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Review: Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
by Sean Engemann
Game Information

Basic information
Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story
Developer: AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: September/October 2009

Nintendo DS

Role-Playing Game

PEGI: 3+
So, another Mario game has been released, and you're probably thinking, "That’s nothing new". Well throw that notion away, because Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is the freshest, most original Mario title to ever hit a Nintendo system. The biggest inclusion is the new protagonist, Bowser. Yes, Bowser! The decades long arch nemesis of Mario finally gets centre stage. This is an exciting concept, considering only snippets of Bowser's personal life and ambitions have been revealed in past games. Now we get to search beneath that rough exterior and see what makes Bowser tick on the inside... literally.

The game opens to a scene inside the life of a Toad family preparing for dinner. Suddenly, the father Toad breaks through the wall of the house, afflicted with a horrifying ailment known as "The Blorbs", which causes those infected to balloon to enormous size, ceasing their ability to do... anything. An emergency meeting is called at Peach's castle, which includes herself, her Toad council, a Star Sprite named Starlow, and of course the Mario Brothers. During the meeting Bowser storms in, but is easily bested by Mario. After being ejected and feeling rejected, Bowser comes across a mysterious mushroom dealer who offers him a "lucky" mushroom which will make him strong enough to defeat Mario. Bowser scoffs down the mushroom and returns to the castle, where he proceeds to inhale everyone at the meeting (and some other Mushroom Kingdom objects), just before passing out. He awakens with a case of amnesia, not knowing what he just did, but discovers that his castle and the Mushroom Kingdom have been taken over by the evil Lord Fawful. The goal of both Bowser and the Bros. is now to defeat Lord Fawful, although both have completely different motives.

As Bowser (and eventually Mario and Luigi), you travel throughout the different venues of the Mushroom Kingdom. The 3/4 overhead view is very simple to navigate - sometimes too simple. As you progress you will explore caves, beaches, forests, towns, and castles. However, they are only half of the areas to discover. As the title suggests, Mario and Luigi must navigate their way through Bowser's internal organs, into areas such as the Funny Bone, Nerve Cluster, Flab Zone, and Rump Command. Bowser's insides are viewed as a traditional 2-D platforming style, which adds a nice variance to the overworld camera angle. Both venues are loaded with obstacles, many of which can only be accessed by gaining different powers throughout the game. While some may sneer at the idea of revisiting cleared areas, the rewards are definitely worth the trip, and since all of the enemies are specific to their location, sometimes it's fun to return and lay the smackdown on those baddies who caused you grief earlier in the game.

At the start, Bowser is limited to only using his punch, and the Mario Bros. can only jump. As the plumbers make their way through Bowser they often come to an impasse, where - after putting their heads together – they discover new abilities within them which allow them to move on. Some moves include standing on each other's head to spin across large gaps; Luigi whacking Mario on the head with a hammer to make him fit into tight places; and together drilling underground in order to access even tighter places (and uncover treasure). Bowser's new powers are unlocked by the Mario Bros. after successfully clearing areas of his insides. Bowser will eventually be able to unleash his flame breath, do a ground pound, and roll around with his spiky turtle shell, among other things.

Many of the powers are unlocked through minigames, and believe me, there are a tonne. Thankfully, most of them tie in beautifully with the wacky story, and all of them are incredibly fun, and challenging, to play. Mario and Luigi can enter a Challenge Node within Bowser to test their skills with battle powers, or take on insanely hard bosses; while the Bowser minigames require him to use his battle powers to massage a big block's back. All of the minigames require expert timing to obtain a high rank and reap the rare rewards.

As with previous Mario and Luigi titles, this one has a strong RPG element and is presented beautifully. Killing an enemy grants you experience points to gain levels, and coins to purchase equipment. As you level up, your stats increase (such as HP, Power, and Defence), and you even get to play a slot machine minigame which adds even more points to a specific stat. Also, as you reach specific level milestones your rank increases, allowing you to equip more gear and shop at more upscale stores. The equipment is also well tailored and varied to allow a great deal of customization. Besides the shells and overalls that Bowser and the Bros. can equip, respectively, to increase their defence, many different items will increase the stats, battle powers, and even the amount of loot you receive. It's quite a treat when you have multiple treasure boosting gear equipped and watch the bonuses rack up after clearing a battle. Some such pieces are powerful enough that they create a handicap, making the bad guys tougher to take down in order for you to claim the gold and experience.

A new element to Bowser's Inside Story is the use of badges. As Mario and Luigi progress they will obtain, and can purchase, badges, which unleash benefits in battle when enough well timed attacks are accomplished. These too can be customised, and each brother has their own badge set which can be combined with one another for different results.

The battles themselves follow a standard turn-based RPG format. The Bros. can attack with their jump, hammer, or other special attacks which are unlocked by collecting puzzle pieces throughout the world and inside Bowser. Bowser can use his punch, fire breath, and other special attacks as well, which he unlocks by rescuing his trapped minions. Bowser can also inhale certain enemies, who fall into his stomach and must battle the Mario Bros., adding even more nuances to the encounters. As with the minigames, the battles require finesse with your buttons. By timing your attacks perfectly you can deal a greater amount of damage. This is also the case with your defences. Every monster has a different attack, and many times more than one type. You can avoid taking damage, or even inflict counter damage, by anticipating the attack and pressing the button at the precise moment. This certainly adds complexity to the game, considering the plethora of different attacks that you must memorize. Also, each brother is assigned their own button to perform... well, everything; and Bowser has a button specifically for punching and one for ducking. So figuring out what attack is coming, who is being targeted, and pushing the right button at the right time will have even veteran gamers thinking on their toes. But consistently timing your attacks perfectly will yield an enormous sense of gratification.

The biggest flaw in the game would have to be the graphics. While the world is beautifully coloured (as is with all Mario games), the backgrounds are far too integrated; meaning the character sprites feel very detached from the rest of the world. Aside from that though, the animation of all the moves are smooth and lag free.

The music score and sound effects are slightly above par. It is a refreshing change to not hear the classic Mario songs remixed, and most of the tunes are catchy and fit the different locations. Only one gives me ire; a sombre melody that befits Boo's haunted mansion, but is oddly played in numerous areas both within Bowser and around the overworld. The tune is simply out of place. As expected, the script is all subtitled, with only some choice words spoken by the Bros. and the Koopa King. Personally, every time Bowser says, "Showtime!" before a battle, I can't help but think of Aknot from "The Fifth Element"... Okay, that may be an obscure reference, but fans of the movie will know what I'm talking about. Back to the script; it is whimsical, well written, and full of humour. Almost all the characters have a distinct personality, with the exception of the Mario Bros. They are actually the most linear characters in the game... but then again... this is Bowser's story, right?

Small technical errors aside, Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story ranks near the top of my list of the most well-rounded Action/RPGs, and that is high praise in my very critical RPG eye. Whether or not you're a diehard fan of the Mario series, this game has a rich and off-the-wall plot (think Earthbound), very customisable characters, and a challenging battle system designed to hone your timing skills, or knock you unconscious trying.



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- Sean Engemann

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