|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: AlphaDream||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Nintendo||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sep. 14, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is the third entry in the dynamic Mario & Luigi series. Taking elements from the Mario RPG and Paper Mario franchises, this spin-off fuses RPG and platforming conventions together with amazing visuals, quirky storytelling and dialogue, and excellent level design to create an undeniably wonderful package. This game hits the mark on practically every level, so strap in and get ready for a love-fest.
The second title in the Mario & Luigi series, Partners in Time, introduced a second set of characters to the game: Baby Mario and Baby Luigi. Swapping between Mario and Luigi and their baby counterparts proved to be a fresh take that allowed for a lot of interesting new gameplay. This time, developers AlphaDream have thrown away the diapers in favor of a more brutish, hulking anti-hero: Bowser. The result is an even more engaging game and a more cohesive swapping mechanic. Being able to play as Mario & Luigi and Bowser is a real treat, and switching between the dynamic trio on the fly gives players lots of great puzzling moments and even more quality, turn-based/timing-based RPG combat.
One of the greatest aspects of this game is the way two separate narratives are woven into one unified storyline. You see, an undocumented epidemic called "The Blorbs" is spreading rampantly across the Mushroom Kingdom. This strange disease is causing all the Toads to balloon up into giant, rolling disasters. Naturally, Princess Peach calls on the assistance of the brothers Mario to find a solution. However, old Bowser soon shows up to try and thwart their plans. Of course, Mario would have none of that and handily defeats "His Grouchiness", sending him back to the forest floor in humiliating fashion.
Obviously, such a disgrace simply can't stand, and so Bowser leaps at the chance for revenge when a traveling weirdo offers him a "Lucky Shroom". Unfortunately, that traveling weirdo was none other than Fawful, the henchman/Bean n' Badge vending evil genius from the first two games, and Bowser soon goes out of control, inhaling everything in sight - eventually sucking up Mario, Luigi, Peach, Starlow the Star Sprite, a bunch of Toads, and lots of ability augmenting goodies.
This sets the stage for a grand adventure where Mario and Luigi will have to fight, puzzle, and platform their way through King Koopa's innards. Through their actions (and Bowser's might), Bowser unwittingly saves the Mushroom Kingdom by putting an end to Fawful's evil plans. This aspect of teamwork is present throughout the game, making for lots of great synergism between the two story arcs. For example, Bowser and the Mario Bros. will often come up against insurmountable obstacles, and they will have to use each other to overcome them. When Bowser needs an extra burst of energy to pull an island to him, Mario and Luigi will be there to activate Bowser's muscles with Bowser Power. Likewise, inaccessible platforms within Bowser's body can be reached by Mario and Luigi once Bowser ingests a large quantity of water, allowing them to swim to their desired destination. The intermingling of game mechanics is present throughout the title, offering lots of creative gameplay elements and meshing the two stories together.
An inferior developer could have easily made all this switching back and forth quite cumbersome, but AlphaDream and Nintendo pull it off flawlessly. One of the biggest positives is that you're rarely stuck in one of the two worlds for very long. This not only keeps things from getting bogged down, it also keeps objectives fresh in your mind. Another important characteristic of the switching is that it is done instantly, on the fly, at the touch of a button. Finally, the way the story begins to fall in place due to the hopping between worlds is masterfully done.
In terms of what you can expect from combat, it is essentially identical to what was on offer in the first two games. For those of you unfamiliar with the battle mechanics of the Mario & Luigi series, they are turn-based, timing-sensitive combats. Fights commence when Mario or Bowser (or Luigi) initiate it (or get taken by surprise). In this way, combat is seamlessly incorporated into platforming and exploration, because well timed jumps, hammer swings, punches, and gouts of fire will give your team the initiative when set-piece fights commence.
Once on the battleground, Mario & Luigi and Bowser will have to make use of their specific abilities to get through the foes allied against them. Mario and Luigi will have to use well-timed jumps and hammer strikes, while Bowser will use his breath weapon, fists, and lungs to scorch, pummel, and inhale his enemies. In order to increase the potency of these standard attacks, precise button presses are required. This also applies to defense, which is also crucial. Mario & Luigi titles allow players to protect their heroes through counterattacks. By timing the enemies' patterns, you can actually evade or deflect attacks and even further damage your foes. This semi-active battle system makes even mundane battles a lot more engaging than ordinary turn-based RPG combat.