The charm of the Mario & Luigi series are its sprites. They are colorful, lively, and enormously entertaining. Without them, the witty writing would not be the same. The sprites carry more character than most fully rendered, motion captured 3-D models.
The clever uses of animation bring the Mushroom Kingdom to life in a way that is subtle and effective. In one of the earliest cinematics, Mario and Luigi run into Peach’s Castle, Luigi running behind as he lost his shoe. During a long conversation to set up the story, that of the Toad Town inhabitants having a case of the “blorbs,” Luigi sleeps on the table as Mario stands intently, ready to go.
These are the small things that make this series such a joy, and Bowser’s Inside Story is full of them. Likewise, the writing remains top tier, amongst the best in the industry. It is not just the writing but how it is presented, using voice bubbles in imaginative ways such as creating a beat to signify a chant. In many ways, it is more effective than full voice work.
The secondary key to this series is the battle system, retained fully here with few changes. Mario & Luigi sets a standard, a way to play turn-based RPGs that blends the turns, so lulls in action are few. This is an aggressive system, with Mario and Luigi constantly on the offensive through their defense. Battles are tests of strategy, sure, but also of wit, timing, and reflexes. You are in constant control of the characters even when being attacked. Standing around waiting to be hit is never fun, and this series has crafted a means around that classic RPG problem.
A new playable character is Bowser, portrayed here as a lumbering dolt. His castle is overtaken by Fawful, a goofy, quirky villain that seems at home in the Mushroom Kingdom. His wizardry allows Bowser to inhale much of the Kindgom’s inhabitants, including Mario and Luigi.
This splits the game in two, but keeps the halves connected. When Bowser attacks, he may have the chance to inhale enemies, dropping them into his stomach where the heroes take over the fight.
Sadly, Bowser’s Inside Story does not carry enough content to justify its 20+ hour adventure. Areas which Bowser explores are later used as additional challenges for the Mario Brothers. While certain segments are not accessible to Bowser (and vice versa), they maintain the same enemy set and map. It is a wasted opportunity, particularly as many of Bowser’s organs are left either unused or are confined to a single screen. Bowser may have the most illogical innards of any creature, but this still feels lacking.
Likewise, the game becomes redundant, becoming reliant on touch screen-based mini-games. Bowser is able to grow humungous four times in the game, and while the first time was amusing, the second fun, and the third somewhat repetitive, the fourth is a complete waste of time.
The Mushroom Kingdom is rich and diverse, complete with a full class system. The Toad Town shops have requirements to enter, including specific ranks before you’re considered good enough to shop there. It is enlightening to see these touches, expanding the universe of the Mario Brothers, filling in their mythology with smile-inducing content. This is another first-party Nintendo winner, even if the series seems to be waning.
Mario & Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.