Get to Know Bowser Inside and Out with a Solid RPG for the DS
One of the strongest elements of the Mario & Luigi series is how it combines a ridiculous plot and a self-awareness that generates a lot of humor as the adventure unfolds. Bowser's Inside Story is really no different as its claim to fame is the dual nature between playing the Mario Bros. and big ol' Bowser. This time they take a page from Innerspace and kick off a journey to the center of the Koopa King. Basically, it says what it does on the tin. You'll be switching between the Bros. and Bowser, solving puzzles, fighting enemies, and getting to the bottom of the latest plot to overthrow the Mushroom Kingdom. It actually works pretty well and they pack in a lot to do as the story unfolds.
The story is appropriately crazy and the kind of thing you'd expect from a Mario & Luigi title. Since anyone and their mother can knock over the Mushroom Kingdom, Fawful decides to throw his hat in and give it a try. Some might remember him from Superstar Saga but it's not necessary to the plot. It starts out with some epidemic turning Toads into giant round bowling balls, but that quickly gets sidetracked when Bowser steals the show. He eats a strange mushroom, and then he tries to eat half the Mushroom Kingdom along with the Mario Bros. and anyone important to the plot. You could make a lot of jokes and references on that alone, but I'll leave it to much greater people than I.
The buttons on the DS are assigned to each character. Bowser takes command of the X and Y buttons, while Mario and Luigi are A and B respectively. It makes it really easy to switch between Bowser and the Bros. when you get into some of the puzzles where you have to work back and forth repeatedly to get anywhere. While Bowser is all about breaking stuff and burning fools, the Mario Bros. play in a 2D platforming style as they navigate his insides. There are also plenty of opportunities to use the stylus with some mini-games and Bowser's special attacks. Some of these work better than others and a couple are really frustrating until you get the handle of it. They aren't bad, but it's not something you'll want to come back to again and again. Luckily they space these out well enough so it's not tedious.
This game has all the RPG staples. You get experience, buy gear and level up. But the main difference between an average RPG adventure and this game is the importance of timed button presses. If you go all the way back to the first Mario RPG made by Square this won't be anything new. Basically, every attack can be improved by pressing a button at the right time. It's all about timing. Sometimes it adds another strike, or increases damage. This also works for avoiding enemy attacks. Newcomers to the system might need some time getting used to it, but it's a lot of fun and battles become more about skill than crunching numbers. Granted, some fights you can get through without getting hit. But enemy attacks get trickier and crazier as the game goes on. Bottom line, you have to be on your toes.
The game's art style is top notch, but if you've played the other Mario & Luigi games it might see more of the same. The sprites work well, especially on some of the stranger characters you encounter. Environments are varied and it's pretty good about avoiding cliché checklist areas like a fire world or an ice world. Granted, you still get a beach area and a forest area, but they do their jobs. The music is okay and there is a limited amount of voice acting but it's not much more than saying names like Mario, Luigi, and Bowser's limited vocabulary when he isn't growling. It's a minor issue. You'll either find it annoying or forgettable.
The biggest problem with Bowser's Inside Story is how it starts off with an interesting premise along with a crazy story and then quickly loses steam. It's hard to go into this without spoiling things, but they took a lot of potential and boiled it down to some pretty uninspiring conclusions. Granted, the story never takes itself too seriously to cripple the game. But the last boss is nothing memorable. The good part is that the game play holds up throughout the experience, and there are plenty of things to do on your way to the end of the game.