I don't like it. But I keep playing it.

I'm talking about Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the next in a now long line of RPG's to feature the brothers and probably Nintendo's flagship DS title for the holiday season. Each of the three handheld titles have seen near universal acclaim from critics, lauding the great writing, varied gameplay mechanics and interesting mix of interactive battles and puzzle/platform level design. So maybe it's just me. But fuck, this is just not a fun game to play. And yet I am.
 

For some background I never played the SNES RPG, adored the N64 and GC Paper Marios, and went from mild enjoyment to pure hate for the game that is unfortunately most like Bowser's Inside Story, 2005's Partners In Time. It's clear to me now that enjoying the console vision of a Mario RPG does not guarantee that the handheld games will scratch that same itch. This starts with the stupid idea that you have to control Mario and Luigi simultaneously. Hitting two buttons to jump is *not* a fun mechanic, especially when it often results in one person falling offscreen and starting over whatever platforming sequence happens to be in the way. Additional moves like a hammer hit, drill and tornado spin are only needed in obvious situations and feel cumbersome to cycle through. Sitting through their little "baddabeep baddaboop" "waaaaa" shtick is neither funny or charming at this point. In fact, nearly everything that I've done with the brothers so far has been a chore, a slog, etc.  
 
Battles work similarly no matter who you're controlling, and if you've played a Mario RPG you know how this works. It's still a good mix of action and turn based combat, but there is little new to make veterans stand up and take notice. For me Bowser's battles fare much better due to his overpowered nature and entertaining special moves. In fact the game shines when Bowser takes center stage as he's given a wonderful characterization, and that is really the only thing propelling me through the game right now. But even Bowser segments suffer from uninspired overworld design and a constant need to switch back to the brothers for either a mindless and oft-repeatable minigame or to grind all progress to a halt so 10 puzzle pieces can be collected. 
 
These puzzle piece segments, which should be standout parts of a game like this, are so annoying that they result in me contemplating "why am I doing this? who gives a shit?" which I guess can be said for most games, but it takes something especially numbing to really bring that out. They started harmless enough when you explore an area to hit a few blocks, but the sequences keep popping up and they've quickly become dreadful and momentum killing. Arriving out of nowhere, forcing me through bad, confusing platforming (remember, two buttons to jump) for something that serves no real purpose other than to give me a new special move that I'll rarely use anyway. I'm in one now that is particularly painful and it's making me think of quitting the title altogether. 
 
ugh. 
The other supposed highlight of the series, the script, comes with a lot of caveats as well. Sure it's highly localized and can be entertaining, but there is waaaay too much of it. You can't take two steps (or two screens) without more bubbles of speech being thrown at you, forcing you to push A to advance over and over and over again. But rarely is it in the good, Persona 4 kind of charming way - usually it's for more tutorials, more inane back and forth with this Chippy guy (who is basically a Navi so far), and just an overload of words that feels like padding more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, there are some grin worthy moments here and there, but the game thinks it's way funnier than it is with all the accents and colloquialisms it throws around.  
 
So why am I playing it and writing so much about it? Well, it's a good way to fall asleep or pass the time during a poop. Do some stuff, gain a level, hit a save block and be done. For an RPG it works surprisingly well in short bursts, unless that short burst happens to be one of the text heavy or tutorial sequences. It also has a nice clean look to it, even if that look is pretty generic. The turn based battles are engaging and the charm is there, at times. And since travel has kept me away from consoles, sometimes portable gaming is the only option for me. But I can't say I recommend it, not to fans of Paper Marios, not to detractors of Parters in Time that heard this one is better. It's only marginally so, and in ways that don't address the main issues that game had. At least the babies are seemingly gone forever. So, thanks for that Nintendo? But next time, maybe rethink this whole Mario & Luigi thing. It isn't clicking, at least not for me.
Start the Conversation
1 Comments
Posted by megalowho

I'm talking about Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, the next in a now long line of RPG's to feature the brothers and probably Nintendo's flagship DS title for the holiday season. Each of the three handheld titles have seen near universal acclaim from critics, lauding the great writing, varied gameplay mechanics and interesting mix of interactive battles and puzzle/platform level design. So maybe it's just me. But fuck, this is just not a fun game to play. And yet I am.
 

For some background I never played the SNES RPG, adored the N64 and GC Paper Marios, and went from mild enjoyment to pure hate for the game that is unfortunately most like Bowser's Inside Story, 2005's Partners In Time. It's clear to me now that enjoying the console vision of a Mario RPG does not guarantee that the handheld games will scratch that same itch. This starts with the stupid idea that you have to control Mario and Luigi simultaneously. Hitting two buttons to jump is *not* a fun mechanic, especially when it often results in one person falling offscreen and starting over whatever platforming sequence happens to be in the way. Additional moves like a hammer hit, drill and tornado spin are only needed in obvious situations and feel cumbersome to cycle through. Sitting through their little "baddabeep baddaboop" "waaaaa" shtick is neither funny or charming at this point. In fact, nearly everything that I've done with the brothers so far has been a chore, a slog, etc.  
 
Battles work similarly no matter who you're controlling, and if you've played a Mario RPG you know how this works. It's still a good mix of action and turn based combat, but there is little new to make veterans stand up and take notice. For me Bowser's battles fare much better due to his overpowered nature and entertaining special moves. In fact the game shines when Bowser takes center stage as he's given a wonderful characterization, and that is really the only thing propelling me through the game right now. But even Bowser segments suffer from uninspired overworld design and a constant need to switch back to the brothers for either a mindless and oft-repeatable minigame or to grind all progress to a halt so 10 puzzle pieces can be collected. 
 
These puzzle piece segments, which should be standout parts of a game like this, are so annoying that they result in me contemplating "why am I doing this? who gives a shit?" which I guess can be said for most games, but it takes something especially numbing to really bring that out. They started harmless enough when you explore an area to hit a few blocks, but the sequences keep popping up and they've quickly become dreadful and momentum killing. Arriving out of nowhere, forcing me through bad, confusing platforming (remember, two buttons to jump) for something that serves no real purpose other than to give me a new special move that I'll rarely use anyway. I'm in one now that is particularly painful and it's making me think of quitting the title altogether. 
 
ugh. 
The other supposed highlight of the series, the script, comes with a lot of caveats as well. Sure it's highly localized and can be entertaining, but there is waaaay too much of it. You can't take two steps (or two screens) without more bubbles of speech being thrown at you, forcing you to push A to advance over and over and over again. But rarely is it in the good, Persona 4 kind of charming way - usually it's for more tutorials, more inane back and forth with this Chippy guy (who is basically a Navi so far), and just an overload of words that feels like padding more than anything else. Don't get me wrong, there are some grin worthy moments here and there, but the game thinks it's way funnier than it is with all the accents and colloquialisms it throws around.  
 
So why am I playing it and writing so much about it? Well, it's a good way to fall asleep or pass the time during a poop. Do some stuff, gain a level, hit a save block and be done. For an RPG it works surprisingly well in short bursts, unless that short burst happens to be one of the text heavy or tutorial sequences. It also has a nice clean look to it, even if that look is pretty generic. The turn based battles are engaging and the charm is there, at times. And since travel has kept me away from consoles, sometimes portable gaming is the only option for me. But I can't say I recommend it, not to fans of Paper Marios, not to detractors of Parters in Time that heard this one is better. It's only marginally so, and in ways that don't address the main issues that game had. At least the babies are seemingly gone forever. So, thanks for that Nintendo? But next time, maybe rethink this whole Mario & Luigi thing. It isn't clicking, at least not for me.