Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, like its RPG predecessors, takes the fever dream that is the Mario Universe, with its playfully absurd landscapes and characters, and gives it a pulse; an evolution of sorts. Its story and pacing isn’t the greatest, but it’s the elaboration on the ideas put forth that make this game great.
Bowser’s Inside Story sees the return of Fawful, the parodically stiff villain, and he’s more meticulously insane than ever. His latest maniacal bout for power is the setup for the game’s biggest hook; when he tricks the oafish Bowser into eating a vacuum mushroom, leaving him no choice but to inhale everything, including our Mustachioed bros. Knowing that the Mushroom Kingdom’s guardians have been disposed of (for the time being, at least), Fawful sets his plan into motion, leaving the Brothers Mario to pull the strings of the reptilian lout of a puppet, Bowser, into action.
As has been a staple of nearly all of Ninty’s RPG endeavors, the combat is a perfect hybrid of standard turn- based combat and a contextual countering and attacking system through timed and measured button presses. The brothers still vary in attack with their jumping and hammering abilities, and their bevvy of outlandish special moves; an element virtually unchanged. Yet, with Bowser now in the mix, pummeling, incinerating, even imbibing your foes adds even more variety and fun to the combat. What’s most interesting though, is how Bowser’s ‘ Inhale’ ability tangibly links him to Mario and Luigi. Besides potentially inflicting an ailment upon his foe, like expelling a lakitu from its cloud, Bowser can soften up and consume, and let the brothers dispatch them from the inside. Mind you, this is an alternative way to combat, but one that demands better management of your turns, and makes for an even more engaging experience.
Making the experience all the more splendid is another stellar soundtrack from lauded videogame composer, Yoko Shimomura(Kingdom Hearts series, Breath of Fire, Street Fighter II). It’s a score that speaks of playful adaptation, where the overworld is predominantly full of natural wind and percussive instruments, and the innards of Bowser are a lot more synthesized and distant.
The story is more coherent and interesting than the series’ last iteration, but the it begins to wear thin, and the pacing drags it out a bit longer than I felt was necessary. Yet, as is the case with good ‘ole Ninty, the masterful execution of its gameplay components keeps you going.The hits, the counters, the pre-emptive strikes, the elation of leveling up, all feel tactile and rewarding.There are mystical macguffins to collect, beans to uproot and brew, and Blitties( adorable little ‘?’ block kitties) to wrangle, all with meaningful(though optional) incentives for entry.
What Alpha Dream has created with this series is something that’s indellible, challenging, and compelling; an RPG-formula that seems conducive to the habits of our plumbers and their fun-loving ways. The perfect portable adventure.