The Fun Just Keeps on Coming!
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.
In addition to these regular abilities, Mario & Luigi and Bowser can perform special attacks by teaming up or calling upon minions, respectively. Special Attacks will sap SP reserves, but they are crucial for taking large amounts of damage off foes. Special Attacks also require precise button presses, or in the case of Bowser, precise swipes of the stylus. But, instead of adding to the power of the attack, they are what allow the attack to work and continue on. These button presses/stylus inputs are also far more complex to enact than those of standard attacks. Keeping things interesting, new special attacks are acquired throughout the game by collecting Attack Pieces (Mario & Luigi) or Blitties (Bowser), so there are always a lot of new combat moves to master.
Finally, Mario & Luigi are also able to make use of badges that confer special powers onto standard attacks. Simply battling well will fill the Badge Meter, allowing you to unleash the badges’ particular effects. Likewise, Bowser also has the ability to sporadically vacuum up enemies off the battlefield. Later on in the adventure, Bowser occasionally becomes gigantic. He gets so big, in fact, that you’ll have to flip the DS vertically (on its side) for the Giant Battles. Rather than using button presses, Giant Battles require you to use both the stylus and the microphone in order to advance. By tapping command icons and blowing into the microphone, you’ll be able to use items, punch, and roast your enemies. I found these Bowser segments to be interesting, yet I’ve never really taken to blowing into the DS. I think I would have rather stuck to just the stylus controls. Also, turning the DS vertically has never been high on my list either. However, I suppose these are very subjective complaints that likely won’t bother most gamers out there.
Other RPG conventions include the ability to level up characters through the acquisition of XP and the purchasing and scavenging of items, loot, and equipment that further improve the characters. But, what really completes this package is the outstanding presentation. The game is absolutely adorable and thoroughly charming. Anyone who picks up this title will be filled with joy at the sight of the vibrant colors, amazing pixel art, smooth animations, delightful character designs, and lush environments. Sounds are also off the charts. The enchanting background tunes really keep pace with the adventure, the sound effects are perfect, and, even though the voice work is rather sparse, what’s there is excellent – the Italian-sounding gibberish is particularly hilarious. Even the varied text effects give loads of personality to the title’s dialogue segments.
Speaking of dialogue, the Mario & Luigi series consistently has the best regional localization. The conversations and banter found throughout Bowser’s Inside Story are a hoot. While we rarely had a belly laugh, chuckles and huge smiles were ever-present. This game really is a joy to read through unlike many other text-intensive portable RPGs out there. That being said, there may be some who find the glut of text bubbles to be somewhat disconcerting in spite of the great writing.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is one of the very best games to grace the Nintendo DS – it outdoes even its excellent predecessors. This game exudes quality at every turn, and it’s easy to see it was developed with a remarkable amount of care and love. If you own a DS, go out and buy this game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
The developers at AlphaDream are masters at 2D pixel art. The wonderful character designs, perfect animation, and vibrant environments are an absolute treat! 4.8 Control
I’m not thrilled by using the microphone and holding the DS vertically at times, but the platforming, menu selection, and turn-based, timing-sensitive RPG battles are controlled just right. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The upbeat background jingles are wonderful, the sound effects are brilliant, and the voice work/text effects are hilarious. 4.5
Though gameplay is essentially identical to what was on offer in the previous two entries, it’s still great fun. Also, the long single-player adventure will keep you playing 15 to 20 hours.
4.7 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.