Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story - Staff Review  

The Fantastic Voyage
by Mike Moehnke

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Silly, whimsical, and very entertaining dialogue
+ Great variety in play styles and mini-games
- ...A few of which aren't much fun
+ Excellent sprite work and enjoyable sounds
- Playing with Mario and Luigi is similar to earlier games
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   Strange as it is to think about now, there was once a time when putting Mario into an RPG was an innovative concept. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is the seventh RPG starring Nintendo's mascot, and it marks the first time a Nintendo console has been graced with two of them. I cannot say whether Bowser's Inside Story is the best Mario RPG yet, because I have not played all of them, but it is definitely the best Mario & Luigi game, and a lot of fun while it lasts.

   Like the two Mario & Luigi games preceding it, Bowser's Inside Story features the two most famous plumbers in the video game world stomping on lots of enemies. Veterans of those prior Mario & Luigi games will be on familiar ground here, because the brothers play similarly to how they have in the past. Platforming elements play a big role in exploration, and in actual combat good reaction time by the player can theoretically result in never taking a hit by dodging or counterattacking every strike. Unless one possesses incredible skill, this is an unlikely event, but the prospect does exist. The brothers gain skills for accessing new areas as the game proceeds, many of which have been seen in previous Mario & Luigi games. If one of them manages to hit the visible enemies damage will be dealt prior to turn-based combat being entered, and the enemies can do the same. Though entertaining, Mario and Luigi's adventures are familiar territory.

   Playing as Bowser is unfamiliar, however. He controls similarly to the brothers, wandering around the landscape and engaging unruly mobs that seek his destruction. Unlike the Mario brothers, Bowser is not a serial jumper, so his battles differ. Able to block by retreating into his shell and to counterattack by punching, Bowser is incredibly enjoyable to play as. He also gains the ability to inhale smaller enemies, which must be battled by the Mario brothers inside his gut before returning to the exterior conflict, which is a unique and welcome method of broadening combat's scope.

   A number of mini-games must be completed as the game continues, wherein quick reaction time and/or the stylus must be employed. Most of these mini-games are fun, and they can be replayed later for a better completion time or score, but a couple are very temperamental. The only penalty for failure is the loss of a small monetary sum, and they can be retried as many times as is necessary.

A harbinger of future events, there will soon be a Luigi baloon in the Macy A harbinger of future events, there will soon be a Luigi balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

   Mario games are known for tight control, and Bowser's Inside Story does not disappoint. Moving around the environments is easy to do, and jumping is responsive. Menus are easy to navigate, equipment displays its effects prior to completing a purchase in shops, and demos for special attacks are accessible outside of combat at any time. The special attacks used by the brothers and Bowser either depend on quick button presses or fast stylus application, and work well in both cases.

   Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story begins like dozens of other Mario games, with Bowser trying to kidnap Princess Peach. Upon his inevitable defeat, Bowser eats a mushroom offered by an unusually speaking stranger, and returns to the Mushroom Kingdom to try his luck again. This mushroom proves to enable enormous suction by Bowser's lungs, and he inhales all the people in Peach's castle. Mario and Luigi get to explore Bowser's innards, all according to the whims of evil (but amusing) mastermind Fawful.

   Fawful is a most captivating villain to watch, as his distinctive speech patterns from Mario & Luigi are present in full. There are lengthy stretches of the game where Fawful is not around, though, and Nintendo's localization team deserves credit for the consistently witty writing to be found throughout. The story is least interesting when it reverts to the cliché of a great power that Fawful is seeking to unearth, but taking itself seriously is fortunately not something this game ever does.

In addition to being excellent, this game is also worthy. In addition to being excellent, this game is also worthy.

   At a casual glance, this game does not appear dazzling in the visual realm. Watching it in motion shows that these are some of the most smoothly animated sprites ever made, with bright colors and more frames of animation than sprites usually receive. Bowser's Inside Story may not initially appear to look stunning, but seeing it in motion makes clear that this game is a graphical tour de force.

   The music may not be Yoko Shimomura's greatest, but that is meant more as a comment on the consistently high quality of her work instead of a criticism of this particular score. The music is quite effective, and a nice touch is having a remix of whatever theme Bowser is currently hearing be played if the action switches to the Mario brothers inside of him. The voice clips are limited but engaging.

   Around twenty hours is how long the game requires to complete, though it is certainly possible to take longer if the player finds the ancillary tasks entertaining. Mario and Luigi's portions seem a bit more challenging than Bowser's, but unless one has awful reflexes none of the game is difficult. For the few battles that might prove daunting, a special item that allows the player to retry instead of getting a game over is present. This item is available in limited quantities, but the risk of actually using all of them is infinitesimal.

   Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is unlikely to change the minds of those who have never thought much of the series. Instead, it plays to the strengths of the franchise, and the result is a game that is a lot of fun while it lasts. In the library of DS titles for 2009, this game deserves to be remembered.

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