Mario and Luigi: Bower's Inside Story Review
Mario and Bowser's rivalry over Princess Peach goes back almost a quarter century and has served as fertile ground for a bumper crop of successful games. Why then change the formula and make these enemies work together? Does Nintendo's new RPG, Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story finally spell the end of their 25-year feud? It certainly doesn't seem so at first.
When the game starts, Toad Town is beset by an epidemic of the “Blorbs”, a mysterious disease that causes the town's inhabitants to swell up like beach balls and roll around randomly. In the midst of this, bad guy Bowser attacks Peach's castle, only to be thrown out on his ear by Mario and Luigi. Seeking revenge, Bowser falls victim to the schemes of a sinister alien called Fawful who tricks him into eating a mushroom he says will help him beat Mario. Confused yet? Well hold on because it gets even better when Bowser tries to use said mushroom and instead ends up sucking Mario, Luigi, Peach and various other denizens of Toad Town inside his body.
This is where the whole “Inside Story” idea starts to make sense. Half the game is spent walking Mario and Luigi around inside Bowser's roomy insides while the other half is spent stomping Bowser around the Mushroom Kingdom. With three playable characters, the control scheme is surprisingly efficient; Mario and Luigi are controlled with the R button in combination with A and B while Bowser is controlled with the R button/X and Y combo. Though traditionally enemies, these three often work together with Mario and Luigi helping to support whatever it is Bowser's trying to do. For instance, if Bowser's lifting something heavy, Mario and Luigi might give him more strength by stimulating his muscles from inside. Or when Bowser's been crushed and is near death, they can revitalize him accessing the all-important “Rump Command” (insert joke here).
Similarly, Bowser can help Mario and Luigi by altering the state of things within his body. He can drink a lot of water, allowing them to swim through an environment or he can X-ray himself, making platforms and other navigational devices alternately visible or invisible. Ultimately, the three must put aside their differences and work together to stop Fawful's insidious plan, rescue Peach and liberate Bowser's castle from Fawful's alien forces. Bowser's side of things focuses on searching the kingdom and gathering whatever minions that are still loyal to him while Mario and Luigi spend most of their time looking for Peach. Along the way all of them find coins, health items and pieces of stat-raising gear and all of them encounter and fight off a wide array of enemies.
Combat is a large part of the game which is good since it's a big part of the fun. Bowser can punch, breathe fire, inhale enemies and take cover under his shell while Mario and Luigi mostly jump and hit things with hammers. All of them have powerful special attacks they're given or earn by finding Attack Pieces and the variety of attacks keep the combat fresh throughout the game. Bowser's specials largely involve gathering groups of minions and using them as either as air-hockey-style gliding projectiles, walking cannonballs or fiery mushroom meteors. For my money, Mario and Luigi's specials feel more varied and are more powerful and fun. The best are Snack Basket, which has Luigi catching a downpour of donuts and pastries, getting super-fat, being tossed into the air by Mario, then slamming into the ground. Then there's Magic Window, which has the brothers jumping out a disappearing window to bonk enemies on the head.
Boss battles are also a lot of fun but represent serious tests of endurance. They're extremely varied but what they have in common is multiple stages. Players need to be patient and alert because success depends entirely on noting the enemies' “tells” and having the rhythm and reflexes to avoid their attacks. The coolest boss battles in the game are when Bowser's energy surges turn him into a Godzilla-sized monster, taking on giant Transformer-like mechs. During these, the DS is turned sideways and Bowser's attacks are customized to fit the fight. The best part of this is getting to use the DS mic to perform Bowser's fire breath. You have to time your inhale just so, and then keep the exhale going as long as possible if you want to get an “Excellent” rating. In keeping with the usual RPG model, every battle you finish gives you XP which levels you up and heightens your stats. One fun little part of the leveling mechanic is that when you level, you get to choose which of your stats you'd like to heighten even more and then can hit a randomly-spinning meter for the chance of upping that stat up to 7 more points. It sounds like a small thing but it's a lot of fun when you hit a high number; sort of like playing a slot machine and hitting a Jackpot.
While combat's a big part of Bowser's Inside Story, exploration is equally important. The many external and internal environments make for a maze-like world that can be tricky to navigate and the game offers many fun ways to do so. Playing as Mario and Luigi, you can walk and jump but you can also have Luigi make Mario tiny so he can fit into small spaces by hitting him with a hammer. You can put Luigi's hammer to good use again when Mario's wearing a turtle shell (don't ask) by knocking him into levers and switches. Without the hammer, the two of them can stand on one another's shoulders and spin jump across wide gaps, tunnel into the earth and jump to incredible heights—after filling Mario with air of course. Bowser's not quite as well-equipped as the moustachioed men, but he's still fun to play. His sliding punch lets him find items and break through barriers, his body slam lets him activate elevators and switches and he can even roll up walls in his spiked ball form.
However they get there, all the characters have places to go, aliens to see, badges to buy and um...block ladies to massage. In addition to having the predictable destinations like shops to buy gear, powerups and the occasional special power badge, Bowser's Inside Story has some really weird (in a good way) things in store for you. Mario and Luigi encounter an aged koopa named Kuzzle who insists he used to be “hip” back in the day and who will reward them for finding his lost furniture. Then there's Broque Monsieur, an acquaintance of Bowser's who's a talking block with a block-shaped dog, who collects “blitties” which are block-shaped kitties. He's odd enough but his female counterpart, Broque Madame, takes things to the pinnacle of weirdness by insisting when Bowser visits her house in the woods, that he massage her. I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole.
Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is one of the best RPG's out this year. It looks fantastic—the environments inside Bowser's body are especially great—and the writing is hilarious. Alien villain Fawful is particularly funny with his “Engrish” style speech. The wide variety of activities, the fun gameplay and the cute story make for a great gaming experience marred only by the final boss battle which demonstrates something of a difficulty spike and is one of the most exhausting, frustrating battles I've ever played.
Even with this design-misstep, Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is an incredible entertainment value. It looks great, it plays great, and depending on how interested you are in playing all the mini-games and collecting all the stuff, you're looking at 40+ hours of fun-packed gameplay.