Bowser... the underdog?
AlphaDream is an extremely talented group of former Squaresoft employees led by the directors of the original Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (Super Nintendo). The Mario RPG games are known for mixing the jumping of Mario with traditional RPG elements. It’s a surprisingly good mash-up, and there have been several games made to take advantage of the formula. Each game in the Mario & Luigi series has added a new twist, and in Bowser’s Inside Story it’s the addition of Bowser as a playable character. You’ll control the Mario Bros too, but most of the time they’re stuck inside Bowser’s guts.
The basic premise of the game is that Bowser inhales Mario & Luigi just as Fawful (the hilarious villain from the earlier games) is scheming to take over the world. That leaves Bowser to defend both the Mushroom and Koopa Kingdoms from Fawful’s menace. The series’ trademark humor is present and accounted for, including Fawful’s delightfully broken English which reads a bit like a foreign accent. With Bowser in the leading role, we are treated to more than just the villainous princess-napper side of him. He’s a big lovable brute, and you can’t help but feel bad for him when his own minions start taking orders from Fawful instead. It’s a far cry from the genre norm, which can be nice from time to time.
Switching between Bowser and the digesting Mario Bros is quick and instantaneous. At times you’ll need to coordinate what Bowser is doing in order to better explore his guts. In one example, drinking from a fountain causes Bowser to fill up with water allowing the Mario Bros to swim; when you stop drinking the water level recedes again. Basically each area inside of Bowser’s body is filled with puzzle-platforming challenges or mini-games that help boost Bowser’s adrenaline or pump up his muscles.
Taking a cue from Godzilla (or should that be Gamera?), sometimes Bowser will get so pumped up that he’ll grow to enormous size to take on foes that dwarf skyscrapers. These particular battles make use of the touch screen and microphone exclusively, and help to mix things up a bit. They’re not particularly challenging, but they require a different sort of strategy than the typical battles.
Similar to the Mother series there are no random encounters, and you can win the advantage by bopping enemies to engage them. On the flip side if you slip up and let them get the upper hand, you’ll enter the battle stunned and open to their attacks.
The battle system reinvigorates the old turn-based formula with alternating rounds of timing-based attack and evasion. Instead of simply trading damage with enemies until one side wins, you can add emphasis to an attack by hitting the button again at the moment of impact, and avoid enemy attacks altogether with proper timing and good reflexes. Enemies will subtly telegraph their offensive strategy, and with careful observation you’ll know whether they’ll be targeting Mario or Luigi, allowing you to focus on that split-second moment when you need to hit a button to dodge or deflect the attack. Eventually you’ll be finishing off foes left and right without taking so much as a scratch, which is much more interactive and satisfying than typical RPGs.
Each special attack in your arsenal adds even more flair to combat, playing a bit like a short mini-game where you have to tap buttons in precise combination or flick the touch screen. Bowser can even inhale certain enemies and let the Mario Bros finish them off inside his stomach.
Instead of going with low resolution 3D models, the game is presented in crisp and colorful 2D. The characters have extremely fluid and expressive animations which are perfectly suited to the comical nature of the game. For example, when one of the Mario Bros kicks the bucket, he’ll slump over on the ground. To revive him, the remaining Bro jumps over to his sibling and forcibly stuffs a 1-up mushroom down their throat. And the game is full of that sort of thing. It’s just extremely polished, charming, and entertaining to watch in action.
AlphaDream’s third stab at Mario & Luigi doesn’t disappoint. All of the best bits that were already working are included, those that weren’t have been fixed, and some new ideas are worked in to great effect. It’s hard to find fault in the game’s execution besides a few very minor details which don’t really detract from the experience, and everything is simple and user-friendly. The comical dialogue and absurd situations help propel the adventure along at a good clip, and there’s between 20-25 hours of content to be enjoyed. If you own a DS, and want a game that is simply entertaining from start to finish, you really can’t go wrong with this one.
This review is a repost from my website: www.plasticpals.com