Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is the latest handheld iteration to the successful “Mario RPG” franchise. It is the second game to appear on the DS and follows Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time which had a mixed reception after the popular Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga for GameBoy Advance. While Bowser’s Inside Story is unlikely to win over gamers that dislike the battle system and format used in the series, fans that were less than impressed with Partners in Time should not snub this latest episode.
As the name suggests, Bowser plays an integral part in the game. While not the first time Bowser has featured as a playable character in a “Mario” game (notably playing a hilarious cameo in Paper Mario 2: The Thousand Year Door), Bowser’s Inside Story put you in control of Bowser for much of the game. Don’t worry if you prefer spending time with the moustached plumbers though – they still get plenty of game time as they share an intimate relationship with Bowser that I will not spoil by elaborating on here.
Predictably, the Mushroom Kingdom is under attack yet again, but this time by a force greater than even King Bowser. Lord Fawful has inflicted the Toad population with a Blorbs epidemic, a disease which causes Toads to blow up into giant blobs, as he attempts to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. A tussle over Princess Peach ensues, with competing evil forces each wanting to overrun Peach’s Castle. And so it is that you take control of Bowser in order to “save” Princess Peach from Lord Fawful as the rightful invader of the Mushroom Kingdom. “Princess Peach is mine!” as Bowser declares to Fawful.
Little has changed in the game format, so haters of the Mario RPG battle mechanics have no reason to reconsider the series. The good news for the many loyal Mario RPG fans is that nothing has been “broken” for the sake of “innovation”. Battles are initiated by bumping into on screen enemies (rather than the annoying “random” battles that appear in traditional RPGs), and from there your success depends on being able to coordinate and time various button press combinations. Hitting buttons with perfect timing inflict more damage during attacks, and shields enemy attacks when on defense.
Various special moves will be unlocked as the game progresses, allowing Mario and Luigi (or Bowser and his minions) to join forces and deal more severe blows to enemies. Mario and Luigi special moves use the standard button timing mechanic, while Bowser special attacks use the stylus on the touchscreen. I found that Mario and Luigi moves could be executed with a higher degree of accuracy than Bowser’s stylus attacks.
The touch screen is also used for mini-games that appear at various stages of the game, but because the mini-games were always somewhat integrated into the game’s story, they did not feel as gimmicky as they might otherwise have. Success in the mini-games then advances the plot in a meaningful fashion, which is to the game’s credit.
Bowser’s Inside Story has a delightful and varied cast of enemy characters, each with distinct attacks requiring different strategies, and as in previous games players have a degree of choice when it comes to levelling up character attributes. Every time a level is advanced, players can choose one of these attributes (eg. power, or defence) to further increase. New to the handheld series of Mario RPGs are “badges”, which were seen in Paper Mario for N64 and later GameCube. Various badges have different effects when worn, allowing further customisation of characters as players see fit.
Partners in Time, the first game in the series for Nintendo DS, was panned by some gamers, but Bowser’s Inside Story goes a long way to winning back lost fans. Partners in Time made good use of the dual screens of the DS, making for interesting battles spanning the entire screen real estate. Bowser’s Inside Story does an even better job of this, and the epic boss battles have been further improved. Some battles now even require you to turn the DS sideways into “book orientation”, which is extremely cool except for an inexplicable loss of resolution during this mode. While the rest of the game has sometimes incredible graphics, modes where the DS is turned to the side have horrible pixellation. This is possibly deliberate but I found it distracting and it felt out of place in an otherwise highly polished game.
Bowser’s Inside Story is a massive game, and will take the average gamer up to or more than 30 hours to simply reach the credits. Various side quests and collecting tasks will add substantially to the gameplay time, and this is one of the few games that made me want to go back and play it again after completion. The comedic script is well written, the antics of Mario and Luigi often hilarious, and it is an enjoyable experience playing as Bowser. As expected, the script is full of self-reference to the Nintendo universe, with Wii Fit the latest to receive the treatment.
Bowser’s Inside Story takes everything that makes the Mario RPG series so loved by fans, and makes refinements to the game without destroying its essence. It is a wonderful game that is undoubtedly one of the best in the series. It oozes with class. Anyone with a DS that has never played a game from the series should definitely check it out, while fans of the series should consider this an instant buy.