Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story - Staff Review  

Bowser Is the King
by Michael "Macstorm" Cunningham

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
20-40 Hours
+ Bowser steals the show
+ Lots of variety in gameplay
+ Cute, quirky story and dialogue
- Not enough Bowser
- Mini-games are annoying
- Takes a great deal of coordination
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   When thinking of Mario, rarely do we imagine anything serious. This is especially true of the two Mario RPG series, Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi, as both of these are rather tongue-in-cheek. Thankfully, Nintendo, along with developer AlphaDream, has continued the tradition of blending over-the-top humor into the Mario universe with its latest release Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.

   As expected, this installment features the two most famous plumbers in all of video games returning again to save the Mushroom Kingdom. This time they are not alone as Bowser becomes an unwitting participant in their fight to save the world. The big, blundering Koopa lets his hubris get the best of him on many occasions, and in this case he ends up getting tricked by Fawful into magically sucking up everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario and Luigi included. Thus begins Bowser's adventure around the world and the plumbers' quest through Bowser's innards. Mario's still portrayed as the strong, silent type, while Luigi is played up as a goofy cowardly man. Fawful does a solid job as the game's villain, providing lots of intentionally awkward dialogue as he seeks to undercut Bowser and take over the world himself. While the dialogue might not have players constantly laughing out loud, it provides an entertaining experience and occasional chuckle (or chortle), especially Bowser's antics and failures. His story sequences are some of the most humorous in the game.

   The gameplay is a tad bipolar, as players will be jumping back and forth constantly between exploring as Bowser and then as the Mario Brothers. When in control of Mario and Luigi, gamers will be engaged in all kinds of platforming segments. As is typical for the plumbers, jumping is a key component of the game, and it is used for progressing through areas as well as to gain an advantage over enemies by engaging first. One awkward problem with jumping is that Mario and Luigi are both controlled with a separate button, though they are always together. This can lead to some frustrating areas where players will need to time their button presses just right simply to hop onto a platform.

KO Bowser performs a knockout!

   Areas where Bowser is controlled are actually a lot more enjoyable. The brute can slide across the screen with a powerful punch, breathe fire, or smash the ground during his platforming areas. His abilities, combined with the fact that players are only managing a single character, make his sections some of the most fun due to the little fuss required to play through them.

   Combat continues in the same pattern, as Bowser's sections are once again the highlight. Regardless of whether Bowser or the plumbers are fighting, combat is all about patience and timing. While the game is not difficult, it does require a great deal of concentration and coordination. If players get too anxious and press buttons too wildly, it will be game over before they have time to blink. Gamers need to watch for enemy tells in order to avoid attacks, and because of that playing as Mario and Luigi requires the most attention since actions require split-second decisions as to which button to press for which character. The duo's special attacks are also a lot more involved, forcing players to keep a close eye on the screen at all times. Overall, playing as the plumbers is a tad frustrating at times, though manageable with practice and patience.

   Bowser is a brute force kind of guy, and his straightforward style of combat fits that to a tee. He'll be punching and burning anyone that crosses his path with simple button presses, and his special abilities are fairly simple to perform as well. Overall, his combat style is much easier to control, and is therefore a great deal more enjoyable. However, Bowser also has an ability to vacuum up enemies or at least parts of them. Doing this will cause a combat switch as the engulfed foes will then be engaged by the stomach-dwelling plumbers. This constant back and forth adds a great deal of variety to the gameplay, so things rarely get dull. The fast-paced action will keep players on their toes, which can be a good and bad thing.

Huff and Puff He'll huff and puff and burn your house down.

   Along with the standard combat sections, there are a handful of battles that require players to turn the DS sideways, as Bowser grows to an enormous size and does combat on a grand scale against other large structures. These are some of the most enjoyable parts, as they add an even greater level of variety to the already diverse combat system. The large scale battles feel like a mini-game, though thankfully they are more entertaining than most encountered throughout the quest. A few of the mandatory mini-game sections are easily the most frustrating part of this title. One has Mario and Luigi flipping back and forth across the screen, requiring players to press the corresponding character's button as that character hits the ground. This timed section offers little room for failure, so players will need to be almost perfect with their button presses in order to succeed. While challenging mini-games are fine when used as supplementary content, it merely becomes a frustration when they are required in order to progress.

   Bowser's Inside Story does little to break new ground in terms of its presentation, though what it manages to do on the DS is very solid. The visuals are crisp and character animations for the tiny sprites are portrayed quite well. The game takes a simple, straightforward approach to its graphical design, and it works. There is no real voice acting; only gibberish, grunts, and groans are heard here and there. While the lack of voice acting isn't a problem, the babbling sounds of Mario and Luigi get old really quickly, and they wouldn't be missed had they been removed. Veteran composer, Yoko Shimomura, did a wonderful job creating a soundtrack that blends very well with whatever is going on in game at the time, so that's a good bonus.

   Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is a very enjoyable, though occasionally frustrating, game. It can be very challenging, but only due to the level of skill and coordination required. It offers so much variety in terms of gameplay, that it's hard to get bored, but not all of the varied aspects are fun. Bowser's Inside Story will keep players constantly engaged, whether from the constant changes in gameplay or bumbling Bowser's dialogue. It's a great experience, though not without a few blemishes.

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