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Review: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey for Nintendo 3DS

The effectiveness of the game’s humor doesn’t always tie back to the concept of Bowser as a frustrated, impotent vessel.

4.5
Jed Pressgrove

Published

on

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey
Photo: Nintendo

The premise of the 2009 RPG classic Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, recently remastered and issued as part of the exhaustingly titled Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey, is among the weirdest in the mainstream gaming canon. In the game, the player punches, breathes fires, and stomps around as iconic villain Bowser on a mission to recapture his castle, but you also assume the roles of a shrunken Mario and Luigi, both of whom are trapped inside Bowser’s body. Far from perfunctory, this 3DS port of the game boasts superior graphics and a new strategy mode, Bowser Jr.’s Journey, which focuses on the concurrent misadventures of Bowser’s obnoxious son.

In Bowser’s Inside Story, a disease that causes its victims to grow to an outrageous physical size has afflicted different inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom. But this outbreak isn’t Bowser’s doing. It’s a plot hatched by the evil Fawful, who, with the use of a magical mushroom, forces Bowser to swallow up Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and others. This over-the-top plot results in both Peach and Bowser losing their castles. And because the full-sized Bowser presents the only chance to defeat Fawful and restore the status quo, Mario and Luigi are left with the task of boosting the power of their archnemesis by, well, stimulating his muscles, whacking his nerve endings, swimming in his fluids, and cleaning out his organs.

Such suggestive, inner-body hijinks solidify the game’s position as the most adult Mario & Luigi title to date. Here, Mario and Luigi don’t get to kick Bowser’s ass because they’re too busy controlling it, and literally so when they’re accessing his “Rump Control.” Later in the game, a trip to Bowser’s mind suggests that his perpetual plotting to kidnap Peach is partially related to his loins. Such sexual connotations reveal a fundamental insecurity in Bowser’s character, which lends a humanizing element to the game’s kooky plot.

The effectiveness of the game’s humor doesn’t always tie back to the concept of Bowser as a frustrated, impotent vessel. The script drips with absurdity and fun wordplay, as when supporting character Broque Monsieur (a moniker that plays off the character’s lack of money) tells Bowser that he has the “odor of a gentleman.” Fawful’s haphazard style of communication juxtaposes hilariously against his cunning. Right as Bowser and company fall prey to his scheme, he offers up his best line: “Easy as bread sandwiches!” Sometimes the jokes even subvert RPG norms, as when a senile ally of Bowser, forgetting his promise to assist the surly ruler, attacks you after telling you to save the game.

The gameplay in Bowser’s Inside Story is as creative as that of any turn-based RPG. Although players have to perform separate tasks as Bowser and the plumber brothers, the action emphasizes clever forms of interplay between the multiple protagonists, further highlighting the uniqueness of the game’s narrative framework. Boss fights can involve teamwork such as Bowser swallowing adversaries who then must be dispatched by Mario and Luigi. And at times exploration requires coordinated assistance, as when Bowser drinks water so that Mario and Luigi can more easily navigate a section within his body.

Bowser’s Inside Story, which was originally released on the Nintendo DS, has gotten a significant graphical uptick. Now that the dark outlines of the original sprites are gone, the characters have a more natural appearance. Elsewhere, environments have been spruced up with new static details, extra animations, or streamlined colors. The game also incorporates new audio that brings a certain realness to the experience of being inside Bowser, such as the sounds of Mario and Luigi’s boots stepping on bones and sinking into tissue.

But this remaster’s most striking changes to the original involve twists on point of view. During battle, subtle zoom-ins and zoom-outs punctuate different types of action, such as Mario jumping high into the air or Bowser landing a perfectly timed punch. Certain cutscenes now benefit from 3D effects. The sequence where Banzai Bill flies toward Bowser’s castle has received an impressive overhaul, with the camera hugging close to the bullet fiend and effectively highlighting his enormous size and velocity of movement. In contrast, the original game uses an at-a-distance side view in which Banzai Bill doesn’t look threatening at all.

The game’s new mode, Bowser Jr.’s Journey, doesn’t register as a necessary tie-in to the original story. Bowser Jr. is a run-of-the-mill brat whose hubris isn’t as entertaining as his father’s, chiefly because Bowser’s Inside Story is more biting in the way it plumbs the psychology of the elder Bowser. Moreover, the spats between Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings grow tiresome due to their almost complete dearth of subversiveness.

Still, Bowser Jr.’s Journey is engaging as a real-time army-versus-army game. Because your party automatically runs toward enemies in the style of the opening scene from Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, you only have control over small but crucial elements of the skirmishes. Through punctual button presses, you can help your troops score critical hits, interrupt your foes’ techniques, and provide temporary buffs. Managing your forces here provides an interesting change of pace from the more unorthodox madness of Bowser’s Inside Story, cementing this release as the ultimate version of a pop masterpiece.

This game was reviewed using a download code provided by Golin.

Developer: AlphaDream Publisher: Nintendo Platform: 3DS ESRB: E ESRB Descriptions: Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence Buy: Game

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