Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story Review – Bowser’s Retold Story

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
A turn-based RPG for the Nintendo DS
score: *** outta five

A mysterious affliction plagues the Mushroom kingdom! Toads turned enormous balloon-y round things! Chaos and disorder! Only Mario (and that other guy) can save the day!

But the the blorbs are only the first step in our villain’s insidious plans. In Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, you play as the familiar bros. as well as Bowser to thwart the machinations of Fawful, the eccentric (and popular) evil sidekick from the first game in the handheld Mario series of RPGs.

Like the first two games in the series, Bowser’s Inside Story has you exploring various locales in the mushroom kingdom, with turn-based battles and puzzling the obstacles to furthering the story. It a Japanese RPG, or JRPG, in case you were wondering. The Mario RPGs brought many unique and entertaining elements to the genre such as its well-designed reflex based battle systems and its Zelda-like puzzle and exploration elements, not to mention the quirky Saturday morning cartoon plotting. Superstar Saga was different enough to the console games to be an entertaining and great game, spurring its own handheld franchise. The second game (Partners in Time) was a step backwards (despite the leap to the DS) if not a large one; the game became more linear, the plot and characters duller and the battle mechanics were more or less the same.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is not a step backwards. But relative to the first game, I don’t believe it’s a step forwards either. It is, minor differences aside, more of the same. At the very start of the game, in a bid to get rid of the pesky Mario brothers, Fawful feeds Bowser a messed up mushroom that causes him to inhale many of the denizens (and objects) of Mushroom Kingdom (they are inexplicably shrunk to tiny size). While the second game had you controlling the bros. on the bottom screen, and sometimes the baby bros. on the top, in Bowser’s Inside Story you are constantly controlling Bowser on the top screen. A and B control the bros., X and Y control Bowser, and you can switch at any time.

The bottom screen is entirely 2D in play: you can only move left or right with the bros. On the surface this presents some interesting potential, but in execution it isn’t too different from before: usually you’re controlling one screen or the other, killin’ goombas and unlocking doors, and sometimes an interaction on the bottom screen will affect the top or vice-versa. The more nonlinear or exploratory nature of the first game is restored, and this is welcome: there are plenty of branches and ‘hidden’ items as rewards. But the 2D game is much the same as the top screen; in fact, worse, due to one simple detail. Having to both A and B separately to make Mario and Luigi jump becomes a chore with the increase of platforms to jump on (as opposed to wandering around a flat RPG field). The platforming itself is easy, and usually you aren’t even punished much for sucking: it’s simply a chore, and it’s made even worse by elements such as swimming (where you have to repeatedly press A and B to move) and bouncy surfaces where you have to time your jumps to go higher. Rather than fixing this slight annoyance from the past games, they multiplied it by making it that much more of a necessity. Also, is anyone else vaguely disturbed walking around Bowser’s intestines and other intimate internal organs? Maybe it’s just me.

The rest of the basic mechanics are still more or less the same. As you run through dungeons (or, in the bros. case, Bowser’s insides) you are faced with many simplistic mini-games and puzzles. These could be executed, quite frankly, by orangutans with brain defects. They are not punishing or tricky to figure out. I realise this game is designed to be kid-friendly, so feel free to get it for the youngins, but as I am reviewing it from a more experienced point of view, these are usually nothing more than little diversions (sometimes entertaining, but never challenging). I can’t honestly be 100% sure if it was more difficult in the previous two games, but I’m almost certain it wasn’t.

Smacking into an enemy whilst in the field initiates a battle. The battle system is still a well designed thing, which is good, because battles are the meat of this game (narrative aside). Every move must be timed to get the full effect, most moves can be dodged (also with skilled timing), and every enemy has a new attack pattern to learn and memorise, keeping the game fresh and avoiding the repetition that plagues this genre. It also keeps the game fun despite the fact that the battle system hasn’t really improved. In some of Bowser’s battles, you may inhale enemies for the bros. to take care of, but it’s still the same type of battle (as an aside, it is incredibly satisfying hitting things as Bowser in this game: you can feel the power behind each punch). The special attacks, I might mention, while still being interesting and varied to watch and execute, aren’t as cool as the first game’s Bros. attacks: kicking a shell back and forth, for example, simply isn’t as fun to watch as a well-timed Bros. attack, watching Mario and Luigi doing intricate jumping ballet (this is also true for the second game in the series).

And the difficulty is still too low for my taste: there is no grinding necessary despite the usual irrelevant stats and numbers and levelling and equipment, which is good (grinding is evil), but this is due to the general ease of the game. I like that it takes skill to take less and do more damage, but it doesn’t take too long to get pretty much perfect at this game. An increase in difficulty would do wonders for excitement and tension (challenge makes a game a game: otherwise it’s just a movie where you press buttons sometimes). This might be a little too much to ask for from most modern age Nintendo games (barring excellent exceptions like F-Zero GX) so oh well whatever.

The game is vibrant and colourful, and I must especially praise the animation, which is full of character and a joy to see. Definitely the atmosphere of a cartoon, though on the other hand, the music leaves much to be desired: it is unmemorable, and that’s really all I have to say about it.

And a (Saturday morning) cartoon it is, filled to the brim with nutty characters and exaggerated plot developments, and sprinkled with videogame humour to make it a little wittier than the average cartoon. It is zany and humourous and practically revels in its cheesiness (unlike the average JRPG, which takes itself so seriously as to be even cheesier). Everyone and their dog has a speech mannerism (you will be sick of the word globin). Fawful exemplifies this game; if you are annoyed by him, chances are you’ll be annoyed by the whole game, but if you can enjoy something light and silly on occasion (and if you can’t, you are immature) you’ll enjoy this game. The same could be said (hopefully you are seeing a pattern here) for the previous games.

And there are still problems: the pacing is slow. Whenever you control Mario and Luigi, the game screeches to a halt as you, say, fix something wrong with Bowser’s arm or stomach so he can go back to, say, reclaiming Bowser Castle. This makes the game drag a fair bit. The handholding nature of the game, too, is grating: I want to kick that little Navi wannabe star fairy thing that follows you around and tells you that “maybe, perhaps, if you stand on this ledge and press A, you will be able to jump to that other ledge, so let’s practice this right now why not” many times in the cranium, and the first two hours are especially painful and leaden with tutorial garbage. Perhaps good for the little kiddies who have never played a videogame before, but all it does is make the game drag even more.

I know this review seems a rather scathing criticism of Bowser’s Inside Story, but this is simply because the positives have already been explored in its predecessors. The Mario RPGs have always stood out from the mind-numbing JRPG horde due to their unique elements, but this doesn’t excuse them from the need to refine and redefine within their own series.  Don’t misunderstand me; this is probably (almost) as good as Superstar Saga. But then, you should either play that or, if you have, be content simply getting more of that stuff (and maybe you will be! I’m not your mother, you figure it out, stupid). Like the returning villain, much of this game feels like a retread; and while the game is certainly enjoyable, a lack of noticeable improvement in a sequel such as this is disappointing.

The Rating System:
* crap; in all likelihood, avoid
** meh; not quite worth your time
*** decent; nothing or not much new
**** good; polished, solid, give it a chance
***** great; among the best of its kind


About Safeer
What is Safeer? A miserable little pile of secrets. But enough talk, have at you!

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