The Mario & Luigi titles offers an easily accessible combination of platforming and role-playing and the titles have been of excellent quality so far with the slight reservation that the last title may have been a bit too much like its predecessor. But it's nice to experience how the "just one more boss" state of mind kicks in after just a few minutes of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
It is immediately captivating, and after just a few minutes you get a good idea of just how absurd the story and characters are. Mushroom Kingdom has been struck by a new disease that turns the mushrooms into giant balloons, that roll around like bowling balls in a LEGO village. The outbreak is soon traced to a mysterious individual who hands out dubious mushrooms to unsuspecting passers-by.
Just the fact that the Mushroom people eat mushrooms is rather macabre, and when they happily accept them from a stranger, you have to ask yourself whether the true disease of Mushroom Kingdom may be a widespread case of naivety. But perhaps that is also why they are always so unbelievably happy.
Regardless of this Bowser also ends up having a special mushroom. It creates an unstoppable vacuum inside him and he sucks up everyone inside the castle, including Princess Peach, Mario and Luigi. For some reason the friends end up in different organs inside Bowser, and its up to Mario and Luigi to find Peach - and a way out of Bowser.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is as its predecessors a accessible RPG with stats such as strength, defence, health that you increase by gaining levels. The screens are filled with enemies, and when you make contact the turn based battles start. You pick attacks from a menu, and if you time a button press correctly you will increase the strength of the attack. All the enemy attacks can be dodged or countered, and its important to read your opponents in order to make the best defensive choices. This is played out in real time and with simple platforming mechanics such as jumping, countering, or when you play as Bowser duck.
Controlling Bowser is actually almost half the game, and it is very rewarding to finally be able to see the world through the giant lizard's eyes. The top screen and the X and Y buttons are usually dedicated to Bowser while the lower screen and buttons are used by the Italian plumbers. Bowser often has to put his body through something in order to allow Mario and Luigi to progress inside of him, and they in turn can stimulate certain areas through mini games awarding Bowser super powers or reviving him when he has taken a wrong turn.
The symbiotic relationship between the former foes is both amusing and very well carried out, and you often have to co-operate in order to solve surprisingly difficult puzzles. It is however not that often that you run into problems that take more than a minute or two to figure out and I never got frustrated at any point. The difficulty ramps up slowly throughout the game and when you reach the point when you risk losing your life in ordinary encounters you will hopefully have earned enough money to have your pouch full of health items.
The co-operation between Bowser and the brothers is not just limited to puzzles. During combat Mario and Luigi can initiate a suction effect that turns Bowser into a vacuum cleaner that sucks enemies towards him and even swallowing certain parts of the enemies. This is a necessity in many boss fights as Bowser swallows their vital parts while Mario and Luigi wait with their hammers. These battles are often individual phases of the boss battle that you need to handle in order to beat the boss.
This may sound a bit unnecessary, but it is very simple and logical. The many tutorials make sure that you come well prepared when you need a certain attack in the game, and you will get plenty of opportunities to perfect your timing before you are returned to the game.
You are simply going to have to get used to these tutorials as they appear throughout the game as new tricks, special attacks and mini-games appear. You never have time to get bored of something before there is something new to learn, and that is going to make you keep playing the game. You just want to learn the next move.
The dialogue is also very entertaining thanks to the brilliant translation. It constantly makes fun of typical Japanese translations, and the dialogue is refreshingly ironic and unpretentious.
Sometimes there is a little bit too much dialogue in between battles. And this interrupts the flow of the game. Another thing is that when you return to an area you have previously visited the enemies are too weak to make the battles interesting. And while you can avoid these fights, it is annoying everyone you stumble into one. The third complaint I've got is that it is a little bit hard to judge depth while in combat, and thus I have sometimes suffered unnecessary damage on account of this. But those are the only small complaints I have.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is in many ways the game Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time should have been. Through a constant stream of new game mechanics it never feels repetitive and the story and dialogue has me glue to the double screens. Old and new acquaintances are equally well created. The co-operation between the characters is spot on, and the puzzles have just the right degree of difficulty. Add to that the unique Bowser perspective and what we have is a delightful ride through his anatomy.
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