Bowser is back baby.
Being no stranger to remakes, the 3DS has seen a number of popular Nintendo franchises revitalized for the dual-screen portable. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask saw quite an overhaul to certain mechanics as well as stunning stereoscopic 3D visuals. However, Nintendo’s approach with the Mario & Luigi series has been a bit different, staying more faithful to the original games. Bowser’s Inside Story follows in the footsteps of Superstar Saga’s remake, delivering both updated music and visuals (sorry, no stereoscopic 3D again), in addition to Bowser Jr’s Journey, a side story that offers a drastically different style of play.
Mario & Luigi games have long been known for their humor-filled dialogue and the crazy situations that our protagonists find themselves in, but perhaps the most far-fetched plot resides within Bowser's Inside Story. Series favorite, Fawful is back, but this time he lands the role as the main baddie causing trouble in the Mushroom Kingdom. He tricks Browser into eating a mushroom that causes him to inhale everything around him including Mario, Luigi, Peach, and a whole slew of Toads. Now stuck within Bowser’s body, the Bros are tasked with helping Bowser overcome obstacles by traveling throughout his body and forcing it to react in different ways. Of course this leads to some downright hilarious situations, and I found myself cracking a smile more times than I can count from the clever writing. The visual upgrades look great, outside the absence of stereoscopic 3D, and the soundtrack is just as wonderful as ever with fun updates to catchy classics.
If you’ve never played a Mario & Luigi game, the combat is built around action commands. These commands give the player agency within a primarily turn-based combat system. Properly timing a button press before an attack lands will allow the player to deal out extra damage, but more important is the role timing plays in defending. Each enemy has a number of different attack patterns and learning when to properly dodge an attack is vital to success. Along the way, Mario and Luigi will learn new attacks called Bros Attacks, special attacks that deal out huge damage at the expense of Bros Points. Bowser has his own unique set of skills which call in the help of his faithful minions. While the three don’t fight directly on the same battlefield, there are situations where Bowser can inhale enemies to get some help from Mario and Luigi. While turn-based combat is usually a passive experience, the use of action commands helps to keep players engaged no matter how minor the encounter may be. Outside of combat, there are plenty of platforming challenges to overcome with the use of a wide range of different character abilities.
Much like Bowser’s Minions from the Superstar Saga remake, we see this mode come back in the form of Bowser Jr’s Journey, with a few minor tweaks. Playing much different than the main game, this mode revolves around forming a squad of minions to take out the opposing team’s leader before losing your own. The action more or less plays out automatically while you watch, so forming the proper team to counteract the enemy is critical. Victory lies within understanding the weapon triangle, which plays out much like rock, paper, scissors, where melee units have the advantage over ranged, ranged over flying, and flying over melee. While the minions do automatically attack, action commands for critical hits do spring up during skirmishes and capitalizing on them is important. Captain Commands are another tool available during the heat of battle, but these come at a cost, requiring precious Captain Points. These are limited, but a properly-timed cancel on an enemy’s attack or knowing just the right time to rally your troops goes a long way to swaying the tides of war.
While this is certainly a more passive experience, it can become a bit addicting. I found myself gravitating towards the main story, but once in Bowser Jr’s Journey I often gave in to playing just one more battle. Seeing your party level up and collecting new minions felt rewarding, but ultimately the mode can become a bit tedious as it is repetitive and at times grindy. With its laid-back nature I found it most enjoyable to play leisurely while doing something else, such as listening to podcasts. For those who do take to the gameplay, a fun story plays out alongside the main story, giving you glimpses at how different story elements come to fruition. Sadly, it doesn’t change up much from Bowser’s Minions, so it ultimately ends up feeling like more of the same.
When it comes to Mario & Luigi, Bowser’s Inside Story is often regarded as one of the finest in the series, if not the pinnacle. The humor, dialogue, and characters all add up to a zany adventure that is sure to have you laugh out loud on more than one occasion. The remake stays faithful to the game released nearly a decade ago but gives a facelift to the visuals and music, putting fresh paint on a classic. Bowser Jr’s Journey is a nice addition, but might prove to be a bit too passive and at times too uninspired for many to see it the entire way through.