Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Alpha Dream
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 09/14/09
Japan 02/11/09
Official Site: English Site

Graphics: 94%
Sound: 94%
Gameplay: 95%
Control: 85%
Story: 88%
Overall: 92%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Boss fights are amazing.
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Bowser doesn't like to eat his veggies.
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Giant Bowser battles are amazing.
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Special attacks are ama- Okay, it's all amazing.
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Kyle E. Miller
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Kyle E. Miller

The red 'stache and the green 'stache are always saving the day. Yes, they save dainty Princess Peach every other week, but more importantly, they save the turn-based battle system. Unlike almost every other series, the Mario and Luigi RPGs transcend the slow turn-based battle systems common to the genre. They shove a mushroom down the throat of boring battles and turn them into something grandiose and stupidly fun. Bowser's Inside Story, the third iteration of the series, keeps the fun formula, but tosses a king-sized koopa into the mix, and the results are glorious.

Bowser's Inside Story begins with a frightful disease swooping across Toad Town: the Blorbs! No! Not the Blorbs! This mysterious illness turns cute little Toads into corpulent hulks, helpless and immobile. When Princess Peach holds a summit to counter the Blorbs infection, she calls upon everyone's favorite mustachioed bros. Unfortunately, Bowser has different plans; nothing new, of course, just the standard kidnapping routine. After his predictable defeat, he awakens in a forest, finds a mushroom salesman, and eats a magic shroom that sucks the most prestigious members of the Kingdom into the depths of his innards.

Thus the adventure begins, with beastly Bowser on the outside and heroic Mario and Luigi on the inside. And, herein lies the game's crux: players alternately control both Mario and Luigi inside Bowser's body (and eventually outside as well) and Bowser in the Mushroom Kingdom and its environs. For the majority of the game, players can freely switch between the two parties, although for long periods, only one party can proceed in the plot. At other times, Bowser's activity affects his guts, by flooding an entire level for example, and thus allowing Mario and Luigi to swim to previously inaccessible areas. Alternatively, Bowser might run into trouble even he can't escape, and he'll need his arch nemeses' help. If Bowser needs an extra boost of strength to cause additional havoc, the Mario brothers give the assist after besting a tricky mini-game. More cooperative portions would have been beneficial, especially mid-game, when the two parties barely interact for several hours, but the mechanic is used thoroughly and effectively overall. The Mario and Luigi/Bowser dichotomy provides a twist that is unique enough to make the game feel fresh, augmented by mandatory mini-games and dynamic combat.

Both Mario/Luigi and Bowser partake in frantic and fun turn-based battles, separated from the typical by timed button presses and fantastic special attacks. Mario and Luigi are a shell-kicking, fire flower-eating, meteor-bashing, star-shooting duo of power, while Bowser is a master of multitudinous minions. Bowser's special attacks in particular, all of which use the stylus, are so fun that you'll be tempted to increase his SP at every level. Who needs luck anyway? Just be careful with those fickle stylus controls; once in a while, they decide to give up halfway into an attack. Needless to say, every battle is a joy, but boss battles are truly magnificent, and at specific moments in the game, Bowser grows into a mobile fortress of death, resulting in battles too big for the DS's puny screens.

Character progression, equipment, and difficulty are all excellent. While the average player won't see many Game Over screens thanks to lenient Retry Clocks that start a battle over from the beginning, if players aren't skilled enough to dodge enemies' attacks, they're in for a bruising. Using a battle system that rewards player attention to detail, the developers create real-life experience: the more the player fights the same enemy, the more experience he gains and the easier he can out-maneuver foes. Few RPGs manage to convey this experience. It's as if players level up right beside Bowser and the bros.

Outside of combat, Bowser, Mario, and Luigi are free to explore the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser's various organs. The game presents the Mushroom Kingdom in a top-down three-quarters view, whereas Bowser's insides are 2D side-scrolling environments. In either locale, players use field abilities such as hammering and punching to proceed through dungeons. And, by "dungeons," I mean anything from an actual dungeon to Bowser's Flab Zone, which might bend the definition a bit. Of course, acquiring new field abilities grants access to new areas and items, always a joy. Save points aren't always as common as they could be, but exploration is at its best here for a linear game, and finding all the blocks, items, and hidden areas can be just as fun as combat. Maybe.

The equally impressive aesthetics of both battle and environment won't help players decide whether they enjoy fighting or exploring more either. Every location and character looks delightfully cartoonish and clean, perfect for conveying an appropriate atmosphere for the game's light-hearted style. Many environments sport interesting color pallets, and enemy design is both classic and novel, true to Mario lore. Animation is particularly good, and the amount of expression packed into each sprite is astonishing. No doubt the faux-Italian gibbering of Mario and Luigi account for some of this. Take a look and listen at Luigi during most cutscenes to verify. Some may complain that Bowser's Inside Story plays it safe with its graphics, but they're perfect for the series and I much preferred them over 3D on the DS. Some of the game's soundtrack is remixed, some of it new, and all of it entertaining. Some of the more melodic tracks are perfect for humming along with, and at least one track is strikingly poignant.

Continuing the trend of the fun and buffoonery of the gameplay, Bowser's Inside Story features plenty of patented Mario and Luigi dialogue, including the constant malapropisms of familiar antagonist Fawful, with his biggest role yet. The story surrounds oddball Fawful's scheme to take over the world, which of course gets Bowser and the brothers in an uproar, although for decidedly different reasons. While the plot itself rarely excites, the dialogue, expertly translated and crafted, makes the story one worth telling. You'll have many chortles during the course of the game, and the quality of the dialogue will leave you wanting more. The plot, thin at times, isn't as conducive to dialogue as one might like. In fact, players will want a longer game as a whole in the end, although its twenty-five hour length is far from wimpy.

Fortunately, there are a few diversions to occupy compulsive completionists as well as those who are simply looking to extend their amusement. Bowser's Inside Story offers a few time-consuming mini-games and hidden collectibles. Just gathering all of the stat-boosting beans spread throughout the Kingdom can add a couple of hours to the game clock, while incredibly difficult mini-games eat up time faster than Bowser ate the Mushroom Kingdom court. Mario and Luigi can also compete in a battle arena-like Gauntlet that pits them against super-powered versions of previously defeated bosses. Don't forget your invincibility stars. You'll need them.

Bowser's Inside Story is almost without tangible flaws, yet something quite invisible holds it back ever so slightly. There is a feeling of something amiss throughout almost the entire experience. Surely a game as inspired as this is not without soul, and the gameplay is pure mind candy. I may never fully comprehend the problematic factor or missing element, but I believe the answer lies in the pacing of the quest. There is no strong story motivation for progress; goals are undefined and consist of fetch quests and point A to point B journeys. The result is a sense of wandering, and not in the good, open-world sense. There is the peculiar sensation that the game never really leaves its beginning stages, never kicks off or gets going. The frequent tutorials and slow introduction of gameplay elements most likely contribute to the effect. Undoubtedly this odd lack of structure won't bother most gamers, and it far from ruined the game for me, but it left me feeling slightly empty.

After playing Bowser's Inside Story, I decided never to settle for boring turn-based battles again. Should I encounter them after today, I will mercilessly chastise the developers for failing to live up to the rowdy, rambunctious romps of the Mario and Luigi series. These games show what can be done, and there are no longer any proper excuses for delivering less. Once again, Mario and Luigi star in one of the most ingenious and well-polished titles on the DS. Their Fawfulized adventure through the bowels of the Mushroom Kingdom and its number one bad guy is one no one is likely to forget, especially Bowser.


© 2009 Nintendo, Alpha Dream, All Rights Reserved.

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