Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga may be my favorite GBA game. It’s got hilarious writing, fantastic character design, and an elegant control scheme that transfers extremely well to the unique combat system. I was disappointed by Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, which seemed to be a whole lot of gimmick and not a lot of content. The storyline wasn’t as interesting, and the addition of the Baby Brothers proved more detrimental to the combat than innovative. Well, I just played the impressively lengthy demo for Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, and I’m happy to say that the charm of the original is back for the franchise’ third entry.
It would seem that our plumbing heroes have been swallowed whole by the Koopa King. You will spend time playing as Mario & Luigi and Bowser during the game, and the dynamic is one of cause and effect. As the brothers, you traverse the inner workings of Bowser and help (or hinder) his overworld exploits. I can’t really figure out what the story is, but it would seem that Bowser has been kicked out of his castle and that Fawful is back—with a vengeance! Fawful was my favorite character in the original game and I’m more than happy to see his return to glory here. Bowser wanders around punching rocks and setting fire to trees in his quest to get his castle back, and in the process, revive his fallen army. In the demo, Bowser rescues a cage full of Goombas, who then become a special attack. Like Mario & Luigi’s jump/hammer option, Bowser can punch or breathe fire on the battlefield. He can also inhale loose objects (like healing acorns) from enemies. Instead of items, Bowser uses his army. For the Goomba squad, you need to tap Goombas with the stylus as they rush the screen, thus setting them on fire and doing more damage to the opposition. Creative and hilarious? It must be Mario & Luigi!
The Mario Brothers battle in much the same way they usually do, by either jumping on or hammering enemies and using special items (still no Bros. Attacks!) in tandem. Interestingly, in the demo, their “overworld” sections (you might call them “innerworld”) are sidescrolling instead of isometric. In an example of the cause/effect gameplay, toning up Bowser’s arm muscles with electricity as the brothers allowed the big lug to drag an island to the shore!
The game plays well and looks great—better even than Partners in Time did, with smoother character models and more subtle animations. Controlling Bowser is a real treat, as he throws his weight behind every punch and conveys a real sense of mass in his movement.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story looks to be a great entry in the series, and I look forward to playing the completed game.