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The Memory Card .41: The tadpole prince

4:01 PM on 10.23.2008 // Chad Concelmo

After an extended, rejuvenating hiatus, the Memory Card is back! Yay! *cue the theme from Jurassic Park* Welcome ... to Season 3!

For people that aren’t familiar with this series, the Memory Card is a feature that dissects and honors some of the greatest videogame moments of all time. For example, Season 1 covered things like the return of Baby Metroid from Super Metroid and the Opera House scene from Final Fantasy VI, while Season 2 hit on the final battle with Ganon in Ocarina of Time and Kerrigan’s shocking assimilation in StarCraft. I guess you get the idea.

This season kicks off with a little guilty pleasure of mine.

There are many playable characters that get completely ignored in role-playing games. While this usually has to deal with the fact that they are horribly underpowered or just plain annoying (*cough* Quina *cough*), sometimes the character is unfortunately just too similar to another team member that, frankly, people like better.

In some cases, though, these forgotten characters possess some of the best storylines in the games they star in. Such is the case with one of my favorite, tragically ignored characters from one of the best role-playing games ever created, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars for the Super Nintendo.

Hit the jump to reintroduce yourself to a character with a surprisingly charming story that always seems to get lost in the role-playing fray.

The Set-Up

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is an innovative game for many different reasons. First off, it was a rare collaboration between powerhouses Nintendo and Squaresoft (no Square Enix back then). Secondly, it was a tried and true role-playing game that starred characters from the Mario universe. Mario and company in a non-platforming game? What is going on?!

Lucky for us, the game turned out fantastic and is considered by many to be one of the greatest games ever created -- a masterpiece filled with incredible moments and very memorable characters.

One of these memorable characters is the mysterious and cute Mallow.

At the beginning of Super Mario RPG, Princess Toadstool is (unsurprisingly) captured by Bowser and brought to the iconic villain’s castle at the top of a rocky peak. To the player’s surprise, Bowser himself (along with Mario and Toadstool) gets expelled from his own fortress by a giant sword that falls from the heavens.

Mario, more confused than bruised by the mysterious attacker, sets off on an epic quest to find Princess Toadstool and figure out what the heck is going on with the new nemesis making a home in Bowser’s Keep.

After journeying a short distance through Mushroom Way, Mario wanders into the small town on the outskirts of the Mushroom Kingdom. After visiting the castle and finding out the giant sword is part of the evil Smithy Gang, Mario meets a small, puffy character by the name of Mallow.

Although he looks nothing like his description, Mallow informs Mario that he is a tadpole from nearby Tadpole Pond that came to the Mushroom Kingdom to buy a snack for his grandfather Frogfucius. Before Mario even has a chance to question why his new friend can’t even jump like a frog child should, Mallow begins to cry, filling the sky with rain. You see, Mallow was given a Frog Coin to buy his grandfather’s snack and it was stolen by a thief named Croco.

Being the wonderful, kind plumber he is, Mario agrees to assist the sensitive Mallow in getting back his prized possession.

After adventuring through Bandit’s Way -- an area filled with spinning flowers and dangerous monsters -- Mario and Mallow successfully defeat Croco and retrieve the Frog Coin (hooray!).

Upon returning to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mallow offers to help Mario by taking him to see his grandfather Frogfucius, hoping the wise old frog will point Mario in the right direction of the Princess.

With this, Mario and Mallow journey together to Tadpole Pond.

After a romp through the local sewers, Mario and Mallow reach Tadpole Pond and rush to see Frogfucius.

Instead of some simple advice for Mario, though, Frogfucius decides to drop the bombshell that Mallow is not a tadpole at all. When Mallow was just a baby, he was found by Frogfucius in a basket in the river and raised by him.

Surprised and saddened by the revelation, Mallow wonders what has become of his real parents. He hastily decides to join Mario on his quest, hoping to meet the parents that Frogfucius assures him are out there ... somewhere.

After a world-spanning adventure to retrieve seven magical stars (the key to stopping the Smithy Gang), Mario, Mallow, and a handful of other characters eventually make their way to the cloud city of Nimbus Land.

It is in this city high amongst the clouds where the next Memory Card moment occurs: the tadpole prince.

The Moment

Immediately upon entering the city, Mario and friends notice that all of its citizens look eerily similar to Mallow. But before having time to figure anything out, Mario and Mallow are distracted by a commotion at the Nimbus Land castle.

Standing at the entrance to the castle is Valentina -- the oddly shaped court aide -- who announces to the village that she has finally found the missing prince of Nimbus Land. She takes credit for the discovery and blames the sick King and Queen for not making an effort to find their son sooner.

With this, the prince emerges. Not surprisingly, everyone in the town (including Mario and Mallow) is confused by why the prince is a giant dodo bird.

Suspicious (and still wanting to look for another one of the scattered stars), Mario hatches a plan to sneak into the castle.

Making his way to a local sculptor, Mario plans on disguising himself as a statue and presenting himself as a gift to Valentina (um, of course!). While in his studio, the sculptor is taken aback by the sight of Mallow. You see, the sculptor had created a golden sculpture of the real prince of Nimbus Land when he was very young ... and the sculpture looks exactly like Mallow!

It is at this moment when Mallow discovers that he is actually Prince Nimbus and the sick King and Queen of Nimbus Land are his real parents (explaining why it always rains when he cries!).

Knowing that Valentina is obviously up to no good, Mario and Mallow vow to break into the castle to stop her.

After a tough and tricky storming of the castle (including an incredible dodo-pecking mini-game that can’t be missed!), Mario and Mallow eventually defeat the scandalous Valentina and her henchman Dodo. Before plummeting from the city to the ground below, Valentina drops a key to a locked room in the castle basement.

Upon picking up the key, Mallow rushes to the basement to see what is hidden away behind the locked door. To his relief, he discovers that his parents are not really sick at all -- they had just been prisoners of the Valentina all along!

As his final rain shower of tears subsides, Mallow finds comfort in knowing that he has finally been reunited with his family ... and crowned the true prince of his new home.

You can watch Mallow find out the shocking news and also see his sweet family reunion here:

The Impact

I love Mallow.

I love that it rains every time he cries; I love that he uses a set of cymbals as a weapon.

I love him.

And I am not ashamed of it.

When I first played through Super Mario RPG I remember being charmed by Mallow’s innocence and his too-cute-for-words storyline.

What always makes me sad about Mallow, though, is how he is almost universally ignored as a playable character. I am not going to defend this exclusion, as I myself am guilty of using the unbeatable character combo of Mario, Geno, and Bowser like the rest of us. What makes this ousting so sad is that Mallow is actually helpful at the beginning of the game. Being the only character that can heal, Mallow becomes almost vital once the going gets tough a few hours in.

But then Princess Toadstool comes along.

Not only is she a stronger fighter, Princess Toadstool can perform heal spells that cure the entire party, not just one member. This alone is enough reason to select her over Mallow every single time the option presents itself.

But out of all the characters in the game, Mallow easily has the best (and most charming) story. While Mario, Bowser, and Peach all present similar arcs we have seen time and time again, Mallow’s story is something new and refreshing for the player.

It can be argued that fellow playable character Geno has a similarly original storyline, but even with Geno you know where the plot is going (it is revealed right away who he really is). Mallow, on the other hand, is a mystery from the start. The player may quickly realize that the cloud-like character is not a tadpole -- once Frogfucius reveals this news it is not surprising -- but the introduction of the “who are Mallow’s real parents” side story adds a much needed dose of adorable mystery in a game not known for its complex storyline.

Listen, I am not saying that Mallow’s tale is one of the deepest and most complicated plots in the history of videogames. And I know a lot you are probably laughing at me right now. But I love the little guy and I think the quest for his family is a wonderful little story that pays off well at the end of a lengthy, challenging game.

No matter how much he is ignored, Mallow will always hold a very special place in my gaming memory.

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 - .20 (Season 1)
.21 - .40 (Season 2)

Chad Concelmo,
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