Written by Jonathan Wojcik
MARIO HORRORS - PART THREE:
Now that we've seen ghostly spirits and weird bugs, it's time to discuss some of the Marioverse creatures that seem totally uncategorizable; living objects, unseen weirdos, total mysteries that aren't necessarily alive or dead or even in between, as far as we know...or are they!?!? This will be a shorter article than our others, because while Mario is filled with peculiar and enigmatic object-creatures, not a whole lot of them are spooky...but those that qualify, I think, REALLY qualify.
Let's start with these classics since Mario 3! Thwomps are known for levitating in the air and dropping back down in an attempt to just crush you to death, which may not be a very spooky or creepy kind of threat, but it's kind of a more violent version of the youkai, Nurikabe, a being commonly portrayed as a concrete slab or living wall that exists to block off paths and get people lost. The earliest English description of a Thwomp even called it a type of "stone ghost," though I don't think they're supposed to be dead spirits of any kind. It's likely the Japanese version called it something like an obake.
Again, perhaps a chomp is a more visceral and violent sort of threat than a creepy one, but there's something rather gothic about them, to me, like a monster that evolved primarily around the existence of dungeons. They've been around for so long that I think people take for granted what a marvelously clever little concept a chomp or "chain chomp" really is; literally just a ball and chain with teeth that behaves like a chained-up dog. That's so elegantly simple, but it's a truly perfect monster. What could ever be more convenient to protect your villainous castle without running amok and biting all your other guards in half, assuming you even BOTHER with any other guards.
The specific combination of jagged pac-man jaws and circular, fishy eyes is also one of my favorite kinds of faces you can possibly put on something. It's the kind of face that makes sharks, piranhas and moray eels as charming as they are.
It's too bad these only appeared in one Paper Mario game, because I really love their designs. They fill a great niche as a rocky, spiky ball-shaped floating monster, the misshapen eye holes are adorable and even the single missing tooth goes a long way to add character. It's referred to not just as a stone creature, but a petrified monster. Does that mean the Bristle was once flesh?!
These only appeared in the Western Mario II, which as you may know was just an unrelated game, Doki Doki Panic, rebranded as a Mario title. In certain stages, you required a key from a room that usually had three of these masks as wall decor, but upon taking said key, one of the three Phanto would stir to life and pursue you relentlessly.
I remember a lot of kids finding this creature incredibly stressful, even downright frightening, though you could at least keep dropping the key, waiting for the Phanto to float away, and picking it back up again to buy yourself a little time.
THE COSMIC CLONE
Introduced by Mario Galaxy, Cosmic Clones are some sort of dark energy that duplicates living things, copying Mario's every movement and damaging him if their paths happen to cross or Mario simply stops long enough for a clone to catch all the way up, a pretty damn unnerving thing for a shadow monster to do.
THE MOONSNAKEAppearing on the moon in Mario Odyssey, these things may seem at first to be inanimate, rolling chains of rock and merely some sort of non-living "trap," but in-game text informs us that they are in fact gigantic, moon-dwelling single-celled organisms. They're enormous bacteria with mineralized shells! I guess if we know that much, they should have been in our last article on "living" mario enemies, but they were just surreal enough that I felt they belonged here, with all the rock elementals and living objects.
THE TOX BOXThese are nothing more than giant cubes that "roll" along set paths, forcing mario to wait until he can hide in their open, hollow bottoms to move past. I love how every other side has a spray-painted face, though, and I love the English name "Tox Box." The Japanese name was more like "demon box," but that's cool too! A similar enemy would appear in Mario Galaxy with more Thwomp-like faces, but while the English version calls them Tox Box again, the Japanese makes more of a distinction.
THE HANDFAKEThis oddball from the Mario and Luigi games is nothing but an amorphous black glob in the shape of a hand, but it can somehow mimic other monsters and characters just by holding big, cardboard signs of them! That's as creepy as it is adorable!
THE LOVE BUBBLEAlso appearing only in a Mario and Luigi game (Partners in Time), the Love Bubble only attacks by dive bombing its victims, but it can also replenish the HP of other enemies, so it's a "friendly," healing creature if you're another monster trying to murder somebody, which suits its creepy-cute, x-eyed angel design quite well.
THE MONEYBAGGlowing eyes! Woo! Glowing eyes inside a "mouth," even, though it's really the zipper portion to a living coin purse with feet; a creature that exists entirely to still Mario's coins, which is terrible, because that sure seems to be one of Mario's favorite things ever. I like how this is, BY FAR, not the only coin purse monster I've seen in Japanese media to be either clam-like, frog-like or both.
EYEROKA classic Mario 64 boss, Eyerok is of course encountered in a desert stage with an Ancient Egypt motif, the Shifting Sand Land, and may technically be two distinct creatures since it refers to itself as "We." Oh yeah, they talk! They call themselves "ancient ones" and let you know that they don't like light and they don't like intruders.
A pair of giant, brick hands with eyeballs in the palms is just such a cool, eerie concept for a monster, or monsters, and I'm surprised they haven't made any further appearances, except for a brief cameo in Mario Kart DS.
BOULDERGEISTI've mentioned somewhere before that I really like when "rock monsters" are treated as a "spooky" creature, which is more common in Japanese media than elsewhere. Actually, I'm pretty sure I said this in my Digimon review of Gotsumon, and Bouldergeist, who lives in Ghostly Galaxy, actually does look a little like Pumpkinmon's friend, all grown up! In a shout-out to Luigi's Mansion, Bouldergeist even kidnaps Mario's brother!
The most interesting thing about this being, however, is that it can be broken down to nothing but a small chunk of its upper head, its glowing eyes, and a dangling uvula, apparently its true form all along! Just a little drip of flesh and eyes, controlling a huge mass of stone!
PHANTAMANTAI really wasn't sure how to categorize this thing, because it's obviously a "manta ray," but it's a manta ray that only exists as a two-dimensional pink "shadow," and wherever it goes, it generates an electrical slime on surfaces. That is a madly bizarre concept, and devoid of any of Mario's usually bright and cheerful whimsy. I could see this monster as an Evangelion angel or one of the completely serious SCP entries.
SORBETTIThere have been a number of living snowmen in Mario games, but none as terrifying as Sorbetti. You'll battle it on a tiny "planet" that seems to actually constitute the being's "body," but its spiky, grinning, clown-like head will roll around after you on said body, gathering snow to become larger and larger.
TORKDRIFTThis is obviously supposed to be something from outer space, so it's not that unexplainable, but it's also flower-themed and has arrived solely to steal flowers from the Wooded Kingdom in Mario Odyssey. I really like the idea of aliens coming to abduct something that really has nothing to do with us, for their own alien reasons, and the design of this flying saucer indicates a pretty flower-obsessed species. Really love the visual of a UFO with eyes on stalks, too!
THE SHY GUY
So, Shy Guys. We could practically do an entire article on Shy Guys and their variants, but let's stay focused here; the point isn't a bunch of weird alternative forms they take, but that even the basic Shy Guy is one of the most cryptic beings in the whole Mario multiverse. It's one of those enemies that originated with Doki Doki Panic but went on to invade countless other Mario games, and to this day we know absolutely nothing about where they come from or what they are. They are never seen outside of their cult-like robes and spooky, white, expressionless masks, but there sure are a whole lot of them. Thousands of them. Whole dang empires of them. What's under that mask that they're so perpetually "Shy" about?
In Luigi's Mansion, you can suck the mask off of a Shy Guy's ghost to reveal a pair of glowing eyes in an otherwise empty hood, but it's likely this is just a feature of their disembodied souls. In one of the Mario Tennis games, a Shy Guy's mask falls off while it faces away from the viewer, but Luigi can be seen reacting with shock.
The following are a list of my personal favorite theories as to what may lie under the mask:
6) Their brains. The mask is basically their actual face, but it's removable.
5) A corpse. I'm not trying to be edgy here, we already have zombies, mummies and skeletons in Mario continuity. Shy Guys may just be another undead monster, but they're more ashamed of it than a Boo or a Dry Bones.
4) Stuffing. They're actually living plush dolls, which is why they inhabit a big toy box in the original Paper Mario.
3) Incomprehensible, composed of odd angles that shouldn't exist mathematically. Not in the "Lovecraft goes mad with terror again" sense but at least in the "feel kind of dizzy and nauseous staring into it too long" sense.
2) A monster just a little too gruesome to be shown in a Mario game, a sort of Ed Roth or Ugly Stickers ghoul.
1) Nothing. The Shy Guy is the mask and clothes, completely hollow inside.
Whatever they may be, a creature that we never, ever actually see is always tons of fun as a character, and that mystery is such a defining characteristic of the Shy Guy that I really hope there's never an official explanation...unless, of course, it's a good one.
Sadly, while their more humanoid cousins have enjoyed ongoing fame throughout the series, another masked creature from Doki Doki Panic was left in obscurity. I always loved how much the Tweeter looks like some kind of little plague doctor, and that it's a downy, white, flightless bird with useless little bat-like wings. That's just such a neat, memorable combination of traits, and even fairly menacing! Its traditional mask is even an ominous red, with glowing eyes in its big, black eyeholes. It didn't do anything differently from the Shy Guy other than hop around, but I always felt like it was meant to be a fairly integral part of their...species? Culture? Cult? I have no idea.
So a Snifit has all the mystery and intrigue of its less dangerous cousin, the Shy Guy, but with a cooler, more menacing "gas mask" that is actually a gun. They spit bullets from their mouths, and that is just too cool. What dastardly little menaces! So cute, yet so violent!
And despite being basically just Shy Guys with a different mask, Snifits very frequently appear all on their own, without a single regular Shy Guy in sight. Sometimes Snifits have their own little armies, sometimes they're the main minion type of a one-off villain, sometimes a whole game goes by where we may battle multiple Snifits but never just a Shy Guy. It's really like they constitute their own alternate race or culture from their less malicious counterparts, and they actually come in some incredibly weird spinoff forms.
One of my personal favorites is the "Snufit" from Mario 64, for its small, floating, Boo-like body and the fact that it's found exclusively in an underground cave filled with poisonous green gas.
In Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, a laboratory setting is inhabited by a ray gun version of the snifit...complete with an adorable little lab coat!
Much weirder, from the same game, is the "Spiky Snifit," which is literally just a sentient cactus with a Snifit mask.
And along similar lines, we have the "Flifit" from Bowser's Inside Story, a killer flower with the Snifit mask that is sometimes healed by a unique butterfly-winged Snifit. In this and the previous case we even know EXACTLY what is under the mask - a cactus and a flower - and it still doesn't answer any questions, unless it really is the case that a "Snifit" is defined entirely by the presence of that deadly, bullet-generating gas mask...that perhaps you could put it on almost any creature or object, and the mask takes over as a new "Snifit" is born.
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