Epic storylines, menu-based gameplay, and deep characters; these are the hallmarks of the Japanese RPG. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story has none of those and I couldn’t be happier. The Mario & Luigi series makes sure to never take itself seriously and goes for that humorous tone much more than an epic one. If anything, it makes a great starter RPG that even genre veterans can still enjoy. Bowser’s Inside Story continues this trend by perhaps being the best of the series. It’s a funny claim to make since it’s Bowser that makes this one shine.
A disease known as the Blorbs have struck the Mushroom Kingdom. Citizens are ballooning up to enormous sizes and are unable to move. Meanwhile, Bowser is offered a mysterious mushroom that is supposed to increase his power. Instead, he inhales Mario, Luigi, Peach, and many Toads before losing his abilities. It turns out series villain Fawful is behind it all and quickly takes over Bowser’s and Peach’s castles. It’s now up to Mario and Luigi to explore Bowser’s body and power him up while he attempts to reclaim his castle and get revenge on Fawful. The story is ludicrous fun and serves to set up many of the new gameplay elements of Bowser’s Inside Story. It’s great to see Fawful finally be promoted to Main Boss status and get a full dose of his unique humor. He stands out from all the other characters just because of his crazy dialog. Bowser and Luigi also steal the show as the game progresses. Bowser comes across as a lovable dumb brute with an evil streak and Luigi livens up dull moments with his physical comedy. The best thing I can say about the story is that it’s guaranteed to make you smile.
If you’ve played any of the past Mario & Luigi games, you’ll know what to expect from Bowser’s Inside Story. Both brothers are controlled at the same time with Mario’s actions mapped to the A-button and Luigi’s to the B-button. Surprisingly, a full three-quarters of the time spent as Mario and Luigi is in 2D. It’s a refreshing perspective for the series though the battles are still handled the same. Players can get the jump (literally) on enemies for an opening attack although the reverse is true. Unlike other RPGs where you could push buttons in your sleep and still do well, Mario & Luigi is an active experience. Proper timing on your attacks yield damage bonuses, and it’s entirely possible to dodge every enemy attack or even counterattack them. The battle system works as well as ever, but there aren’t any significant changes until you play as Bowser.
Bowser should not be as entertaining as he is. His battles are handled the same way as Mario and Luigi. He’s played from the overhead perspective, but he is the most invigorating part of the game. He’s filled with new abilities while the Mario Bros. stayed the same. Bowser also handles the DS better than Mario and Luigi ever did in their previous DS effort, Partners in Time. All of his special attacks are handled with the stylus, which is used in a variety of ways. And then there are the moments when Bowser grows to Godzilla-sized proportions. There’s only a handful of times when this happens but when they do, they are some of the best moments in the game. The DS is turned vertically to accommodate Bowser’s size and the stylus is used to control his punches while blowing into the mic controls his fire breath. The game would be nowhere near as fun without Bowser.
Beyond the basic gameplay, there are quite a few side missions that can be taken. Mario and Luigi have challenge rooms where they can challenge harder versions of bosses to earn extra coins. There’s also beans hidden underground all over which can increase their stats along with ten Attack Blocks that are scattered around certain areas which will grant the brothers new special attacks. Bowser has his own share of sidequests which net him extra coins, equipment, and attacks. While none of these are absolutely necessary to beating the game, they will increase your playtime and make the main quest easier.
However, the game does have its share of problems. The most glaring one is that there’s just too many tutorials. Every new action that is learned has a tutorial to go along with it. There’s a lot of moves in the first place but when you add the multitude of minigames that Mario and Luigi do to power up Bowser, it gets a little ridiculous. The first five or so hours felt like an extended tutorial mission. Now, they are all skippable but I couldn’t do that after a while because I was missing clues on the timing of attacks. That length carries over to the story as well. Conversations can keep going well after the vital information is said. Some jokes are pushed too far and stop being funny, but it also makes the game ill-suited for quick bursts of playtime. With save points spread out and story segments that could take upwards of fifteen minutes, it’s doubtful you’ll be able to go from save point to save point in a commute. Bowser’s Inside Story demands your attention and, unlike other Mario games, is perfectly willing to talk your ear off.
The world of Mario is one of the most colorful in all of gaming. That continues to hold true as everything in Mario & Luigi just pops. It’s very much a Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic but it fits perfectly. Everything is simple yet vibrant and easily distinguishable. The developers were also able to get creative with Bowser’s body. It’s definitely not like any other body you’ve seen but it provides unique areas and enemies to keep you engaged. The graphics don’t push the DS, but they don’t need to. The same can be said of the sound design. Everyone knows the classic Mario songs, and Nintendo isn’t shy about reusing or remixing them. That said, they are actually quite judicious about what songs were used. The game isn’t loaded with the classic tunes, instead using them in fitting moments including a tune I never expected to hear. All the other music is original and fits well with the settings. There’s nothing especially memorable, but it’s certainly enjoyable. The gibberish that Mario and Luigi speak is somehow always fun to listen to. It’s charmingly funny and interlaced with some phrases that continue the conversations. Bowser and Fawful also have some sounds associated with them but nothing like Mario and Luigi. The sound design is a good mix of new and classic but there’s nothing here that will blow you away.
Bowser’s Inside Story is as good as if not better than the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. The Mario and Luigi segments have been perfected and Bowser brought many new ideas to the table to keep the series from getting stale. There’s nothing outright amazing about the game but it comes together to create an entertaining package. It’s hard not to find even a little fun in it and at 20-25 hours of gameplay, you’ll get your money’s worth. Come for Mario and Luigi, stay for the awesomeness that is Bowser.