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Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story

I don't know how common the knowledge is, but the Mario Franchise has a surprisingly robust history of quality RPGs.

Starting way back on the Super Nintendo, with Super Mario RPG, the series has a history of going light on the RPG elements, and featuring gameplay that's heavy on timed inputs to increase the strength of attacks, or to avoid taking damage. The Mario & Luigi series started on the Gameboy Advance with Super Star Saga, and took a slightly different approach to controlling the characters. Instead of gathering an eclectic cast of original characters to join Mario on his journey, you instead control only Mario and Luigi, for the entirety of the game, and each is assigned to either the a or the b button. In battle, you use the B button to select Luigi's actions, or to evade or counter attack, Mario is assigned to the A button. This is expanded upon by giving them special attacks that they perform cooperatively, for instance, one attack has them kicking a turtle shell repeatedly off an enemy, and you have to hit the button for whichever brother it's going toward in order to continue the attack. Outside of battle, the brothers are tethered together, but still controlled separately when it comes to jumping, requiring you to time gaps properly to get both of them across, or risk going back around. Throughout the game you acquire new abilities outside of battle that allow you to access new areas, and solve new puzzles. For instance, after gaining the hammers, Luigi can use his to smoosh Mario down until he's half as tall, and can then fit through small holes, this kind of gives the game a metroidvania feel, where you're encouraged to backtrack to past locations in order to use your new abilities to access new areas.

Super Star Saga is probably one of my all time favorite RPGs, so I was a little disappointed with the second M&L game, Partners in time. This was the first on the DS, and thus had two more face buttons to utilize (X & Y) which they did by introducing the baby versions of Mario and Luigi, who rode piggybacked on their future selves. Really the only problem I had with this game was just that 4 things to keep track of at once was really just too much. I'm not much of a twitch gamer in the first place, and I found myself just not successfully executing attacks since I couldn't keep track of it all.

Now that we're caught up, here's the third M&L game, Bowser's inside story. Instead of the baby Brothers, the X and Y buttons are now assigned to Bowser, who doesn't actually fight in the same battles as the Brothers do, but rather occupies the top screen on the DS, while the Brothers are on the bottom screen, which is typically inside Bowser. See, the plot is that someone invades the mushroom kingdom, and kicks Bowser out of his castle, then tricks him into eating a mushroom that makes very large, and run around in a berzerker state sucking everything in sight into his belly. Then he shrinks back down and regains his senses. Gameplay goes back and forth between Bowser trying to regain the his castle, and the Brothers repairing or improving his insides. At one point Bowser is tricked into overeating some incredibly fatty foods, and the Brothers must jazzercise his muscles to help him burn off the calories, at other times, Bowser can swallow small opponents, after which the Brothers must fight them in his belly. This theme culminates in the ultimate fight in the end, where Bowser must repeatedly swallow an entity that is healing his opponent, so that the Bros can beat it down.

The gameplay is fun and fresh, but more importantly, the writing is just hilarious, there are a lot of puns, and just odd statements that I couldn't get enough of. Ultimately, I like Bowser as a character in these games, he's not really evil, just kind of a lovable jerk, and I would welcome many more opportunities to control the Koopa King.


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