Mario&Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story Review (DS)
Posted by Jim Cook, Oct 03, 2009 17:22
Ever since the original Super Mario RPG on the SNES, Nintendo has made sure to ship another game in that style every few years. It’s hard to complain; their developers usually manage to make a RPG with a ’light’, intuitive set of rules that mix stat-based fighting with basic Mario platforming, and the result is usually fun. Bowser’s Inside Story continues this trend, though as the title implies Mario and Luigi share the spotlight with the Koopa King.
Where many RPGs have very grim, serious plots, Bowser’s Inside Story goes for a much lighter tone. It operates on the same ’save the world’ premise many others in the genre do, but it never takes itself too seriously. Main villain Fawful (indeed the same Fawful from previous games in the series; he still "has fury" and other silly lines!) is out to conquer the world, but his plans tend to either be very straightforward such as marching in and taking a place, or completely absurd such as getting his minions to overfeed Bowser to the point of immobility. While some reading skill is required, I’d like to think even a sufficiently intelligent child could play this game, both following its whimsical plot and handling the game mechanics well enough.
Early in the game, Bowser gains the ability to inhale enemies. This is both a game mechanic and a major plot point, as he promptly uses it on Mario and Luigi along with several others, shrinking them down to microscopic size in the process. This ends up with a game that is divided into two halves; Bowser stomps through the ’overworld’ alone and fighting Fawful’s minions while the Mario Bros. are stuck inside his body, fending off invaders that could incapacitate Bowser from within. While these activities are normally kept separate, they can cross over into one another at times. One example is Bowser inhaling enemies during fights; some of them will then appear inside Bowser, immediately starting a ’sub-fight’ with Mario and Luigi. This takes some of the pressure off Bowser, and is vital for winning some battles.
Most fights are done in the typical Mario RPG style, where you pick commands and then press a button at a specific time to pull off tricks like multi-jump stomps, flicking fireballs, and other Mario platforming activities. Defense is done the same way; you watch the enemy’s attack, then press a button at the right time to deflect or dodge it. RPG mechanics do come into play here, but basic platformer skills are essential as well. This does a great job of keeping the player engaged, as do the regular influx of new abilities for your characters to use.
As far as presentation goes, Bowser’s Inside Story is top-notch. The music is pretty good and hits a variety of tones, while the 2D sprites are very colorful and well animated with only a few minor gaffes here and there. The plot is also pretty funny and reasonably lengthy; roughly twenty-plus hours of decent comedy is fine by me!
For all the creative things this game does right (and I have left some of them unmentioned to avoid spoilers, but trust me that there are some really interesting segments here that haven’t been done in other Mario RPGs), it unfortunately has a few problems. The most prominent are a variety of mini-games you play whenever something bad happens to Bowser in the plot. Perhaps something really heavy just fell on him and knocked him out; Mario and Luigi then have to go to another part of his body and play a shooting game not unlike various ’plane shooters’ (think Space Invaders, Tyrian, Raiden, 1943, etc., only even more basic) in order to get a jolt of adrenaline flowing to save him. Or perhaps he needs more muscle power; a rhythm-based mini-game will play out in his arms where you launch sparks at his muscles to make him stronger. These are genuinely boring, and serve only as filler to pad out what is already a decently long, engaging game. Fortunately, most of the mini-games are easy and quick to finish so this isn’t a major problem.
Overall, Bowser’s Inside Story does more things right than wrong. Its plot is reasonably long and is unapologetically silly; it wants you to chuckle and laugh fairly often. The RPG and fighting systems are simple to learn but continue to add new layers of depth as you play, making them suitable for both newcomers and those already familiar with the series. And getting to play as Bowser is a real joy; while he sometimes has to go along with RPG-style puzzles to progress, he also frequently gets to deal with obstacles not by finding a key, but by being the key as he punches a door open or sets overgrown plant life on fire. For all the little snags it has, Bowser’s Inside Story is a genuinely fun DS game and I’d recommend it to virtually anyone.
Rating: 4.8, votes: 5