games / Reviews

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) Review

October 23, 2009 | Posted by Lee Price

Game: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Alpha Dream
Genre: RPG
Players: 1
Rating: E For Everyone

The Mario RPGs have thus far been a remarkably solid set of games, taking the infamous plumber outside of his platforming comfort zone and into less familiar territory with a good measure of success. Nintendo’s Mario & Luigi series on the DS has continued a tradition of top quality games that has run since Super Mario RPG on the SNES. It is helped along the way by the fact that Nintendo are also very prone to a lot of self-referential humor in these games, giving them an extra value to Ninty fans. So does the third game in the Mario & Luigi set of RPGs stand up to the rest of them?

In this latest game it appears that a number of the residents of the Mushroom Kingdom have come down with a condition called the Blorbs, in which the poor sap who gets it inflates to a massive size and becomes pretty much unable to function at all. The cause of this condition is traced back a mysterious mushroom vendor who has been selling foreign merchandise to the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Kingdom.

So a council is called between all the movers and shakers of the Mushroom Kingdom, with the eventual decision appearing to be going in the direction of “Let Mario and the green guy sort it” when Bowser breaks in an makes one of his kidnap attempts. He is defeated by Mario however, and eventually tempted into eating a tainted mushroom himself in an attempt to get stronger.

Of course Ray Charles could see that this is a mistake and the vendor reveals himself to be Lord Fawful, main antagonist of the game and essentially a gaming meme given a form. The mushroom he gives Bowser causes him to inhale like a vacuum, eventually sucking up pretty much all of the council he had previously interrupted, including the infamous Bros.

And this is where the main conceit of the story lies as you guide Bowser through the Mushroom Kingdom in his attempts to get revenge on Fawful, while at the same time guiding Mario & Luigi through Bowser’s body, aiding the big lug by getting rid of various blockages, or stimulating parts of his body when called upon.

Its an interesting gaming mechanic and is cause for much switching between top and bottom screen but it just works. Everything just seems to link up perfectly to give you pretty much equal playtime between the Bros. and Bowser in a sort of one hand washes the other kind of system wherein the tasks you complete inside Bowser enable him to complete important tasks around the rest of the kingdom. At no point does the switching get tedious, and Alpha Dreams have found a good balance wherein switching between the two sets of protagonists never becomes a hassle through overuse, but still remains one of the main features of the game.

Outside of the switching idea, the game plays very similarly to Mario RPGs of the past. The battle system is, as usual, stellar. A talented player can get through most of the game without taking too much in damage thanks to a wonderfully implemented counter system which means that if you are good enough you can avoid getting hit altogether. Of course it all comes down to timing and correct button presses, which is where the challenge for this system comes in, but it makes a continual and welcome change from the traditional taking turns of RPG battle systems.

Of course, although there is challenge in learning the timing of an enemies attacks, once learned the game pretty much becomes a cake walk. Sure some of the attacks are very difficult to dodge, but the fact that most of them are fairly avoidable, coupled with your opponent’s inability to counter or block your attacks, means that battles become extremely easy affairs. So the system is a double edged sword, with the challenge being diluted in favor of a more active and fun battle system. With a more traditional RPG the gambit wouldn’t work, but the main operating word for the Mario & Luigi series has been fun, and you will have that in spades so a little less challenge is easily forgivable.

Another massive plus point is the lack of random battles. This is often a bit of a gripe in the RPG genre, especially with titles that take the random battles to an extreme, such as the otherwise wonderful Skies of Arcadia. Luckily that problem is completely absent from Bowser’s Inside Story as all enemies are visible on screen and avoidable if you so desire. This system also carries the added advantage of enabling the player to get on up on the enemy by landing a pre-emptive attack before the battle begins. Its a type of system that seems to have been adopted by many on RPG these days, possibly due to the double shot of complaints against random battles and increased system power, and it works wonders in comparison to the traditional walking around the overworld and until something unseen attacks you. It lends the player a greater sense of control that is much appreciated as the game winds on.

Even exploring the game is generally fun, with minimal backtracking aided by numerous teleportation points. Bowser’s body is split into a large number of areas that are easily navigable by Mario & Luigi, and the game handily indicates which area of the body you need to be at for any given time. Back in the Mushroom Kingdom, it is generally easy to get from one place to another. The game world is a pretty much perfect size, and earlier areas are easily skippable thanks to the aforementioned teleportation points. All the characters learn new skills as they journey through the game, which often encourages a little back tracking to get to places that were previously unreachable, and at no point does this reach a major level of tedium.

On top of all this there are also numerous side-quests for you to undertake at your leisure. Most of them are pretty much fetch quests, such as gathering Blitties to unlock special gear or finding action pieces to unlock special battle moves, but they are a fun distraction nevertheless, and most are usually quite easily accomplished within the course of the main game as well.

The humor and fun aspect of the game have already been mentioned and nowhere is this more prevalent than in each character’s personality. Luigi, for example, is constantly playing the role of “The Other Guy”. Nobody recognizes him and he constantly makes mistakes, one amusing touch being that the game always seems to find some way for him to unwittingly start boss battles. Its a neat little dig at themselves by Nintendo, giving reference to the fact that Mario is considered so above and beyond Luigi that he is even disregarded by the citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom no matter how much he accomplishes. Its a sense of humor that has run throughout the series to day one, and little touches and self-references are made constantly, with a little wink and a nudge to Nintendo fans along the way.

This is reflected through the entire course of the game. The plot, as well Fawful, are so completely out there that you can’t help but love them, and Bowser being given a starring role means that the developers obviously had a great deal of fun expanding on his menacing character and making him more personable and funny. Everything is done with tongue firmly in cheek and its a perfect countermeasure to the more serious main games. Everything from Peach’s continuous kidnappings (she even gets taken away the first time you encounter her in Bowser’s body), up to the inclusion of a Giga-Bowser that only appears in times of dire need has a charm that you don’t get in the main Mario games, where the characters are often a touch one dimensional.

Graphically the game is gorgeous. The Paper Mario sprites that are used for the characters lend themselves perfectly to the DS’s capabilities, and they are all colorful and clear. Nothing appears out of place and there are no fuzzy textures and graphical glitches. It is a perfectly polished product when it comes to presentation, as you would no doubt expect from Nintendo. Granted the game does nothing spectacular with the DS hardware. There are no lighting effects or complex 3D character models to be seen, but the game’s style is reminiscent of past Mario titles, the Paper Mario series and Yoshi’s Island both springing to mind, while also maintaining a feel of its own that makes you feel that perhaps fully 3D characters wouldn’t fit into the Mario & Luigi world.

If there is a low point, it would probably be the sound. The soundtrack remains unremarkable throughout the course of the game, with none of the music matching up to the familiar Mario themes we know and love, and certainly none of them being as memorable. Having said that the music is perfectly serviceable and does its job well enough. You don’t get irritated by it, you just don’t get blown away by it either. There are little bits of voice work scattered throughout, and while its a nice little touch you can get used to the usual little speech bubble sound quite easily too. All in all its pretty average when it comes to aural pleasure.

Deserving of special mention are the little animations for each character that serve to lend even more personality to the cast. Bowser’s constant growling and looks of confusion play along with his dialogue perfectly, and Luigi’s hilarious panic attacks say more about his character than a script could, even going so far as to have him sleep through the initial battle with Bowser before being unexpectedly awoken when Boswer becomes a walking Dyson. Even the little snippets of faux Italian that the brothers use when conversing with each other helps lend charm to them and little touches like this are really what helps push Bowser’s Inside Story up from being a good game up into being a great game.

The Final Word

Overall then Bowser’s Inside Story is a top quality entry into an already stellar series. The dual playing of Bowser on one hand and Mario & Luigi on the other works like a charm and the well scaled overworld, fun battle system and cracking little story all help keep the game from slipping into the tedium that many poorer examples of the RPG genre fall prey to. Its just a fun game, nothing revolutionary sure but it does everything that it does with a polish that most games can’t pull off. Even the stylus heavy mini-games aren’t too frustrating for the most part. A definitive recommendation for any Nintendo fans or RPG lovers who don’t mind a fairly tame difficulty curve.

Graphics9.0Everything looks clear and concise, lending the game a character that a massive polygon count wouldn't achieve.411 Elite Award
Gameplay9.0A superb battle system leads the way for an extremely enjoyable gaming experience. Giga-Bowser is a huge amount of fun to battle with too. 
Sound7.5Nothing spectacular. A few decent tunes and sound effects but you won't be blown away by any of the noises coming out of your DS. 
Lasting Appeal8.5A sizable main quest which can easily drain 20+ hours, as well as some side-quests. Whether you will replay the game is down to personal enjoyment though. 
Fun Factor 9.5The game is Fun with a capital F. The whole tone of the game is as non-serious as you can get, and I guarantee that it will raise at least a couple of smiles over the course of playing. 
Overall9.0   [  Amazing ]  legend

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Lee Price
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