Mario’s sprite looks completely gold here, which is the fourth time in the game Mario’s sprite has looked noticeably different, with the other three being when he’s poisoned during battle (in fact everyone has a purplish poison palette), covered in soot after the Punchinello bomb goes off (Mallow and Geno get this palette swap as well), and after getting out of the hot shower. I really wish there was an item that changed characters’ color palettes just for the fun of it, like the badges in Paper Mario, but I really can’t complain since Super Mario RPG is already packed so full of little details it’s bonkers.

The plan of course works and Mario is in, though as a statue. Thus starts a new minigame where Mario is placed in a statue room and must avoid Dodo. As a statue, we get to see Valentina be an awful person, like Cruella de Vil mixed with Lucille Bluth. She verbally abuses Dodo (who surprise is not Prince Mallow and is just a big fat bird), causing him to get steamed and come into the statue room to peck them instead of polish them as instructed. Dodo moves into the room in a simple rhythm, pecking on the appropriate beats. All you have to do is jump when he makes an attempt to peck you, which is just sort of hilarious as his reaction is to just keep walking and then do a double-take. I love this minigame, even if the accessory you win is another somewhat unnecessary one (at least in my playthrough since it adds 20 speed to a character and I’m not prioritizing speed).

Once left to my own devices in the castle and being found out by a pair of Birdys, Mario changes back to his original color palette and begins clearing the castle room by room in search of answers and/or loot. I’m fighting every single enemy I encounter mostly for the heck of it, but the party’s levels keep climbing.

Something I really like about Nimbus Land is how colorful the enemies feel for some reason, possibly because the background is also colorful. There aren’t a ton of truly new enemies since we see the return of stronger versions of Orbulons (magic staffs) and Shy Guys, but the new enemies are unique enough. Pinwheels, which were teased in Monstro Town, are both a simple addition in battles as well as a general nuisance outside of battle, pushing you away before you defeat them.

The standout new enemy is the Jawful, a squat little red creature with a giant fork. This creature was also teased early in the game, going all the way back to the Midas River Run where if you went into the correct waterfall cave, you could see enemies playing out a little scene with a Jawful being featured with its fork. In actual combat though, Jawfuls always begin the battle asleep, adding a new layer of strategy. I’m over-leveled, so my strategy doesn’t really matter, but I appreciate that if you’re going for a lower-level run, you need to decide when and how to bring Jawful into the fight proper. When it’s awake, it sometimes performs an attack where a smaller creature with a smaller fork pops out of its mouth and summons a storm or something. I love that weird little detail.

The last enemy addition is the Shaman, a character we’ve seen before in various spots around the game, most notably selling things in a makeshift shop in The Sea and with a featured appearance in Belome’s Temple as a fortune teller of some kind. Encountering them in a battle is a weird moment because up until now they’ve always been a somewhat ally or at the very least a neutral party, and now suddenly they’re fighting on Valentina’s behalf. The oddest part of all of this is that I’m not actually sure what their attacks are as I didn’t once during this playthrough give them a chance to fight back. The weirdness continues.

At some point in the castle I decide to shift Toadstool in for Geno as she’s got a War Fan that’s satisfying to use and her attacks are dealing a surprising amount of damage due to the frankly stupid setup I’ve given her with a priority on attacking over proper healing support. Really, she should be wearing the Safety Ring, an accessory that prevents all status ailments and reduces any elemental attack to 0 damage. It is a straight-up busted item, and I love it.

So now that my party is Mario with the Mega Glove weapon (huge, satisfying fists), Mallow with the Sticky Glove weapon (allowing him to attack by glomming his hands together and smashing with them), and Toadstool with her slap-happy War Fan, I move through the halls, clearing out every last enemy before encountering the mid-boss of this area: Birdo!

Birdo is a surprising addition to the boss canon, as well as all the Shy Guys, come to think of it. These days, seeing Shy Guys and Snifits and Birdo and Beezos (named Shy Aways here) popping up isn’t as strange since we’ve seen then constantly, but in context, Super Mario RPG is at a time where the only Mario games were Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, 3, and World, except what we knew as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the US was actually Doki Doki Panic reskinned with Mario characters (all laid out in detail by my buddy The Gaming Historian, go check him out). Long story short, Super Mario RPG may have been the first major time Super Mario Bros. 2 USA became fully canon in the Mario Universe (though yes, Bob-Ombs did originate in Super Mario Bros. 2 USA as well and instantly made their way into Super Mario Bros. 3, so who can say).

The actual mid-boss fight against Birdo is pretty simple, all things considered. She (yes, I know there’s a debate about Birdo’s gender, she clearly wants to be referred to as a “she” so I’m respecting this fictitious character’s wishes) attacks by firing eggs at the player once you crack her out of a big eggshell, so as long as you’re prepared to output more damage than you’re taking, you’re good to go. Beating her also levels up Geno, making him the first character to break 200 HP. Seems like just yesterday he was the party member most suffering from disproportionately low HP, but now he’s all grown up and ready to fight.

From here more great Mallow moments play out, with Mallow and Mario discovering the room in which Mallow’s parents are locked. There’s a note on the door saying not to disturb the king as he’s very ill, and poor Mallow isn’t sure if this is true or not. Upon hearing that there’s another locked door, Bowser pops out and makes an attempt to smash it down, getting tripped by Mallow stopping him with the reason that there’s an off chance his dad really IS sick. I love this interaction because it hammers home the subtle relationship that’s built between Mallow and Bowser where the two seem to support one another quietly during cutscenes without drawing any attention to it happening. Here, Bowser hears that Mallow’s parents are behind a locked door, so he immediately snaps into action to help. This is just really cute.

Also really cute is Mallow confronting Valentina and Dodo in the throne room. He gets aggro immediately and rushes forward, eating it on the steps. Mallow’s character began as a crybaby, but at least one willing to stand up against bullies, even if he’s just not very athletically gifted. Here we see him show off that he’s confident and driven, but still also a doof. I love Mallow. Put Mallow in Smash already, you cowards!

Valentina and Dodo immediately make a run for it out the back of the castle, prompting Mario to give chase. The hallways are packed with Blue Birds, a defense-focused version of the Birdy enemies seen throughout Nimbus Castle. You can snag a Power Star and run right through them and, best of all, if you’re fast enough, you can catch up to Dodo and knock him out instantly for some added Exp.

Exiting the backdoor of the castle drops Mario into open air, sending him falling through the clouds and past some areas that tease a few secret chests, assuming you didn’t already find them during the beanstalk portion of Bean Valley. Each screen that Mario falls through, he’s got a different expression, which it just good clean comedy.

It’s time to end Valentina’s plans! She’s been caught by the citizens of Nimbus Land, all of whom are clueless and just surround her with questions until Mario arrives to fight. Cornered, everything transitions to the battle, which is another fight with multiple unique phases similar to the fight with Johnny Jones. Dodo immediately carries off the middle fighter for a one-on-one duel, and because it seemed fitting, I made sure Mallow was in the middle to fight the big fat bird.

Dodo is no slouch, and Mallow just doesn’t have the same raw physical power and defense that Mario did during his one-on-one with Johnny Jones. This means I come alarmingly close to losing this fight, especially since I’d mistakenly thought that Dodo was weak to lightning magic like so many other bosses. Instead he’s weak to fire magic, which Mallow doesn’t have. Mallow does at least have HP Rain, a good healing option used more in the early portions of the game but still vital in a pinch.

Once Dodo takes enough damage, the fight shifts over to Mario and the other party member fighting Valentina, in this case Mario and Toadstool tag-teaming with solid damage and excellent healing. Valentina has so much going on with her that it’s hard to know where to begin. She has a parrot on her head, clearly dead, but she’s making it work. It also becomes abundantly clear in the fight when she goes from a small character model to a weirdly proportioned giant boss that she is always holding a martini glass. Lastly, whenever she takes damage, her breasts noticeably jiggle, which even as a kid felt super uncomfortable. In short, Valentina may be the most out-there character in a game where just about every character feels out-there. Put Valentina in Smash already, you cowards!

Mallow and Dodo return from their scuffle, and the battle hits its third and final phase, becoming a pretty standard brawl with Dodo being the beefy physical attacker and Valentina bringing the magic mayhem. After a few rounds, Valentina and Dodo make their final escape, flying up and out.

More Mallow hilarity ensues, with the newly recrowned prince taking a key to the fluffy cranium. A simple pratfall gag, but it gets a chuckle from me. Immediately after, Mallow runs into the castle by himself to free his parents, prompting Mario to pull out an umbrella in anticipation of the rainstorm from tears. It’s a sweet moment both with a simple joke landing and a lot of heart at play, letting the player fill in the gaps not explicitly shown. No melodrama here.

The heroes finally make an appearance to King and Queen Nimbus, introducing themselves one at a time. King Nimbus gets an adorable little character quirk where he’s obsessed with getting autographs from the various party members, much to his wife’s embarrassment. It’s also fun to think of Toadstool meeting the royal family of a kingdom still within the same land she’s in, especially when the Nimbus Kingdom has a far superior castle to the one in Mushroom Kingdom. At last the meeting is concluded and we’re given access to the hot springs which lead to Barrel Volcano, the location of the sixth star.

Before setting off on this final leg of the sixth-star arc, I’ve got some housekeeping to take care of. First, Croco is found yet again, this time in a house in Nimbus Land trying to swipe clouds? Maybe? I don’t know, but upon fleeing he drops the Signal Ring, an accessory that indicates when there’s an invisible chest somewhere in the room.

Next comes the quest to obtain the Lazy Shell weapon and armor. After beating Megasmilex, we received a special seed. Now that Valentina’s gone, it’s possible to get special fertilizer from a Shy Away that’s been helping Valentina this whole time. Once both items are delivered to The Gardener over in Rose Town (located in a previously inaccessible part of the town), this causes him to get excited, plant them, and grow a beanstalk that takes you to a cloud holding the Lazy Shell weapon for Mario and the Lazy Shell armor for anyone. The Lazy Shell is Mario’s best weapon, and the armor equivalent has an absurd defense rating. However, it chops the Attack stat by 50 points, which is STEEP, so for the sake of this playthrough, I’m yet again focusing on power over proper strategy.

For some reason I get the urge to go check on Booster in his tower, seeing it as the perfect opportunity to finally process the Lamb’s Lure into the Sheep Attack, something I’d never done. At some point in the game you can purchase a Mystery Egg, which is hatched when Toadstool wears the B’tub Ring and uses the egg 10 times. Once hatched, it becomes the Lamb’s Lure, an item that calls a lamb to attempt to change one enemy during battle into a lamb and then fly away into the sky. Successfully using the Lamb’s Lure 48 times turns it onto the Sheep Attack, an item that does what the Lamb’s Lure does but to all enemies at the same time.

In running up Booster Tower to grind out the Lamb’s Lure, I managed to find a few more hidden chests, as well as playing a “guess which hand” game with Knife Guy enough times to earn the Bright Card, necessary for entering Grate Guy’s Casino. I’ll save some time and just say that I’ll eventually visit the casino once and then leave almost immediately since money has no value to me anymore.

My team has also changed again, now consisting of Mario, Toadstool, and Geno. This means I’ve tried every possible team combination, and have ultimately decided here to stick with this unique setup for a little bit.

At the top of Booster Tower is, unsurprisingly, Booster. He’s out on his balcony, and joining him is Valentina! If you visit Booster again after the events of his arc, he’ll be on the balcony waiting for a new bride to drop into his arms. Beating Valentina’s arc brings the pair together, with Booster first whispering something unknown into her ear, and then her deciding that the two of them MUST get married. Yet again, I think this is really cute.

Finally, I decide to end my night gauging my party’s true strength with a rematch against Culex. I’m only a few levels higher than I was last time, but this time I’ve equipped Toadstool with the “correct” item (the Safety Ring) and have Mario and Geno ready for action.

Culex is joined by the Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind Crystals, all of which are formidable in their own right because each one gets a turn to cause untold havok with attacks that strike everyone. Toadstool is on maximum healing duty, while Mario and Geno have to focus all their attention on one Crystal at a time. I decide to focus on the Wind Crystal first since it only has 800 HP and is extremely weak to Mario’s Super Jump. I’ve managed to pop it after only two turns, opening me up to focus next on the Earth Crystal.

This battle is TOUGH. Geno keeps getting clobbered with poor luck, meaning Toadstool has to choose between healing herself and Mario, or reviving Geno. Since the Safety Ring keeps Toadstool safe from most attacks, she is free to heal people as much as possible every turn, but Mario has to keep the attacking pressure on, which he’s able to do extremely well thanks to the Lazy Shell. In hindsight, I could have made this easier on myself if I’d given Toadstool the Lazy Shell armor since she’d be borderline indestructible, but I did not. Live and learn (hanging on the edge of tomorrow~!).

The strategy is all about snowballing this fight. Popping the Earth Crystal removes another full-team attack and set of devastating spells, making it easier to focus on getting into the rhythm. Next comes the Water Crystal, which is weirdly weak to Mario’s Super Flame, so I guess they intended it to be an ice enemy or something but had to stick with the Final Fantasy naming convention. At one point the team nearly runs out of FP, forcing the use of a Royal Syrup to completely restock, but besides that, the cycle continues and the Water Crystal pops, then the Fire Crystal, leaving Culex on his own to take the full strength of the Mushroom Trio.

Mario and Geno are at level 21 while Toadstool is level 20. Had I fought Culex when everyone was at the max level of 30 the fight would probably have been way too easy, but I still managed to claim victory and get the Quartz Charm as a reward. Will I end up using it in battle? Nah. But I got it!

And with that, I’ve been on the exercise bike for nearly 2 hours. Next time, Mario and his party fight the Power Rangers. I’m barely exaggerating. See you there!

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