Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Right about now I’d be opening with the “if you don’t know Mario you don’t know gaming” jargon. Not today. Today, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is in the spotlight, and whether you’re familiar with Mario and his role-playing exploits or not, this is one adventure that comes highly recommended. Nintendo’s DS has been the home of Mario and Luigi’s RPG ventures in the past, and although not a direct sequel, Bowser’s Inside Story remains faithful to the mechanics that made the past installations successful while keeping itself fully accessible to anyone interested in introducing themselves into the story with this chapter. With a lengthy, humorous and enjoyable plot, combat that is both engaging and easy to master, and touch-screen features that put all of the DS’ cooler features into contrast, this is one crazy quest that you’d be crazier to miss out on.
“Hidden beneath the visage of your every-day turn based RPG is a highly unique and enormously entertaining combat system”If you’re unsure of what to heading into Bowser’s Inside Story, then you’re in for quite a surprise. Hidden beneath the visage of your every-day turn based RPG is a highly unique and enormously entertaining combat system paired with a fresh and enthralling storyline that will pull you in and keep you there until the credits roll. Mario has sacrificed none of his quality in his transition from platforming to the RPG scene, and don’t think for a second that in lieu of the light-hearted nature that Mario often accompanies a darker, more mature theme has been brought in. This couldn’t be more incorrect, and while Bowser’s Inside Story does keep the scene cheerful and hilarious, at no point throughout this experience will you feel you’ve been duped into buying a children’s game. This is the kind of tale that anybody will enjoy, and I beseech you to do the same.
Today’s chapter finds our heroes in a very… unique situation. The Mushroom Kingdom has contracted an illness known as “the Blorbs”, whose symptoms are equally as intriguing as their name, causing the citizens of Mushroom Kingdom to drastically swell in size, rendering them giant, round, and immobilized. As it turns out, an evil sorcerer hailing from a distant land has come to Mushroom Kingdom to spread the Blorbs, and has tricked Bowser into consuming a mushroom that causes him suck up a large portion of the kingdom, including Mario and Luigi. Let it be known right here that Bowser’s Inside Story is as much Bowser’s story as it is Mario or Luigi’s, and this refreshing look at what it means to be the villain is key in driving the story to the wonderful lengths it goes. As Bowser, you will travel the kingdom in search of a way to reclaim your now commandeered castle, and as you encounter enemies that can be consumed, or effects such as muscle pain or pollen allergies, Mario and Luigi will do their work from the inside. It’s this degree of unseen teamwork that makes Bowser’s Inside story so irresistible and fun to play. Suck up a Goomba, and the bottom screen on your DS now becomes home to Mario and Luigi, who do combat in their traditional style of jumping on heads and launching balls of fire. Get tired of eating your enemies, and Bowser is more than capable of holding his own with his fire-breathing skills. With this co-operative style constantly at play this is one game that never starts to feel repetitive, and with such a classic combination, the enemies of Mushroom Kingdom (or bacteria in Bowser’s stomach) don’t stand a chance!
What makes Bowser’s Inside Story so ridiculously fun cannot be credited entirely to its story though. To take a turn-based RPG and create a combat system that never feels repetitive and is very rarely unforgiving is a task that only pros like Mario and Luigi could pull off. Engaging enemies on the world map will yield an encounter, and whether your controlling Bowser or the brothers, your options will remain somewhat similar. Bowser makes use of fire and punches, along with some nifty “minion attacks” that call upon the DS’ touch screen and stylus in order to be successful. Mario and Luigi favor the more traditional approach of jumping, using hammers, kicking shells, and eating mushrooms. All of these choices are essentially normal attacks combo attacks, or items from your standard RPG menu, but what makes the fighting in Bowser’s Inside Story so unique and engaging is the demand for timing and precision. Enemy attacks can be countered or dodged, friendly attacks can be enhanced for more damage, and special attacks do whopping amounts of damage when the stylus is used correctly or your button timing is precise. All of Mario’s functions are mapped to the A button, and Luigi’s to the B button, while Bowser is controlled using the X and Y buttons respectively. Press A when a shell is launched at Mario, and he will jump to avoid it. Now toss in some small, animated hints as to which member of your team will be targeted, enemies that are immune to attacks made by a certain character, or in Bowser’s case enemies that can be sucked up, and the result is a combat system that never lets you doze off.
When you’re not making use of your now finely honed timing skills, you’ll be acquainting yourself with the DS’ many useful features throughout the game. All of Bowser’s special attacks require the use of the touch screen in one way or another, be it tapping Goombas to ignite them, or continuously tugging Bowser back on a huge rubber band to launch him like a cannon ball, and that’s just the beginning. Progress far enough and Bowser will become massive (a side effect to sucking up a kingdom?). In this form the battles will require that you hold your DS in its notebook form and use the touch screen to throw punches, and the microphone to breath fire while taking on gigantic enemies, and even Bowser’s castle itself. I can say with certainty that this is one part of the game that had me entirely engaged and was the most fun I’ve had with a handheld console this year. When you’re venturing throughout Bowser’s body, the bros. will make use of the touch screen outside of combat in a series of mini-games that all serve the purpose of stimulating Bowser’s senses in one way or another. Tap energy sparks in Bowser’s arm to give him boost of strength, or bounce pollen into his nose to cause a massive sneeze. Many parts of both the Mushroom Kingdom and particularly Bowser’s insides are interactive and fun to discover.
Don’t think that the combat is the only aspect of Bowser’s Inside Story that’s in-depth. While you’re adventuring through the Mushroom Kingdom, it become apparent that even the smallest of details were given attention in the overall design scheme. Quirky characters and interesting puzzles await you on your adventure, be it navigating through a town whose streets are blocked by enormous round citizens, punching through obstacles, or having Mario and Luigi team up to navigate through some of Bowser’s trickier organs: every inch of this kingdom was designed to be vibrant and purposeful. In order to successfully navigate through the kingdom or Bowser’s insides, you will need to make use of a number techniques that the bros. have at their disposal, each mapped to their respective buttons. Luigi, for instance, and hit Mario with his hammer and drastically shorten him, making narrow spaces accessible. It’s the little perks like these that keeps exploring the maps fun and fresh, and while Bowser is limited to using his fire-breath and his fists, reigning destruction with the big dude never gets old.
Every inch of Bowser’s Inside Story feels well thought out and entertainingly designed. From the effects of being inside Bowser’s body, to sucking up enemies, to becoming a rampaging giant dinosaur, every detail is thorough and enjoyable, down to the ridiculous “Italian” that Mario and Luigi speak to each other. The storyline is certainly unique and sacrifices none of its quality while reaching out to any audience, and the battle encounters are by no means laid-back but never truly feel unforgiving. Although Bowser’s Inside Story lacks any hint of replayability whatsoever, I’m not a stickler for having to do things over again when the game does such a wonderful job of telling a story that will keep you entertained and will certainly have you laughing. The adventure is lengthy, the characters are entertaining, and this is truly a game that you’ll want to keep in your pocket for any free minute you find yourself with. DS owners should not miss out on what could certainly be the best handheld RPG of 2009.