Two Mario releases in just one month?! January certainly has been kind to fans of Nintendo's moustachioed poster boy as it has welcomed in the release of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and a remake of Bowser's Inside Story. The latter has been repackaged with glossier visuals and an all-new tactics-based story segment that sees Bowser's heir, Bowser Jr, take the spotlight. This quirky entry marked the pinnacle of the series back in 2009 when it released on the DS, but after all this time does it still hold up, or have the years left it feeling a little hard to stomach?
Bowser's Inside Story starts as a curious illness known as the blorbs is sweeping the Mushroom Kingdom and causing the unfortunate to comically swell up and balloon in size. Panic-stricken, Princess Peach holds a town meeting but it's not long before Bowser crashes the party and is promptly sent on his way by Mario and Luigi. An enraged Bowser foolishly devours a mushroom handed to him by a shady-looking merchant, which causes him to uncontrollably inhale everything in his path (including our friends in the Mushroom Kingdom who miraculously fit inside him). It is soon revealed that this was all the handiwork of an evil genius known as Fawfal and it's up to Bowser and the bros to grudgingly team together to rid the kingdom of this new threat.
Like previous Mario & Luigi adventures, Partners in Time and Superstar Saga, the third instalment features a mix of platforming, puzzle solving and turn-based combat. You control both bros in tandem with the A button commanding Mario and the B button for Luigi and there are overworld segments where you can press X to switch over to Bowser. Battles here are structured on timing as tapping the action button at the right time will enable you to land extra hits and counter attacks. There are even special bro moves that are inspired from the main platforming series that transition surprisingly well to an RPG format such as kicking green shells and using scorching fire flowers.
Bowser's Nose Deck and Flame Pipe and other bodily regions make for explorable regions unlike anything we have seen before in the Mushroom Kingdom and it was intriguing to see what the green beast had swallowed up during his tantrum. It's not just a fresh coat of paint that this concept provides as it also makes for some great moments between all three characters that really take advantage of the dual screens of the 3DS. In one early section, Bowser chugs flowing water from a fountain which causes his body to fill up and allows the Bros to swim to higher levels. There's even a special move where Bowser inhales smaller enemies allowing the bros to take over the battle on his behalf.
Besides a few subtle tweaks, the updated visuals are the most significant change made to Bowser's Inside Story and we couldn't help but feel conflicted by them. We felt that the DS original had a lot more charm within its cartoony pixelated style and this look we feel would age more gracefully just as Super Mario World for the SNES has, for example. The new look does have more of cinematic flair to it though and moments like watching a blob-infected toad toppled through a bedroom wall never looked as sharp or detailed. As the title is already playable on the 3DS via backwards compatibility we wish that there was more than just a visual change to warrant a purchase. Some extra content such as new enemies or new equipable gear would have helped to sweeten the deal.