It seems Mario games have become a bit of a mixed bag these days. There's the always widely lauded 3D platformers (Sunshine, Galaxy), and then there's the various sports and other genre games that Mario stars in, such as the long running Mario Party, Smash Bros, and Mario Kart series. Sometimes these turn out good, sometimes they turn out excellent, sometimes they turn out laughably mediocre. It is because of how not so great Mario's ventures outside of platforming have been that I chose to ignore his RPGs, such as Superstar Saga and Paper Mario.
Well obviously I made a mistake. Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is surprisingly pleasant from start to finish, with very few blemishes to speak of.
The game begins with a scene involving an average family of toads. The mother calls the family in for dinner, and suddenly the father comes crashing in through the wall, inflated to gargantuan size by a quickly spreading disease known as the Blorbs. Innocent toads everywhere are finding themselves unable to do much than roll around, and are overall having a miserable time. Princess Peach calls for a committee meeting to discuss the problem, and the possibility of a cure, when Bowser storms in, angry that he wasn't invited. A hilarious battle tutorial ensues as Mario and Luigi send him packing.
Bowser storms off to a nearby forest and encounters a strange merchant claiming the Koopa King has won an obscure contest, earning him a mysterious mushroom. The mushroom causes Bowser to inhale pretty much everything around him, including Peach, the Bros, and a whole lotta toads when he returns to the castle.
The "merchant" reveals himself to be none other than Lord Fawful, who was apparently an assistant to the villain of the last game. He plans to take over not only Peach's castle, but also Bowser's! Of course Bowser isn't going let that happen without a fight.
This sets the premise for the primary gameplay twist; the top screen follows Bowser and his efforts to stop Fawful from taking his castle, and on the bottom screen you'll find Mario and Luigi, who spend most of their time traversing Bowser's body. Switching between the two is as easy as pressing A or B for the Bros, and X or Y for Bowser.
While these two elements share a lot of elements, there's enough differences for the two to feel very distinct from each other. Bowser has a lot beefier stats than Mario and Luigi, but also takes on tougher, larger foes. While there is some light platforming, I felt that combat was the main order of the day with him.
On the other hand, Mario and Luigi spend more of their time hopping on platforms and exploring the various nooks and crannies of their adversary's body. Though there's no shortage of combat opportunities for these two either, I think platforming makes up a bigger piece of the pie, with them gradually gaining a small arsenal of moves to help them reach various areas.
Combat works pretty much the same playing as either Bowser or Mario/Luigi, though the two still require different approaches. With Mario and Luigi, you have two characters to attack with, but unlike Bowser, who can actually just kick aside certain foes without needing to go into an actual combat sequence, they have to fight every scrub they touch. With Bowser it's often more about just whaling on the enemy with punches and fire. Since he has only two evasive moves at his disposal generally, compared to the various things you might have to do counter attacks as Mario and Luigi, I sometimes think there's less strategy involved.
Combat itself is enjoyable, and very much tuned to include the sort of things you'd expect from a Mario game. The battle menu, for example, is actually a bunch of rotating blocks that you headbutt to select.
Though battles are turn-based, this is an action-RPG. Each attack you make can be either strengthened or completely fall flat, depending on your timing. Every enemy also has their own unique attack, and with it comes a way to dodge that attack and, in many cases, counter it. A person with lightning reflexes and great analytical abilities could walk away from any battle in this game completely unscathed. But for the rest of us, success comes from carefully studying the enemy's movements (they always do something distinctive that indicates their target and what they will do), and memorizing them. And thus, interestingly enough, this is an RPG where practice can get you way farther than stat buffing or better equipment would, though both of these still help a lot.
As you explore, you'll also be able to find new special attacks, many of which are surprisingly humorous. My favorite so far involves Luigi pouncing on enemies with a gigantic pink bouncy ball, with you using certain buttons to make sure he keeps bouncing, and to keep him balanced. Special attacks and minigames, however, make up the only portion of the game that involves the stylus. Which isn't a bad thing. In fact, these parts of the game are at best decent, really.
Overall, can't say I have much to say against Bowser's Inside Story. It's simply a well done game. 9.o/10