Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside StoryESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
It has been quite a few years since I have picked up a Mario game. Not since the days of the NES have I played a Mario and Luigi game to the point where my fingers were raw. Sure I have picked up the odd one here and there; but for the most part it's been along absence. So when our Editor in Chief handed over Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story for the DS, as he was too swamped with other reviews, I was curious to see how far along our favourite plumbers has come in all these years. Well after some extended playtime with Bowser's Inside Story I have to say this RPG has many enjoyable moments and one thing is for certain fans of Mario RPG’s will undoubtedly embrace this latest instalment.
As with many of the Mario games released for the DS, or games of that ilk, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is a sharp looking game. Staying true to the Mario brand, this game is a visual treat and really manages to jump off the screen; especially on the DSi's brighter screens. Everything just seems crisp and the character models are nicely detailed. Not to mention they are very recognizable and fans will find all the characters adorable. The presentation of the game is also well done as it is very easy to navigate through all the various screens and menus. The environments are very colourful and the level of detail is impressive considering the limitations of the hardware. Each level is based on very recognizable perils of the Mario universe and any fan of Nintendo, from diehard to casual, will recognize so much from games of past. All in all, Bowser’s Inside Story is easy on the eyes and I have no major complaints with the game graphical look.
Bowser’s Inside Story also manages to hit the sound department on the right note. The sound effects are, for the lack of a better word, very Mario-esque. The games musical score has a very familiar ring to it. It can become somewhat repetitive but it never seems to get annoying like so many other DS games where the soundtrack loops over and over. The limited vocalizations do a good job but at times Mario can be difficult to hear and I often wished some of the endless text could be replaced by some actual voice acting. That being said, considering the limitations of the DS/DSi's hardware, incorporating a great deal of voice work in an RPG is often difficult to accomplish, or so I am told. All in all I would say that the sound manages to help one enjoy this game that much more.
A mysterious infection called "The Blorbs" is taking over the Mushroom Kingdom. This unknown virus causes the Toads to inflate like giant balloons and roll around uncontrollably. For some reason humans like Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach are not affected by the Blorbs disease. A council meeting, which includes Mario and Luigi, is called to discuss what can be done about to curb the infectious virus. While this is occurring, Bowser enters Princess Peach's castle and tries to kidnap her once again, but Mario manages to fend him off. After his defeat Bowser wakes up in a mystic forest where a mysterious figure feeds him a Lucky Mushroom. This mushroom unknowingly gives him the ability to inhale objects into his stomach including miniaturized people. Unbeknownst to Bowser, the mysterious figure turns out to be a villain known as Fawful who brainwashes Bowser and sends him to Peach's castle, where he swallows all the Mushroom Kingdom’s council members, including our heroes Mario and Luigi. As a result, the famed duo must work alongside Bowser from within his body in order to find a way out, defeat Fawful, and rescue Princess Peach.
Overall the storyline is not that bad and it certainly makes for some enjoyable and, dare I say it, cute moments. The endless amount of text with meaningless banter between characters can grate you at times, but it drastically reduces after the first hour of gameplay. The game does a nice job telling the story as there are some pretty funny moments. All in all I give the story high marks in terms of originality and keeping my interest up.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is unlike many other Mario games I have played in the past as this is primarily Role Playing Game. I have never been much of an RPG guy so this game did take some getting used to in terms of its pace and gameplay style. Clearly younger Mario fans (e.g. 10 and under) will likely want to avoid this one but more mature gamers, and Mario or RPG fans alike, will most likely enjoy Bowser’s Inside Story. The pace is much slower than your typical Mario 2D platformer/action game as it is more about developing the storyline and methodically eliminating the various enemies you are presented with. The game also has a large exploration element to it as well. Bottomline, those looking for some frantic non-stop Mario bashing will not get it here as the RPG elements are the focus of the gameplay.
As you proceed through the game you end up being able to play with all three characters: Mario, Luigi and Bowser, but make no question about it Bowser steals the show. About half of the game is spent controlling Bowser on the DS’s upper screen as you play with him in a top down view. Mario and Luigi play the majority of the game in the lower screen in their traditional side scrolling manner. As you progress along in the game you jump back and forth between the upper and lower screens. The developers were able to make one feel in total control by utilizing the dual-screens of the DS. By doing this the DS's hardware and features are really showcased as Bower’s Inside Story could not have been done on any other portable console.
Learning all the various moves with all three characters is nicely laid out as well. Bowser’s Inside Story features a very gradual tutorial where you learn all the characters many moves progressively. Veterans of the Mario RPG games will be pleased to learn they can skip some of the games tutorials, but for myself I loved the ability to learn and relearn some of the various commands and controls over and over.
As with most RPG's Bowser’s Inside Story has a great deal of exploration, puzzles, and turn based battles. Even some of the famed Mario elements are left in the game such as jumping or head-bonking blocks in mid-air. The battles are turn based and initiated by touching enemies. One of the few drawbacks to the game can be the many battles Mario and Luigi initiate. This has a tendency to slow down the game and turns what could be a 10 to 12 hour single player experience into a 20 to 25 hour one. That being said, the many battles are enjoyable; it just can be overkill.
The ways in which you can dispose of the various enemies in Bowser’s Inside Story is a treat as it leaves you in complete control. Mario & Luigi fight together while Bowser in the top screen fights alone. Bowser’s battles are certainly one of the highlights of the game. For example, during your adventure you will be queued to turn the DS on its side, like a book, and then play out one of Bowser’s large scale battles. Using the stylus pen, Bowser smashes his enemies and the results are satisfying. It is nothing too complicated but the way the developers tie in the two screens is very slick and almost worth the price of the game alone.
Overall, I found the computer AI to be quite competent. At first I was getting through battles quite easily, but as time wore on, and I got deeper into the story, the struggle to get through the various fights ramped up and it became a fair challenge. Most enemies will have a pattern of attack which can be easy to figure out and there is the addition of a counterattack which adds more strategy to the overall fight. Boss battles are also fierce and there were many occasions that I became frustrated and had to take a break from the game.
As noted, Bowser’s Inside Story is an RPG and as is typical with these types of games you will earn experience that will help you rank up your characters. Levelling up your player will allow Mario, Luigi, or Bowser to equip more items, buy more equipment, and possibly earn a new item. There are six ranks for Mario and Luigi, starting from "Mushroom Rank" up to "Rainbow Rank", and there are four ranks for Bowser, starting from "Bronze Boss Rank" up to "Last Boss Rank". All in all, it is a pretty slick ranking up system which gives the game that addictive element.
I should also mention that there have been quite a few mini-games added to the game as well. Mini-games include such ones as the "arm power-up" where Mario and Luigi hit spark-like items to strengthen Bowser's arms, the "leg power-up" where Mario and Luigi stomp on leg muscle to strengthen Bowser's legs to "stomach digestion" where Mario and Luigi digest the food that Bowser eats.
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