Quite possibly the very best the DS has to offer.
There are many things to say about Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. It seems as though every one of the game's elements is incredibly well done, enjoyable, hilarious, and creative. In fact, I will pose no questions concerning the game's quality in this review because that would just feel wrong. Seriously, Bowser's Inside Story is pretty much the best DS game available to date, and is worth owning for just about anyone because just about anyone can find something (or many somethings) to love about it.
Bowser's Inside Story's stage is set when a terrible disease called the Blorbs is spreading throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, causing Toads to inflate and become immobilized by their roundness and sheer size. Interrupting a meeting regarding what action should be taken to fight the disease, Bowser inhales the whole gang: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toadsworth, and others, and then sets out to stop the evil and fury-filled Fawful from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom. The story is great because it's more than the average Bowser-steals-Peach cutscene, and puts more at stake than the Princess' place of residence.
Well, the true reason the story is so great is really because it opens up plenty of opportunity for dialogue. The dialogue is just as brilliantly written as in the original Mario & Luigi game (Superstar Saga), causing the game to be just as hysterically funny as it is fun to play. Bowser's attitude is still cocky and his lines hilarious, and Fawful is probably the funniest villain in the history of video games with his many quotable and laugh-out-loud funny lines. Every character in the game also exemplifies a very particular and acute individuality just by the way their dialogue is written, giving the entire game a strong feeling of charm and personality.
Bowser's Inside Story also has other strong elements to back up its story, the most important of which is the gameplay. Gameplay is split pretty evenly between Bowser and the bros. who are usually inside Bowser. Actual progress is made while playing as Bowser, but on many occasions progress is hampered by some obstacle or injury Bowser is unable to overcome. At that point, it's up to Mario and Luigi to figure out what's wrong with Bowser and how they can fix the issue from inside of him, which involves navigating a 2-D area of Bowser's body and playing a minigame of some kind. This pattern repeats a lot throughout the game but it works very nicely for balance and creativity.
Playing as Bowser is just like playing as the bros. from previous games in the series in that the action is seen with a bird's eye view and 3-D environments. Bowser relies on pure power to get through his sections as he even lacks the ability to jump, resorting to punching and breathing fire. Playing as Bowser is a nice change of pace for the series and even the entire franchise; in fact this game could have just as easily been called 'Bowser's RPG of Awesomeness' (because we all know that's what Bowser would want it to be called).
Gameplay as Mario & Luigi, however, involves navigating through 2-D stages inside Bowser, and this is where the game's creativity really shines. Exploring the vast internal structures of the Koopa King is just plain fun, with fresh, exciting, and creative puzzles awaiting in every area. Usually a 2-D section concludes with a minigame that will help Bowser in some way or another, such as activating his nasal passages to make him sneeze a miniature hurricane or reviving him when he has been crushed by a walking castle (believe it or not, there are actually a few of these in the game).
Battles are as fun as they have ever been in a Mario RPG. The turn based system works wonderfully as always, granting players the ability to block or dodge enemy attacks and increase attack damage with precisely timed button presses. This timing element is enhanced in this game with a few levels of attack ratings that depend on exactness and do more damage. Bowser has the ability to punch, breathe fire, and summon minions for touch screen controlled attacks that are fun and effective. Mario and Luigi can jump, use a hammer, or team up for bros. attacks. These attacks still aren't quite as epic as they were in Superstar Saga, but they are certainly very creative with attacks that fire the bros. out of cannons and bash enemies with meteors. There are even several scenarios where Bowser can inhale an enemy for Mario and Luigi to fight inside of him, which links the two major parts of the game together nicely. Battles are great fun just as they have always been in the Mario & Luigi games, and the new levels of precision and ability to play as Bowser keeps it fresh. Bowser's Inside Story's gameplay is outstanding both in and outside of battle.
Bowser's Inside Story also addresses a common grievance players had with its DS predecessor, Partners in Time, and that is the implementation of the DS' unique capabilities. Bowser's Inside Story is made much more as a DS game than Partners in Time was, using the touch screen in many creative ways. The minigames that aid Bowser are always unique and only have one or two slight control issues. Bowser also fights a few battles that are played holding the DS sideways and use the touch screen for command inputs, and these fights are totally epic and fun due to the sheer size of Bowser and the enemy and just how well they are executed on the part of the game developers. The DS' other unique features are also used well, such as the mike (used to breathe fire in the epic Bowser battles) and the other screen (used as a map).
The quest to defeat Fawful's easily takes more than 20 hours. The game seems quite long, but when it ends players should find themselves wishing there was more. Unfortunately there really isn't more, and the game isn't terribly challenging to boot, but Bowser's Inside Story is definitely a game to replay just because of how fun it is. The game's epic moments and loads of chortles will certainly keep me coming back to it every once in a while as long as my DS still works.
The graphics in the game aren't amazingly detailed, but they are lively, colorful, and charming. The vibrant use of color helps make it pleasing to the eye and the sharpness of all the objects and animations is fantastic too. The graphics also do a great job of displaying the game's awesome sense of humor, giving every character a unique and likable expression. In the end, Bowser's Inside Story's graphics enhance the game's other fantastic elements even if they aren't completely amazing in and of themselves.
Bowser's Inside Story has some great sound effects and music that also contribute their fair share to the game's overall impression. The sound effects are nice and fit where they're placed, and there are even several occasions where a character will say a line verbally. These moments totally confirm suspicions players should already have about what these characters sound like as they fit perfectly to their personality as revealed in the dialogue. The music is also great, with plenty of fun and catchy tunes that go along with the action wonderfully.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is simply fantastic, and a complete redemption for the series after Partners in Time, which some players did not particularly enjoy. It brings the series back to the legendary status of the original Mario & Luigi game, almost surpassing it as greatest handheld game ever made. That, in my opinion, makes it the second best handheld game ever made, and the best DS game on the market. Just go and buy it now, because a DS owner's collection is simply incomplete if this hilarious, creative, and incredibly fun game is not in it.
+ Delightfully quirky story and hilarious dialogue
+ Fawful is the main villain (this game has FURY!!!)
+ Wonderful sense of personality
+ Playing as Bowser is a nice change of pace
+ Many large areas to explore with very creative puzzles
+ Outstanding gameplay in and outside of battle
+ The DS' capabilities are very well implemented
+ Lengthy quest that is tons of fun all throughout
+ Graphics and sound perfectly translate the game's personality
- A little too easy