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Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
System: DS :: Rating: Everyone :: Players: 1
Genre: Action RPG :: Released: 14 September 2009

By Aaron Robinson
11 February 2010 Considering all the bitching I've done about my waning interest in RPGs, it's always nice to play something that completely exceeds my expectations of the genre. Bowser's Inside Story the third entry in a series of handheld RPGs by AlphaDream is a game that does just that. It's been a long time since I've played any RPG that's as energetic and genuinely funny as this. If you're looking for something serious, strategic, and open, you're probably going to be a little disappointed with what Bowser's Inside Story has to offer. But if you're looking for something with a lot of variety, a fun combat system, and some surprisingly over-the-top set pieces, it's a good place to start.

Summarizing the story is no easy feat. Basically Fawful, a recurring character in the Mario & Luigi series, has decided to take control of the Mushroom Kingdom. One of his most mischievous acts is tricking Bowser into eating a dangerous mushroom by convincing him it will make him stronger. In reality, the mushroom makes Bowser randomly inhale everything around him, including Mario and Luigi. But the two brothers aren't about to let the fact that they're trapped inside the hotheaded King of Koopas get them down. They start fixing Bowser from the inside, slowly making him stronger, as Bowser sets his sights on an increasingly powerful Fawful.

You'll spend most of the game switching between playing Bowser and the brothers. Whenever Bowser comes across an area he can't advance through, Mario and Luigi are tasked with finding a problem area in his body and fixing it up. This is mainly done through mini-games, like jumping on Bowser's muscles to make him stronger, or hitting pollen into the walls of his nose. These were a bit of a sticking point for me, since a few of them were a lot more difficult than I was anticipating. But in general, they're fun and add some variety to the gameplay. One thing I really liked was how exploring Bowser's body was handled in 2D, making it feel a bit like a traditional Mario platformer, while exploring was handled in 3D.

Much like the recent Batman: Arkham Asylum and Shadow Complex, Bowser's Inside Story takes its skill progression from the Metroid series. When you're exploring an area for the first time, you'll often come across places you can't reach with your current abilities. This is either because you'll get the ability later, or because you need to control another character. Bowser, for example, is great at destroying things and stomping on buttons, but not so great at jumping or digging. Those are tasks that can only be accomplished by Mario and Luigi. It's a clever idea that makes exploration a lot more interesting, even when you're retreading areas you've visited as a different character.

The battle system went a long way towards selling me on the game. It might be the only turn-based RPG I've played where you can go through nearly every battle without receiving damage. It's a fairly straightforward system; every enemy you fight telegraphs their attacks and leaves a window for you to react. Provided that you can press the appropriate button at the appropriate time, you'll either counter or dodge that attack. In addition, your own attacks are vastly improved by timed button presses, and special attacks require you to put in some pretty elaborate button combinations. Even though the combat isn't particularly deep or strategic, it's still incredibly addicting, and it really does require your full attention.

I have nothing but kind words for the people who animated this game. Everything about Bowser's Inside Story feels lively; the way the characters move in battle, the overdone expressions during conversations, and I especially liked the bits of humor between the brothers. There are a few scenes where the two will try to solve a problem by unconventional methods, often at the expense of Luigi. Some of the power-ups the two have are fun, like having Luigi squash Mario with a hammer so he can fit into tight spaces. It's just nice to play a game where humor permeates almost every part of the gameplay.

I do have a few complaints. The dialog, in general, is pretty great, but there are so many wacky characters with so much to say that it all feels like a bit much at times. I can deal with a main villain that speaks in broken English, and a French vendor that's shaped like a box. But the globins in Bowser's body that replace various words with "globin," like they're Smurfs? After a while, things like that start to lose their charm. Be prepared to spend a good chunk of the game in tutorials, too. There's a lot to learn here, and the game will hold your hand every step of the way. When I first got a taste of freedom, I was actually a little shocked, since I was getting used to being herded from place to place without much input. It's a bit of a shame, since my favorite moments in the game only really came about once it let me do my own thing.

Bowser's Inside Story is interesting in that its greatest strengths are what separates it from what you'd typically expect out of an RPG. Resource management isn't a big issue. Combat is much more about reflexes than strategy. And the game is rarely, if ever, serious. No, Bowser's Inside Story is just concerned with being a fun ride, and it succeeds with flying colors. There's so much more stuff I want to talk about, but in the off chance that you actually decide to buy this game because of this review, I'd want you to experience it firsthand. It's just that good.

Final Grade: 9/10


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