Though the games are titled Super Mario Brothers, Mario and Luigi rarely receive the same amount of credit for successful crusades. Mario is apt to obtain the glory while Luigi is regarded as a mere accessory. Exceptions to this rule are the Mario & Luigi role-playing series, which have see the duo engage in crazy antics such as fighting against an evil bean queen and meeting up with their younger selves via time travel.
While those experiences required Nintendo’s dynamic duo to think outside the box in order to achieve success, their latest escapade requires them to not only venture out of said box, but into the bowels of their greatest foe. Such is the premise in Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, the third Mario role-playing game released on a portable system. This newest adventure of the brothers Mario proves to be an enjoyable experience thanks to a mix of innovative gameplay, clean graphics and a sharp sense of humor.
After opening scenes that successfully detail the kingdom’s latest peril, which involves the Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants turning into "blorbs," Mario and Luigi arrive on the scene. However, before they can begin their adventure, Bowser appears to complicate the proceedings. Mario volunteers to take him on, and the game uses this moment to introduce you to the battle system. The combat methods employed by Bowser’s Inside Story favor timing-based attacks and counters that were first established in the intrepid duo’s first adventure and improved upon in its sequel. This emphasis on timing-based actions succeeds in differentiating this game from the majority of turn-based role-playing adventures and lends a scent of freshness to this experience.
Bowser, embarrassed by this defeat, returns to the castle attempting once again to kidnap the princess and overpower Mario. He proves successful this time around, due to his possession of inhalation abilities that would make Kirby jealous. These abilities allow him to not only inhale Mario, but also his brother, the princess and the rest of the kingdom officials.
At this point, it will be up to you to aid Nintendo’s dynamic duo in escaping Bowser’s innards. Adding complications to this mission is the fact that Bowser’s life has taken a turn for the worse, with the same being who granted him his vacuum-like traits possessing designs on taking over the kingdom. With this in mind, you will have to help the brothers escape and help Bowser prove that he is king of the hill.
You will be dividing your time between controlling Nintendo’s intrepid duo and the obstinate Koopa king. Controlling the Mario brothers while inside Bowser will place players in a two-dimensional environment where the portions of Bowser’s body are presented in a similar fashion to levels in a Mario adventure. Enemies are also present throughout, thus removing the stresses of random battles and further distinguishing this game from typical RPGs. As for Bowser, you will be maneuvering him throughout the kingdom as he tries to make sense of his current situation. He can move around the field in three dimensions throughout the various areas of the kingdom, and can defend himself against erstwhile foes through punching or breathing fire. Managing both of these characters is handled with the DS’s control pad and face buttons. While the pad moves the characters, ‘A’ and ‘B’ coordinate the actions of Mario and Luigi, respectively. Bowser’s functions are designated to ‘X’ and ‘Y.’ Both characters will gain new abilities as the adventure progresses, thus ensuring that you will not become too comfortable with a specific set of maneuvers.
One such ability, granted to Bowser, affords him the ability to grow giant. This action requires you to hold the DS as if you were reading a book. Here, Bowser's actions are controlled via the stylus. It makes for a fun challenge as it gives Bowser powers akin to Godzilla and succeeds in adding variety to the proceedings offered in this title.
The audiovisual presentation of this title is well done and consistent with the care that Nintendo frequently dedicates to its flagship franchise. Mario and Luigi animate well and show some clever antics throughout their adventure; this is most apparent through actions such as Luigi’s various displays of cowardice and Bowser’s yells of anger when circumstances do not turn out in his favor. The visual display present mirrors what is present in the duo’s previous adventures, which can be disconcerting considering that the first Mario & Luigi game appeared on the Game Boy Advance. However, while this may make the game appear to have a “last-gen” look to it, the graphics overall are solid, and the locations are varied enough to not feel repetitive through extended exploration.
In terms of audio, Mario and Luigi communicate with the locals, and each other, using the same protracted speech that one would find in games such as Banjo-Kazooie and Henry Hatsworth. Audio highlights do exist, however, particularly in the evil laughs of the main villain, Bowser’s angry roars, the brothers communicating with each other via their names and the princess’ repeated cries of help. These aural touches, coupled with the sharp dialogue, help in adding personality to the title and go a long way in giving the game a strong sense of humor, which is an item that is missing from most games.
This humor, along with the clean graphics and clever battle system, make Mario's latest portable journey one that can be easily recommended. While Mario may be getting old in mascot years, efforts like these prove that he has yet to slow down.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief and Cartoon Violence.