Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Genre: Turn Based RPG
Developer: Alpha Dream
Release Date: 09/14/2009
The best version of Nintendo’s famous plumbers over the last few years hasn’t involved Galaxies, Paper, or new versions of the old games. It isn’t Kart racing, sports playing, or anything else that Nintendo has managed to insert its mascot into. For me, the best game series featuring Mario and Luigi happens to be named….Mario and Luigi. Alpha Dream perfectly nailed the gameplay and the humor of the those games.
The original title, Superstar Saga, was my favorite GBA game. The way they mixed nostalgic moments with comedy and some fantastic game design really made it one of the must own GBA games. The sequel, Partners in Time, was done in a similar fashion though that game was slightly more complex as there was a mixture of attacks between Mario, Luigi, and the baby versions of the brothers. While it was a great game some of the attack combos were more frustrating than the original title and it was considered by many to not be as great of a game as Superstar Saga. With their second outing on the DS, Alpha Dream has added some new elements to the game and refined other aspects.
So how does Alpha Dream do with their third trip to the Mushroom Kingdom?
First let’s go over the story. While it may seem odd to talk as though the story in a Mario Bros game is a big deal, it certainly is for this RPG spin off. The prior games had fun stories with a fantastic sense of humor about them. In this area Bowser’s Inside Story (BIS for short) does not disappoint. In fact, it’s a major driving force in the game. The game is worth playing through just to see some of the hilarious moments that occur. This is one of the few games that have caused me to laugh out loud, and considering the fact that it is a portable game means that I received a couple of odd stares in public places while playing. The game features the return of Fawful, the antagonist of Superstar Saga who happens to talk like an annoying internet forum poster. Fawful was such a good character in that game that I’m glad they brought him back. In BIS Fawful manages to sell a type of mushroom that when eaten causes the person who ate it to bloat up and become a Blorb. The Blorb problem is becoming an epidemic in the Mushroom Kingdom with several of the Toads becoming Blorbs.
While I’m not sure if this was meant as a fun shot at the problem of obesity in modern culture, what I do know is that it’s weird to me that the Toads, animated humanoid toadstools of the Mushroom Kingdom, eat mushrooms and that if the problem has become so widespread why they would eat mushrooms called Blorb Mushrooms. Sort of seems like they were asking for it.
So an emergency meeting is called to handle the problem, and meanwhile Fawful tricks Bowser while he is on his way to kidnap Peach again into eating another kind of mushroom. This one causes him to inhale everything and spaz out. He ends up eating everyone at the emergency meeting, including the Princess and the Mario Bros. When the effect wears off he doesn’t know what happen other than the Kingdom is being taken over by Fawful and he isn’t going to stand for it. Bowser remains unaware that he has ingested the Mario Bros. The Mario Bros on the other hand are stuck in a plot straight out of the movie Innerspace and are stuck wandering around Bowser’s body, even helping him out when they can.
That might’ve seemed spoilerish, but that is just the opening part of the game. During the rest of the game the main characters run into a lot of side characters that all have weird personalities, and for some reason they all seem to have speech disorders. Some might talk in third person, or ask themselves questions then answer them, or speak in half gibberish. Either way it becomes clear that Princess Peach is likely the ruler of the Kingdom because she is the only one that can form a sentence properly. It’s a fun adventure that may not make as many nostalgic references to past Mario games the way Superstar Saga did, but it creates a bunch of new fond memories of the characters.
Graphically it isn’t much different than Partners In Time. That’s not a bad thing at all. The game has a lot of vibrant color and looks amazing. The animation is extremely well done and while it might not be a graphical upgrade it still remains one of the better looking DS games available. The only part of the game that is a let down in this area is during parts of the game where Bowser becomes gigantic. The game then requires you to hold the DS sideways and while it’s impressive to have this feature, graphically it just looks extremely pixelated which contrasts with the smoothness of the graphics of the rest of the game.
The audio is great with music that sounds familiar to past Mario games with some new background music that sounds just as good. The sound effects are what you would expect from a Mario game, though considering the length of this particular one some of the sound effects will get a little old to hear over and over again.
Just like Superstar Saga, Partners in Time and the older Mario RPG games like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and so on, the game is a mixture of platform style games and RPGs. There are levels, experience systems, and the battles are turn based. There’s items, equipment, and dungeons to explore. However, you explore the game like it was a platform game by jumping around and hopping on enemies to initiate battles. In fact the parts of the game that take place inside Bowser play out closer to the 2D perspective Mario games than anything else. During a battle instead of being able to choose Attack/Magic/Item the game instead has options like Jump/Hammer/Bro Combo/Item. Unlike a turn based RPG game, this game is more interactive in many ways. When attacking there is an option to press a button at the right moment in order to do more damage. Likewise on defense you can time a button press right so that no damage is received at all or even get a chance to do damage to the enemy. These situations require some tactics as there are enemies that are more vulnerable to one type of attack or another. There are Bros Combos that substitute magic in this game compared to an RPG. There are attacks that take up some of the Bros points and are like mini-games almost that require specific button presses at the right time.
Bowser controls nearly the same though his attacks are different: Punching, Inhaling, Breathing Fire, using his shell, etc. Instead of Bros attacks Bowser can find members of his army in different parts of the Kingdom and use them against enemies with attacks that use the touch screen. The strategy for Bowser is different than it is for the Mario Bros and it provides a good change of pace to switch between the two during the game. Plus, it’s just sort of fun to get a chance to stomp through the Mushroom Kingdom as Bowser.
There are a bunch of other gameplay tweaks. As previously mentioned, there are sections where you need to turn the DS sideways. Bowser grows giant during these sections and there is a sort of Rock, Paper, Scissors fighting system that is used. Two of these attacks use the touch screen, and another uses the mic to breath fire. While I’m against DS games that require using the mic since in public it becomes awkward, I’m okay with its use here because you help Bowser breathe fire. That’s cool by me. What is not cool is the fact that the touch screen attacks for this mode aren’t accurate and occasionally have lag time between the motion and the action on the screen, which can make the whole experience an exercise in frustration.
Inside of Bowser there are times with the Mario Bros will have to go to a part of Bowser’s body and do something in order to progress. Like when Bowser has to eat something large a mini-game will pop up which uses the stylus to break down some of the food quickly. Or a rhythm style mini-game to strengthen muscles. Or an Ikaruga style shooter to regain stamina. There’s about half a dozen or so of these and they’re an okay distraction that helps keep the game from feeling repetitive, though some are less fun than the others and even worse if you just can’t get past one of the mini-games, well you are screwed because you need to in order to progress through the game.
Even the weakest parts of this game would be considered standard things in another game, they just stand out more in BIS because the rest of the gameplay is so solid. They still help keep the game from having the monotonous feeling that many turn based games have and provide for some variety. Aside from the mini-game distractions the main portion of the game is well designed with a lot of varying levels and balanced well enough to feel like there is a constant sense of progression and challenge as you go on. Well sort of. Compared to the past M&L games there are an almost absurd amount of health power ups in the game. I never had to buy any from shops and at the end I had a ton of them left over. This kept the game from really feeling difficult. There is also a restart shroom now that lets you start a fight over if you fail, which was mostly useful for the giant Bowser fights for me personally.
There isn’t much of a reason to replay the game over again aside from the sheer enjoyability of the game. However it did take me nearly 30 hours to complete while doing most side missions, so for the cost you get a game that is far longer than many DS games. Since I have replayed Superstar Saga once already I can see myself going back and replaying this one again later on. Though that will likely be something my wife will not look forward to as I followed behind her while she was shopping and I was blowing into the mic on my DS. The game is hard to put down once you start playing.
Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is an awesome addition into my favorite series of Mario games and Alpha Dream continues to prove worthy of handling Nintendo’s mascots. Every facet of the DS system is used in the game in creative ways that keep the experience feeling fresh even after putting more than twenty hours into it. The story is one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen in any game this year and filled with moments that will make you smile.
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Classic
Final Score: Incredible Game
Short Attention Span Summary:
If you own a DS and like Mario, get Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. It is one of my favorite DS games this year and one of the most entertaining portable games I have played.