...The Land Upstairs
Nimbus Land- I think Mallow and Bowser work together well here, that is if you've been giving Mallow the Exp. Booster. If you haven't, Geno might be a better choice. Buying Fuzzy armor is to your advantage, as is purchasing all the latest in weaponry. Anyway, Nimbus Land is a beatiful, perpetually sunny (except when the royal family cries...*ahem*) city where people's houses consist of bramble bushes and cloth doors. And you've never seen a bed that looks more comfortable than the ones they have here. The palace looks like ice cream, and everyone looks like...Mallow! Only they wear different clothes and stuff, and have different colored swirly things, and some of them have hats or mustaches.... that kind of thing. Nimbus Land is home to Garro, a famous sculptor. Anyway, when you first arrive, you will kind of be able to piece together what's been happening in Nimbus Land. It seems that Valentina, who is some kind of caretaker, or whatever, has been in charge of the palace ever since the King got sick. Now his condition is worsening, and he'll be heading on to that big palace in the...waitaminute. I can't say Sky here? Hmm. Anyway, wherever the heck he is going, he'll be going soon. BUT...now this is the zinger..the long-lost Prince Mallow has been found, and he's...um..gained weight...anyway, he wants to marry Valentina, so she'll be queen once the King has..er...passed on. Mallow finds it amazing that they've got a prince here with the same name as him! Wow! Anyway, after twiddling around for a while, trying to break into the palace, that kind of thing, you'll realize that Mario is not going to get inside. The entrance is heavily guarded by birdie dudes. Anyhoo, at some point you'll find yourself in Garro's house. Why, look at that statue there! It looks like Mallow! Mallow will walk out and say that the statue looks like him, and when Garro hears you, he'll say "Oh, that's just a statue of the king when he was younger.." and then turn around and see Mallow! After a bit of talk, you can establish that  Mallow is really the long-lost prince of Nimbus Land! WHAT A SHOCK!! Garro will coat Mario with gold stuff so he can get into the palace. (He's delivering statues of Valentina that same day, so he sneaks the pseudo-statue in with them.) He tells the bird guards that Mario is a statue of Valentina's nephew, Mariotta, and after they're past them, Valentina will stop you and complain that it looks nothing like her. Garro spouts of some artistic lingo. He calls it "A Plumber's Lament." Valentina decides she likes it, so Mario gets stuck on top of a podium in a room with three real statues, these of Valentina, of course. Dodo will come in to "polish" the statues. His idea of precious metal cleanliness for some reason is inherently connected to jabbing them really hard with his beak. Give the bird a break, Valentina's really mean! Anyway, jump when he tries to peck you, or you'll get dragged into an unwanted confrontation. Avoiding this will scare the living daylights out of Dodo at the realization that one of the statues is jumping up and down, and he'll run away and lose a feather. The feather increases your speed by a whopping 20! It's a good thing to give to whoever wears the Lazy Shell when you get it, because lugging around that thing can really slow you down. Of course, you don't have it yet, so don't give it another thought. After Dodo leaves, you can sneak out of the statue room. You'll end up in a hallway, but before you can make anything of your surrounding, you will hear the approach of two guards. Mario will jump onto an empty podium. Anyway, the guards will be talking about how if they were Dodo, they wouldn't take it. One of them makes a comment about how "this is how I'd polish those statues!" Then they start jabbing you with their spears. After you fight them (IF you fight them), they'll freak out and run away. In the process of exploring the palace, you should be able to appropriate a Master Key...heh heh heh...this will get you into the center doorway of the place with three doors. Inside, you'll see, first of all, a giant egg, and secondly, Shy Away. Shy Away will get spooked when he sees you, and float upwards out of range. Then the egg will start talking to you--this in itself is unnerving enough, but then it asks you to PLAY with it. If you're not feeling jolly, an ardent "NO" will, unfortunately, get you nowhere. The egg will then become disappointed and tell you that if you had played with it, it would have given you "this key". So go ahead, have fun, play a little game. Birdo's idea of playing is basically two or more people whacking one another. If you shield yourself, it's possible to make the eggs bounce off of you, but I'm not sure what the real purpose for this is. The little eggie babies just land next to Birdo. Their name is Eggbert (yes, all of them), they have 10 HP, and they have no attacks whatsoever. Anyway, Birdo will ask you to remember her, and then out pops a nice tasty key. This one will allow access to the other door in this room. Then you can run around some more. In a certain hallway, Shy Away will search forlornly for Queen Valentina to let her know you're there. You'll also find a door with a note on it--this is, it seems, where King Nimbus is resting on his deathbed. Mallow is SHOCKED. Bowser will offer to break the door down, and is about to do so when Mallow sticks out a foot and trips the big guy. His reason is that if his dad really IS sick, they shouldn't be making all that noise. So on you go to find Valentina and get the truth out of her. A room down is where she's at, being informed by your old friend the Shy Away. He'll tell her what you look like, and then she'll get a feeling she's seen you before. The Shy Away's description of you is riotous fun. Anyway, she'll decide Shy Away is just talking about her new statue, A Plumber's Lament, and also decide that if there IS a Mario he'd never get this far. She stands there, completely self-satisfied, fanning herself. Then she sees YOU and decides to blow that popsicle stand. Shy Away flies the coop as well, and Dodo makes a break for it when he realises everyone else has gone. Go ahead, just try and go the other way--Mallow will guilt you into chasing those villains down. If you run fast enough, you can catch Dodo before he gets away and beat him up some. Then keep dashing insanely down the corridor until you discover that....errr....there's no longer a floor underneath you. You'll plummet madly but land unharmed outside the springs. Prince Mallow's taking a dip right now, so you still can't go in. If you jump back up to the main Nimbus square, you'll find Valentina still trying to make good her escape, but the nosy townspeople unwittingly foil her attempts. Before she can get away, Mario's THERE and she's forced to fight for it. The battle is nothing much to talk about, and when it's over Valentina and Dodo will get the Holland out of Dodge (err, Nimbus Land). Mallow's disappointed that they got away, but he gets over it soon enough and rushes inside to get his parents. After a nice little sequence involving introductions and autographs, you can explore the castle free of worry, for all the enemies have been annihilated and the townspeople are once again free to wander where they please. Some of them have "jobs", but they don't really do much. Once you get back outside, you can discover Croco trying to plunder Nimbus Land for his own devicive motives. When he sees you he'll get spooked and rush off in a hurry, dropping his key to the treasure in his wake. It's a Signal Ring and it's Great Fun. Well now--Valentina, Shy Away, and Dodo all ran off through the doorway--you found Dodo and gave him and Valentina a good whalloping, but where has your Shy Away pal gone? Perhaps he's floating around somewhere in Nimbus land. Keep trying to find him and don't be afraid to jump off a few cliffs--after all, you got the Seed from him, so maybe he has the Fertilizer, too. As to Valentina and Dodo's whereabouts, talk to the Nimbus lady on the southwest corner of town. She knows something and will let on if you pressure her. Please note that although there are many buildings to the south, only one makes a really noticeable addition to the skyline--you know, something a Nimbus Lander would see from way up there. Also! Now that you're confirmed royalty, they'll let you in the Springs too. Have fun exploring the Hot Springs Grounds, and mind that little slip of paper. It's very easy to fall off an edge, you know. A little later in the game, you can come back and make use of the Royal Bus, but that will explain itself when the time comes.

Barrel Volcano- Mallow and Bowser are a good team here, too--Mallow's Snowy attack is invaluable against these--shall we say--temperate baddies. If Mallow is still hopelessly weak, perhaps you can put Geno or Toadstool in his place, but I wouldn't recommend it. See the little stepping stones in the lava off to the right in the first room after the entry--they lead to a little treasure place where you can get stuff. Unlike other Mario games, lava doesn't hurt you physically in this game at all; it simply pops you back to the entrance of the room, fanning your rear. Even though you don't die from it, it's still annoying, so do try and avoid it. There's only ONE place in the entire Volcano that has beneficial lava, but we'll talk about that later. Anyway, there are all sorts of unsavoury characters hanging about. Remember that Vomers and anything that in any way resembles a Vomer can't be defeated with regular attacks at all. Try Pure Water or any kind of Special Attack. In one room, direct your attention to the little stone arch above the doorway with a frog coin. Go through the door, then go back and jump in the lava. The force of the blast should send you rocketing right up to the arch in easy reach of the frog coin. Now, make your way through the volcano, getting frog coins if you find them and killing enemies if you must. Don't be afraid to grab treasure boxes--none of them are enemies like Pandorite or Box Boy. Eventually you'll reach Hinopio's place, where you can spend the night on a---cushy bed, buy items, or buy new armour. I do recommend buying Fire Armour and equipping everybody with it. You may have the Lazy Shells at this point, or you may not, but it matters not. If you do have it, you don't need to use the armour just yet; the weapon will be fine. Don't sweat it if you don't have either, as well. Anyway, don't pass up your chances to freshen up at Hinopio's if you need them. If you don't have a shortage of any type of critical items and your HP and FP are fine, you needn't bother, but let's say just for the sake of argument that your HP is suffering and you don't have a single Pick Me Up. Anyway, stock up while you can is basically what I'm trying to say. I know the room with the fireballs and the donut blocks is a stone drag to try and get across, but just stick with it, and make sure you're ready for anything before you walk through that door. That's where the Czar Dragon awaits you. Pummel him until he buys the farm, and then pummel his ghost until he buys the farm, too. Oh! How awfully nice! You get a Star Piec--err..no you don't. How perfectly awful of those Axem characters. It's advisable to make your way back across Donut Block hell so you can save, but if you're the headstrong type you can go ahead and take your chances. Geno and Toadstool are a good team for taking on the Axem Rangers. Chase 'em down, but you can take your sweet time--it's not like you're actually going to CATCH them no matter how much you rush around like a maniacal rat. Just keep after them and eventually they'll duck right out of the volcano, where they've scheduled the Blade to meet them and shuttle them back to Smithy with their prize. Yes, it's the perfect escape plan--too bad it doesn't work. The Blade is late, repeating his tardy performance with picking up Yaridovich, and the Axem Rangers are left stranded and alone. Mario hops out to pick a fight and get his star back, and the Axems get worried. Just when things are starting to look hopeless for our favourite multicoloured gesturing reciting evil friends, the Blade shows up in a big way. Axems jump on, but before they can take off, Mario jumps on after them. After you beat them up a bit, they'll go down in a blaze of glory, leaving you to watch the fireworks and collect the star. Going back to Barrel Volcano later in your travels isn't really necessary, but it can be fun because Barrel Volcano has really groovy music, and poor Hinopio is so lonely he deserves to have a visitor once in a while.