I have never cared for this chapter. Even playing through it for the first time it was irritating. There is so little good from this chapter that I need to push myself just to write this entry.
Putting my obvious dismay aside, Chapter 2 begins when Mario and co. are tasked with finding a “Puni” in the sewers of Rogueport. After finding one and convincing him that you aren’t a bully, he tells you the situation the Punies are in and how their “Great Tree” has been infiltrated by forces called “X-Nauts” and have taken all the Punies captive. Coincidentally, this Great Tree also harbors the second Crystal Star, which shows why the X-Nauts have taken it hostage. Like most new areas, access to the chapter is through an odd-colored warp pipe. And cue the next chapter card.
Exiting the warp pipe will take the player directly into Boggly Woods, the area surrounding the Great Tree. The environment is quiet, serene, and non-flashy. The accompanying musical score only adds to the stillness of the black-and-white forest. If there is anything nice about this chapter, it’s the area before exploring the Great Tree. Aesthetically speaking, that is. It has a calming atmosphere that contrasts the typical upbeat and bouncy tracks that play throughout the game. It’s also intriguing to see a lack of overall color within an area when most up to this point have been nothing but color.
However, playing through this chapter, something becomes apparent: the more you play it, the more you think you’re playing Chapter 1 again. Chapter 2 requires access to a certain area, but you can’t do so without a certain condition. Just like Chapter 1. To get this condition, the player has to run around every corner of the area and go through a fetch quest or two in order to collect the necessary items (or partner, in this case) to access said certain area. Just like Chapter 1. Once the player has fulfilled said condition, their new partner’s ability is required to enter the new area. Just like Chapter 1. And before accessing the new area, the player must face a mini-boss. Just like Chapter 1. It’s interesting to see how similarly these two chapters are structured. Almost like the designers couldn’t think of any other way to have the player explore the area.
To add a little more context, Mario enters Boggly Woods and encounters the Shadow Sirens, a trio of shadow ghouls that may or may not be referencing Cinderella. They don’t realize that their target is Mario and let him pass through undeterred. Mario and co. travel on and find the Great Tree, but closer inspection shows that the X-Nauts have installed an electronic entrance that locks them out. Punio, the Puni that Mario discovers in the Rogueport Sewers, comes up with an idea to meet with his friend Flurrie, a wind spirit who resigned herself to the calming woods to escape the nightlife of being an actress. She holds the key to accessing a secret entrance that the X-Nauts couldn’t spot. Upon arrival, the player finds Flurrie locked up in her room within her home and she refuses to come out without her favorite necklace, which has mysteriously gone missing.
Remember the last entry when I said that Koops was a good partner and he actually felt useful and important in regards to his chapter and in general? Flurrie is the complete opposite. Her motivation for traveling with Mario is “for the thrills.” Her importance to the chapter is situational (I recall two times off-hand when I actually used her). Her ability, both in and out of battle, is a safety net for those wanting to make the game easier. Her personality is grating. Her appearance is… off-putting (I think that’s the joke). Koops is still the premier partner by this point, and I didn’t stop using him. Flurrie is no competition.
While Boggly Woods is nice to take in, its enemies are also a bit of a hefty task. Certain enemies have a defense of 2, as opposed to 0 or 1 that most enemies have had up to this point. Much like the enemies in the chamber fortresses in Petal Meadows, the POW Block is the most effective measure of taking out these enemies, but can also be a cinch with the Quake Hammer badge, which can be acquired before arriving at Flurrie’s home. Aside from them, other enemies include black-and-white piranha plants and clouds that can electrocute themselves to cause damage upon contact. It’s a step-up from Chapter 1’s enemies, which were typically a one-strategy face-off, especially when the enemies are paired together.
But I’ve said enough about the things before the Great Tree. Now, I’ll begin to turn the focus to inside the Great Tree.
When Mario and co. enter the Great Tree, they stumble upon exposition and story. More and more dialogue between other Punies and whatever. Turns out the X-Nauts have put the Elder of the Great Tree in one cage and ninety other Punies in another. Why? Padding, of course. By the way, old person of the same species as those within a certain area that Mario has to talk to in order to advance. Just like Chapter 1. You get the Elder out and guess what? More old people jokes. Just like Chapter 1. Then you get the other Punies out and guess what? You get 101 Punies following you around everywhere. It’s awful. I hate it.
I’m intentionally skipping a lot of details about how the journey through the Great Tree goes, but trust me when I say that it’s pretty uneventful. Most of the enemies present are different and some are even challenging, but typically they’re enemies that are easy to take out. These include X-Naut soldiers, their shield-forming minions, and “Piders.” They’re spiders. Real original name, Nintendo. The environment is incredibly bland and consists of blank-colored walls and little grassy areas to run around on, with tree trunks scattered here and there. It’s the least inspired area in the game thus far and it’s disappointing to see so little go into something as epic-sounding as “The Great Tree.” The accompanying musical track is fine so long as you don’t have the Punies with you. It’s similar to that of the outside Boggly Woods area, but less… nature-ish, I suppose. It sounds more constructed, more electronic. But once all the Punies are with you, the track becomes the Punies’ track. It’s awful. It’s repetitive. It drives me insane. It brings back bad memories of struggling with this chapter as a kid. It’s obnoxiously goofy. It’s just bad; among the worst tracks in the game. Blech.
In terms of level design, the Great Tree isn’t very interactive. It has a nice assortment of rooms, but a lot of the rooms have next to nothing in them. Some rooms are big, but only have some grass or a few enemies here and there. Or some tree trunks. It’s really disappointing that after something as fun as Hooktail Castle, the interior of the Great Tree is so full of nothing. But hey, at least you have 101 Punies following you to provide a trail of gray blobs to lighten up the area. The challenges within consist of memorization, trying to steer 101 Punies around steep paths, and using said Punies to fight the “Jabbies,” the natural enemy to the Punies. These fights are pretty uneventful and all the player really has to do is use Flurrie to blow the Jabbies and knock ’em against the wall so that the Punies have a good shot. Afterwards, the Jabbies are never seen nor spoken of again, except maybe a comment saying that they came to a peaceful resolution or something. I dunno. It’s a dumb distraction.
Once the player is far enough in and wants to kill themselves, the X-Nauts trap them in a cage and Mario has to escape and find a way to set the Punies free, because he needs all 101 of them to access the room with the Crystal Star. This includes something the player has been doing all along that I never mentioned: backtracking. You backtrack before the Great Tree and you backtrack (a lot more) inside the Great Tree. The two different cages forces the player to backtrack to get both keys. The Punies being captured forces the player to backtrack. I said in the last entry that this game has a bit of an issue with backtracking. Thinking about it more, that seems to be the go-to for every chapter. Chapter 2 doesn’t have as much backtracking as some other chapters, but with as empty and uninspiring the environment is, it becomes all the more noticeable.
Anyway, the player comes across the Super Boots, an upgrade to the normal Boots which allows Mario to Ground Pound in and out of battle. In battle, it’s pretty useful. Outside of it, it’s situational in importance, but nice to use on enemies as a first strike so it doesn’t cost any FP. It gives the Chapter a little more variety, but is otherwise just a useful battle item, as it also powers up any Jump move.
Mario saves the Punies and continues onward and goes into the final room of the Great Tree. He gathers all of the Punies into a little orgy in the middle of the room and the Crystal Star… pops out of a pedestal located on the north side of the room. Okay. Lord Crump (Remember him?) swipes the Crystal Star, talks shit, and activates a detonator that will blow up the Great Tree in five minutes. Racing against the clock (finally some excitement), the player is tasked with… backtracking… and facing X-Naut soldiers along the way. Once they get to the first room, they find Lord Crump being interrogated by the Elder’s old rage. Hahaha, more old people jokes. Seeing Mario arrive, he stops the detonator and unveils his giant robot suit: Magnus Von Grapple. The battle ensues.
In a way, Magnus Von Grapple is easier than Hooktail. He doesn’t have any exploitable weakness, but his moves are easy to guard against and he doesn’t cause a lot of damage in general. So long as the player destroys his launchable hands, most of the robot’s moves cause maybe 1-3 damage per attack. He doesn’t even use any tactics to heal himself or make himself stronger, like Hooktail does. He’s a pretty standard boss after an overall disappointing chapter. Pro tip: the battle is much easier with the Quick Change badge, allowing you to swap partners without expending a turn. Koops can help damage Von Grapple, then Goombella can be switched out to help take care of the rocket hands.
The story continues along in a predictable manner: the boss is defeated and the X-Nauts escape the Tree. Crump drops the Crystal Star as it falls into Mario’s hands. The “end of chapter” animation plays and wraps up this shit and I’m all the happier for it. The chapter is a “worst” in almost all categories: story, level design, music, partner, variety, and overall enjoyment. It’s the one negative stain on an overall fun and well-designed game and a chapter I’m glad to get done with with every playthrough.
Oh, uh, Ms. Mowz makes another appearance. Yeah, who cares? I’m done with this chapter.
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of Mojoz.)