Written by Jonathan Wojcik
MARIO HORRORS - PART TWO:
FREAKS OF NATURE
Last time, we looked at some of my favorite ghosts, skeletons and zombies from the Marioverse. Today, we look at some of the weirdest, creepiest biological entities Mario and Luigi have faced. The level of "spookiness" on display here may be subjective, but I think the creatures we've picked out fit about as well into a "horror" category as Mario-flavored Flora and Fauna ever really could.
Maybe you didn't expect Fuzzy to be here, but if Halloween existed as a holiday in the Mushroom Kingdom, I get the feeling Fuzzies would be placed alongside rats, bats and spiders as one of their "creepy-crawly" Halloween animals. I believe they've even been treated like grody vermin from time to time in-canon, haven't they?
Fuzzies were first introduced in Super Mario World as enemies that travel along thin, white rails representing their ability to secrete silk, like a spider or a caterpillar, though they haven't been seen doing so in more recent games. They seem to be associated with forest environments, so maybe they're kind of supposed to look like spiky chestnuts or burrs, and in their RPG appearances, such as Mario and Luigi, Fuzzies actually use a health-draining attack. They're parasites!
Speaking of Mario and Luigi, an enemy in Superstar Saga, the Fuzzbush, is nothing but a shaggy, walking plant completely infested with tiny little fuzzies it can spit at its enemies. Nasty little bloodsuckers that hang out in shrubbery? Sounds to me like fuzzies occupy the same niche as ticks!
THE OTHER KIND OF FUZZYThese were actually called something like "cotton dude" in Japan, but got mistakenly translated to "Fuzzy" in English. These are encountered in only one stage, floating through the air like adorable dandelion puffs...but the title of stage is "Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy," and it's kind of an understatement, because any physical contact with one of these creatures causes Yoshi to stumble around with a huge smile, pupils dilated, surroundings wavering and your controls momentarily reversed. Whatever poison is contained in the fuzzy's fragile hairs, it apparently makes you high as a kite.
SLUGGY THE UNSHAVEN
My favorite Yoshi's Island boss is simply a huge, room-filling version of the "Sluggy," an adorable little smear of goo with a few long, sparse hairs. They really look more like slimes than "slugs," or little ectoplasmic ghost-blobs, and for some reason the addition of those little hairs just makes an endearing design even better.
Sluggy the Unshaven is a pretty weird name for what was only known as "Big Sluggy" in Japan. It's not as weird as the Spanish name, however, which is basically "Waterbug the Bald," and in China, it's "Big Hairy Army Worm."
I just know that it's an enormous, towering pile of jelly with a spooky face and a visible heart. A flawless creature.
THE BEEHOSSAnother Superstar Saga creature, literally just a wasp's nest with eyes and legs, which is awesome. You know I love monsters that are also "bug nests," and have almost too many of them in my own Mortasheen setting.
While we're doing Superstar Saga examples, Glurp here is a mysterious blob of blue goop with luminous yellow eyes and pretty formidable fangs. I love a slime creature that can bite you, and the design has such a strong Ghostbusters vibe to it, doesn't it? Sometimes, damage splits the Glurp into two identical Glurps, in classic blob-monster fashion!
Our last Superstar Saga enemy has almost the same teeth and same biting attack as the Glurp, but this one is a burrowing creature supposedly between a snake and a worm. The big, pale lips on a nearly black body are pretty awkward in the Jynx from Pokemon way, but it's here because it's a comical, smiling, muppet-looking worm that looks more like it wants to sing you an educational song before it stretches open its jaws and reveals its knife-sized fangs.
THE MAW-RAYIs a big moray eel "spooky?" Personally I think it's adorable, but the original Maw-Ray from Super Mario 64, then called simply Unagi, was once considered so frightening that some kids couldn't bear to finish the stage! It is pretty unnerving to swim down into a huge, deep, watery pit to see these staring eyes and bright little teeth looming larger, and larger, and larger as you approach.
Unagi wouldn't get renamed as Maw-Ray until later games, and is now treated as a recurring species of the setting, though I now notice how much the original looks more like a cross between a moray and a gulper eel than this later, fully moray-like example.
The Mario Galaxy series seems to have homaged Maw-Ray with the Grin Gill enemy, looking more like an exaggeration of an abyssal dragonfish!
Speaking of Mario Galaxy, the main enemies of both spacey games are these Goomba-like alien cephalopods, able to spit small stones from their siphons. It's important I remind you at every opportunity that octopuses are considered the stereotypical Space Alien in Japanese media entirely because of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds, so this is basically a hybrid of a Goomba with Wells's martians!
There are, sadly, no better images of the Slurple I can find online, but these Mario Galaxy enemies are basically space leeches, little sucker-faced blobs that latch on to Mario, slow his movement and drain his health until he shakes them off. In Japan, they're referred to as Takochu, referencing "octopus" and a kissing or sucking sound.
TARANTOXThis Mario Galaxy boss is encountered in the "Space Junk Galaxy," and its name is a bit misleading. You may face it in what looks like a humongous spider's web, but it has tiny, vestigial wings and only six legs, so this is clearly an insect. A whale-sized, three-eyed insect that lives in a web, spews poisonous green slime from multiple nozzles on its body, and inhabits a field of garbage adrift in outer space. This is pure 1950's B-movie Space Monster material!
Maybe these aren't especially creepy or spooky, or maybe they are. Are they? They're treated as just kind of cute and comical in Bowser's Inside Story, capable of speaking and even living in their own little village, but as much as they resemble giant, green socks, they're actually walking pitcher plants, and can swallow you whole! This game has a growing and shrinking gimmick, and when shrunk, you can see what it really looks like inside of a Sockop, complete with undigested insect enemies!
THE PIRANHA PLANET
Another killer plant, this one comes from the next Mario and Luigi game, Partners in Time, which featured a time-travel war against alien invaders we'll be talking about in another post! I love the idea of piranha plants travelling around in a tiny ball of pipes, treated as a personal little "planet," and even attacking with ray guns!
THE SHLURPSuper Paper Mario had a lot of amazing content, and as a game centered around parallel dimensions, a number of its enemies were pretty alien, like these gooey-looking, eyeless grubs who vacuum up anything in front of them.
THE FLORO SAPIENS
The Floro Sapiens are a proud kingdom of walking plants ruled by King Croacus here, a vain thorny flower with the usual array of plant monster abilities; regenerating heads, thorny vines, poison, you know how it goes. What earns this kingdom a place here, however, is this:
Regular, non-royal Floro Sapiens are surprisingly eerie in themselves, with pitch black centers that split open to speak but bear no other obvious facial features, and are capable of completely enslaving other creatures by planting a sprout on the victim's head, a fate that befalls almost an entire tribe of rocklike "Cragniens" before you beat up King Croacus. It's all played pretty lightly, but the thought of big, human-sized walking flowers enslaving people with brain-seeds is pretty damn grim!
PRINCESS MUCUSThis isn't an enemy or boss, but a friendly NPC encountered only briefly in Bowser's Inside Story...literally inside of Bowser's body. A princess. Of mucus. Living in Bowser. It's CRIMINAL that she appears only momentarily to give you an item and aid you in a single battle, because I would strongly like to know why some of Bowser's phlegm is a princess and whether or not she has a people she rules over.
THE DURMITEI could actually, probably, devote an entire article to Bowser's Inside Story alone, but we're just gonna cover two more creatures from it. Durmite is interesting because she's a very Mario-styled parasitic worm, living in Bowser's guts and generating organic "straws" she uses to feed on his precious fluids.
In a strange twist, Durmite is also fiercely guarded by what are supposed to be Bowser's own little knight-like immune cells, which...is actually exactly what some parasites and diseases do, disguising themselves as a natural part of the body to expertly that our immune systems may work in their favor!
THE PIRANHA PLORPThe last creature introduced inside of the Koopa King's viscera, there is NO explanation for this one at all. It's just treated like any other piranha plant, but it grows out of Bowser's inner tissues and appears to be based on a heart, as though an extension of his circulatory system.
THE POLLUTED PIRANHANow on to Mario Sunshine. This game had you cleaning up "paint" or "graffiti" that was also treated as a sort of toxic waste, and sometimes formed into these sludge-based duplicates of the common piranha plant! Creatures born from and/or made from pollution and garbage are still some of my all-time favorite tropes, and this just combines it with a carnivorous plant, a whole other favorite!
EELYMOUTHPerhaps another attempt to outdo the fright factor of Unagi, Eelymouth is a dual-faced and dual-gendered deep-sea monster whose rotten teeth are polluting an entire bay with bacteria! Once you help them out and clean up their teeth, however, Eelymouth turns out to be a peaceful and natural inhabitant of the island.
THE GOOBLEThese really ought to have been one of my all-time favorite things in Mario since their debut, but somehow, I kind of overlooked them until recently. These are Sunshine's basic Toxic Waste Blob enemies, but kind of look like cute little jelly ghosts or dumbo squid! They actually spawn continuously from the grimy pools of Polluted Piranhas, and can themselves burst into new puddles of sludge!
One more from Mario Sunshine...but not really. This monster was actually CUT from the game, and perhaps that's because it was considered a little too strange, maybe even too disturbing? It seems like it was meant to be fairly important, though. It's one of the largest creatures in the game, for one thing, looming high on a single pair of unsettlingly humanlike legs. The spotted, mushroom-like upper body bears an also-slightly-humanoid face on the front, but when the top splits open, it reveals a single eyeball...and this entire exterior bulb can be blasted away:
What. The hell. IS this thing. The one and only thing freakier than its entire anatomy and massive size is that it goes around pooping Goobles. Toxic jelly creatures just fall out of its ass. It seems like they were really going for a sort of "mutant monster" born from pollution, but I guess they eventually moved away from that as a theme. Perhaps that's why the sludge keeps getting called "paint" even when we still have enemies like "polluted piranha" indicating this is definitely something worse than a little graffiti.
THE URBAN STINGBY
You know there isn't anything about these that I could ever possibly find anything but lovable and precious, but I realize that giant, slimy maggots with glowing eyes are firmly horror material to a lot of other people, which kind of only makes them even cuter to me. The maggots, however, are only a temporary state...
I am actually so, SO upset we don't have a Pokemon like this. This is exactly the kind of design I want for a fly-based Pokemon. Those little buggy heads are just phenomenal, I love the grimy-looking poof bodies and I love the long, formidable barbs on their presumably blood-sucking proboscises. "Stingys" in other Mario games are much cartoonier, simpler bee-based creatures with stingers on their faces, so this is literally the "urban" counterpart; a grimier, grittier, more realistic, more fly-based Stingby that haunts dark alleyways, dumps and construction sites!
And at least, we come to what are very nearly my favorite characters in the whole Marioverse, if more for the sheer principle of them than for their designs, which are good designs, don't get me wrong, but they're no Urban Stingbys!
The Viruses were first introduced in Dr. Mario, a puzzle game in which Mario has somehow earned a doctorate (at least, I hope so) and is apparently hard at work containing a potentially devastating pandemic represented by these lovable weird, nasty little imps! It's another example of Japanese germ-devils we can probably trace back to Anpanman, but little more than heads with arms and legs. I especially love how all three of them just have one big, black pit housing their luminous little eyes, a great way to tie them together visually and make them look like sneaky, scary little hobgoblins.
When I was a kid, I actually liked Blue Virus the most, and I'm still inclined to think of him as the "leader." Nowadays, my favorite is Yellow, whose puffiness and little spines look the most "germ-like" to me and whose personality reads as the sad, quiet one of the bunch. Red, meanwhile, is clearly the wildest but least cerebral of the three, the one whose primary interests are probably eating and breaking things.
You really do need all three together to appreciate them, and I fear adding even one more design to the trio might ruin it.
An attempt was made to elaborate upon the setting's microbiome with a new set of viruses in Dr. Luigi, but with a very different stylistic feel and a repeat of two color schemes, this trio sadly feels more like an off-brand imitation of the three classic poxes than like an expansion, except of course for the adorable, boxy purple one. With a few minor adjustments, she'd possibly fit right in!
By far my favorite use of the viruses, and by extension ANOTHER of my favorite enemies, are also yet another from Bowser's Inside Story, known as Toothy. They're designed just like the classic, cactus-based Mario enemy, Pokey, bt the segments are entirely teeth, and sometimes, a blue virus attacks from Toothy's "cavities!" Surprisingly enough, this enemy isn't from inside of Bowser's body, but from a tropical seashorse lined with even larger, decayed teeth or tooth-like stone structures for no explained reason. GOD I love the concept of a tooth monster that throws little germs at you. I wish this was an enemy in bunches of other Mario games just so there'd be a higher chance of some merchandise!
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