When Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars released for the Super Nintendo all those years ago, it opened up a new window of opportunity for Mario. It was proven that his popularity and gameplay could also work in the land of role-playing games, and even without Square Enix’s aid, Nintendo continued to make RPG adventures for their most famous mascot. The Paper Mario series went in one direction, mixing 2D and 3D game worlds together on home consoles, while AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi series made Luigi a relevant character and designed a game around the idea of controlling two characters at the same time. Up until now, I’ve always thought Paper Mario had the edge in game design, but Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story may have tipped the scales in favor of AlphaDream’s series by doing what neither Super Mario RPG or Paper Mario have done: putting Bowser in the leading role.
Sure, both Square Enix and Intelligent Systems utilized a playable Bowser at one point, but not to the extent that Bowser’s Inside Story does. You control Bowser for at least half of the adventure, if not more, and when you control the Bros., they are, more often than not, inside of Bowser, and performing tasks with the sole purpose of powering Bowser up so he can continue along his merry, destructive way. He’s the focus, and there are very few moments in the game where this is not the case. For all intents and purposes, this is the first time Bowser has been given the hero treatment, which is nice to see considering he’s been there since the beginning.
Sep. 14, 2009
The inclusion of Bowser also means that the main problem plaguing AlphaDream’s last Mario & Luigi game, Partners in Time, is no longer a concern. While Partners in Time was a wonderful game, it felt like an extension of the Game Boy Advance original, except now with four characters to control instead of two. Many of the moves were the same and puzzles were solved in much the same manner. Bowser is a hulking Koopa though, and his placement in the game means this feels as fresh as the original: he shoots fire, he punches through rocks, he can roll around in a spiked ball, and he can body slam switches and cracked floors beneath him to open up new pathways.
Bowser’s also very different in battle,‚ as his moves are designed to overpower and out-muscle the opposition–remember, he’s as big or bigger than most of your enemies, unlike Mario & Luigi. There are certain baddies that Bowser doesn’t even have to fight, he can just stampede over on the world map, whereas the Bros. would have to fight them. His special moves are stylus based as well, something else lacking from Partners in Time. These are all involving his minions, which you will find scattered throughout the game world in cages. For the Goombas, you’ll have to tap them as they run across the screen so you can set them on fire and then can headbutt the opposition while en fuego. For the Koopas, it’s like a game of Bowser Pong, as you move your Bowser paddle (Bowser in a spinning shell form) up and down with the stylus to knock Koopa shells into the enemies repeatedly. They are all fun and use the stylus in smart ways, and you will use them often, to your advantage in battle, because of it.
The Bros. also have some new gameplay elements to talk about, inside and outside of battle. Traversing Bowser is done in 2D rather than the series’ traditional overhead view. You now no longer have to buy items to use special attacks, but you can instead learn them by finding Attack Pieces scattered through different sections of Bowser and the overworld. These attacks range from things you are used to, like the Green Shell attack, to brand new attacks like the Jump Helmet, the Snack Basket, and my personal favorite, an attack that lets you slam an item-filled meteor into enemies repeatedly. While these do not use the stylus, they are a huge improvement over the special attacks in Partners in Time, as they are more varied, more impressive visually, and more satisfying to use. The fact that they are now tied to skill points rather than your wallet also makes it so you don’t have to worry about whether you can afford to “waste” a use now, or if it would be better utilized later.
I haven’t mentioned the story yet, but that’s not because it’s lacking. This is probably the most entertaining of the three titles, with the humorous dialogue you know and love from AlphaDream’s series cranked up to maximum with the return of Fawful. Bowser shows he’s not as dumb as many other Mario titles have shown him to be, and is funny while he proves that fact to you, Luigi is as helpless and humorous as always, and Fawful steals the show every time he shows up on screen. The game is loaded with Nintendo references, and every time you spot one it puts a smile on your face–even the ones that point at Wii Fit were written with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
As always, Mario & Luigi eschews many traditional RPG conventions, and pokes fun at them to boot. It never takes itself too seriously, and in many ways, the battle systems are more advanced than what you are used to in traditional, turn-based JRPGs thanks to the timed hits and defensive play. Why just cast a fire spell when you can breathe fire more effectively based on your button press timing? Why shouldn’t you be rewarded for hitting a button at the exact right time as your opponent strikes? AlphaDream makes sure that there is no attack or defense you cannot improve with the press of a button, and it keeps the battles interesting and you, the gamer, on your toes throughout the 20-25 hour adventure.
My favorite part about this title though, are the battles where Bowser grows to Godzilla-like proportions so he can battle gigantic enemies and mechanized buildings that stand in his way. These battles have you turning the DS into book form and using the stylus to punch and repel attacks, and your breath to blow fire. There are a few of these scattered throughout the story, and each one requires you to approach the situation differently. They are very Japanese in their style–it is a lot like a Godzilla battle after all–but they are a wonderful addition–trust me, you’ll be upset when you realize you’ve fought your last of these. Thankfully, the game isn’t over when you beat the final boss, as you can return to game world to continue leveling and collect items in order to unlock some surprises.
Blast Factor: If you liked either the original GBA title or the last DS entry, Partners in Time, you are going to love Bowser’s Inside Story. It’s the class of the series, and there’s one giant, spiked and shelled reason for that. AlphaDream finally made a DS RPG that feels like it belongs on the DS, and with the writing as witty and sharp as it is, it not only plays better than the others, but is also funnier to play, too. This is one of the better games in the DS’ entire library, and you are missing out if you don’t pick it up.
Plus, the big guy finally got a starring role, and he nailed the part.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is available exclusively on the Nintendo DS and DSi systems, and retails for $34.99. Played through the story mode and explored the world post-game.