Mario RPGs have been one of the most surprisingly wonderful things to emerge from the bowels of Nintendo in the last several years. The original Super Mario RPG for the Super Nintendo was pretty good, but the Paper Mario series along with the Mario & Luigi series for the Game Boy Advance and DS have taken them to a whole new level.  The latest Mario RPG is Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and it takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom and inside the filthy confines of Bowser’s body.

There’s a lot going on this time around.  The Mushroom Kingdom is stricken with a mysterious disease called the Blorbs, which inflates normal people up to Kirstie Alley levels.  While convening a summit to fix the problem, Bowser inhales everyone in the Kingdom so that they have to navigate his intestinal tract in order to gain freedom.  Oddly enough, there are portals inside his body that lead to various parts of the Mushroom Kingdom.  The less you think about that, the better.

 

So, who is behind these mysterious occurrences? Does he have chortles and/or fury? How will he deal with these fink-rats? Will he drizzle rage dressing on a salad of evil? Also, is Bowser’s Inside Story worth playing?

Soon your enemies will fold like napkins who are crying!

 

First off, Bowser’s Inside Story looks very clean. There’s very little in the way of 3-D, but a lot of sharply drawn, highly expressive 2-D that looks excellent. The areas are diverse and interesting, with lots of cool little details strewn around.  Bowser’s Inside Story also sounds great too, just like a high-quality DS product should.  The music is catchy and there aren’t really any sounds that distract you from the game at hand.

 

Bowser’s Inside Story is controlled primarily with the D-pad and face buttons, and they do exactly what they set out to do.  Sometimes jumping can be a little frustrating since Mario and Luigi have different jump buttons and need to be timed right to reach certain ledges, but that’s a minor annoyance.

 

The battle system is very similar to past Mario RPGs.  It’s turn-based, but you’ll be pressing buttons during your attacks to make stronger attacks and pressing buttons to defend from attacks.  Special attacks have more complicated button presses and may have you, say, lighting Goombas on fire for a stronger attack or filling Luigi with food and then flinging him at the enemies.  Because of this, you can’t really go on autopilot during the battles, which stops the battles from feeling like a menu-driven grind.

Bowser’s Inside Story also keeps throwing new things at you, and I mean that in a good way.  The pacing is almost perfect, because just when you start getting tired of one gameplay element they give you something different to do.  Tired of jumping around inside Bowser’s body?  You’ll switch to Bowser’s point of view and fight angry trees.  Bowser getting a little old?  Mario and Luigi will need to help him lift a heavy object by playing a minigame.  Minigame over?  Go jump topside as the Mario brothers and buy some new badges in one of the many Mushroom Kingdom shops.  Next up? Bowser grows gigantic and has to fight an ambulatory tower.  There’s always something new to keep your interest.

I HAVE FURY!!!

 

There are still flaws in Bowser’s Inside Story, though.  For one, every action is preceded by an annoying tutorial.  Get a new skill?  Here’s a tutorial.  Get a new weapon?  Here’s a tutorial.  New minigame?  Tutorial time.  It does have a tendency to break flow.  Plus, once you’re done playing Bowser’s Inside Story, there’s not much to come back to.  You’ll probably see everything the first time through, and it’s not the kind of game that’s open to continuous replays, partly because of the whole tutorial thing.

 

I HAVE CHORTLES!!!

 

Whatever flaws that Bowser’s Inside Story may have, they’re overshadowed by the return of Fawful.  In the original, he was a minor, if extremely memorable sidekick, but he’s now graduated to full-fledged antagonist. If you played the previous games, you’ll remember Fawful as being a character who speaks in oddly broken English with strange food-related metaphors (“Princess Peach’s sweet voice will soon be the bread that makes the sandwich of Cackletta’s desires! And this battle shall be the delicious mustard on that bread! The mustard of your doom!”).  He was entertaining in the background and the most memorable thing about the original game.

Here, he takes front and center stage and is just as deliriously insane as you would hope.  Fawful is used sparingly, but you’ll be looking forward to his appearances throughout.  In fact, I would say that Fawful is the best new Nintendo character in the last ten years, in part because of his awesome malapropisms and tortured metaphors but also because of his continual references.  Your kids may not get it when Fawful bellows “A WINNER IS YOU!!!” but you certainly will.

 

In fact, there’s a pervasive and very subversive sense of humor throughout Bowser’s Inside Story.  They take shots at Wii Fit, Nintendo, just everything they can get their hands on. It’s obvious that Alpha Dream had a lot of fun making the game (or at least writing the script), and it shows.

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