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Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story Review

Published January 28, 2010 by |

Even amongst Nintendo’s esteemed stable of franchises there are few that have had the same consistent level of quality as the Mario RPG series. From the first Squaresoft-developed entry, Mario’s role-playing antics have provided gamers with hundreds of hours of epic adventures, witty dialogue and an addictive battle system. While the franchise may have split into two unique brands (home consoles have enjoyed the Paper Mario series; handhelds have been home to the Mario & Luigi games), the core gameplay elements have remained largely unchanged since the beginning.

This latest adventure gives Mario’s long-time nemesis, Bowser, a starring role. Not only do you get to play as him, you get to play in him as well. After Bowser accepts a strange mushroom from Fawful, a villain from the first Mario & Luigi game, he starts to inhale everything in sight, including Princess Peach, her Toad advisors and the hapless plumbers. While Bowser must try to recapture his castle from Fawful, Mario & Luigi have to search the big lizard’s innards for the Princess and find a way to return to normal.

The game frequently switches between playing as Bowser in the Mushroom Kingdom, and controlling Mario and Luigi inside Bowser’s organs. This constant flipping of game styles keeps the game feeling fresh. The symbiotic relationship between the RPG elements in the Mushroom Kingdom overworld and the platforming sections inside Bowser provides most of the memorable moments of the game. One good example happens early on in the game as the plumbers are exploring Bowser’s stomach. Guide Bowser to a nearby fountain and he starts to guzzle down, filling his stomach with water and enabling Mario & Luigi to reach new areas.

This partnership extends to battles too – Bowser can inhale certain foes, leaving Mario & Luigi to finish them off. Sharing the fight (and its spoils) is an essential strategy if you want to reach the end of this huge adventure. Once again, the battle system is thoroughly addictive and one of the jewels in Mario’s shiny RPG crown. For the uninitiated, fighting enemies is essentially turn-based but by timing certain button presses you can increase an attack’s potency. Watching enemy attacks for tell-tale signs is also important – if you can time your defensive moves correctly you can deflect an attack or even cause them some damage instead. With a lot of practice it’s quite possible to go through most of the game without taking a single hit.

That’s not to say the game is a pushover. Bowser’s Inside Story offers up a pretty meaty challenge, with the main game itself taking upwards of 40 hours to get through, plus a wad of side quests to work through.

Then there’s the presentation, which again is of a really high standard. The locales around the mushroom kingdom are awash with bold, chunky colour; and are as striking as anything on the DS. And who would have thought Bowser’s lower intestine could be quite so beautiful. The design and animation on the characters is top-notch too, possibly the best on the format. Then there’s the roster of enemies and bosses, which are probably the best of the series. The rogue’s gallery includes everything from Thwomps with a bad case of the sniffles, to overweight Goombas sporting lollipops.

From start to finish, Bowser’s Inside Story is an absolute joy to play through. There’s no other RPG on the DS that can offer the same wealth of gameplay, or sustain the high quality. Nintendo may have been perceived by some as having a lacklustre software line-up in 2009, but with games of this calibre can Nintendo fans really complain?