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September 16, 2016

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (Part 1)

Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

I didn’t know which Nintendo DS game to go to, so once again I asked the Google+ Community. The game that was chosen above any other? A Mario & Luigi game. I realize I have only reviewed one Mario RPG so far, and it’s Super Paper Mario. On the side, I still have three Mario RPGs in my collection: the first Paper Mario and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the Virtual Console, and this one, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.

The Mario and Luigi series is an unconventional type of RPG, in that you control the brothers in-battle, making it possible to inflict more damage or to avoid enemy attacks thanks to action commands. It’s technically possible to beat the game without ever taking any damage. Of course, it requires some good timing, and some attacks are easier to avoid than others. The attacks that cannot be avoided can be knocked back with the Mario brothers’ hammers. It’s a great idea, and when it first came out, such a concept was pretty much unheard of. This series started with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, which brought the plumbers in the neighboring Beanbean Kingdom, and pit them against evil sorceress Cackletta. From that point on, each new Mario & Luigi game would have a new gimmick: In Partners in Time, Mario and Luigi team up with their baby selves to defeat an evil greater than anything else they’ve ever encountered. The fourth game in the series, Dream Team, focuses on Luigi and has the brothers facing the nightmarish sorcerer Antasma both in their world and in the dream world. Last but not least, Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam has the brothers release Paper Mario from his book world, along with all of the creatures from it including, lo and behold, Paper Bowser, who proceeds to team up with the real Bowser to conquer both worlds.

Bowser’s Inside Story is, however, the third game in the series, and features three protagonists: Mario, Luigi… and as you may have guessed, Bowser himself. More so than the Brothers themselves, this is Bowser’s story, and he is the one to do most of the heroics in the outside world. I’ll get to that soon enough. Now sit down, because I will be telling you this story: The weirdest spin on the Fantastic Voyage that has ever been put to screen.

It was a nice day in the Toad village…. UNTIL EVIL CAME! Oh, wait, no, not evil. More like a disease that inflates Toads into giant spheres, like balloons, with no cure that we know of yet. This new disease, the Blorbs, starts affecting more and more Toads, who become incapable of living normally. And I’m pretty sure there’s an inflation fan out there who’s very very happy right now that Nintendo addressed his fetish. To find a solution, Peach and Toadsworth contact Mario and Luigi, because apparently scientists aren’t trustworthy in the Mushroom Kingdom. The brothers arrive, along with Starlow, a new character to the franchise. Starlow is the Navi of the Mario series; tries to be helpful, but ends up being more of an annoyance. Still, she has more of a personality than Navi, so there’s that… Mario and Luigi finally arrive, with Luigi still in the process of putting on his shoes and overalls. Heh, still better than being dragged by Mario with rope all the way from their house to the Castle, like what happened in Superstar Saga.

Already a fight with Bowser?
Gee, that's off to a good start!
Most victims say they bought and ate Blobs Mushrooms from a local vendor. You know… I could understand the first guys falling victim to it… but after the first cases of the Blorbs happened, Toads would have gotten wary of NOT eating something called a Blorbs Mushroom, don’t you think? Ah, the Toads. Still too stupid to avoid danger, no wonder we always have to save them. After Mario and (a sleepy) Luigi are given the mission to find that vendor and defeat him, Bowser shows up in the conference room. He’s already pissed, pretending that since he inhabits this Kingdom he should have been a part of the conference, but he attacks when denied this right. Thus, Mario steps in to fight. Luigi doesn’t because he’s not done catching some Zs. This is the tutorial battle where Toadsworth teaches about timed hits, how you can use them to deal twice as much damage to an opponent and how you can avoid their attacks. Bowser is quickly defeated, so Starlow and Peach toss his ass out with the power of pink hearts.

That's not how I imagined the eye of a tornado.
Bowser is then found in the forest, where he’s healed by a Magikoopa. Bowser intends to go back to Peach’s Castle right away, and now you control him. Bowser has two overworld moves: The punch, which is done by pressing X, and the fire breath, done by pressing Y. With the punch, Bowser can breaks large rocks, while the fire breath can be used to get rid of the trees blocking the way. On his way to the Castle, Bowser encounters a strange merchant in a hoodie, speaking with an odd syntax. The merchant gives Bowser a “Lucky(?) Mushroom”, which he claims will give Bowser enough luck and chance to defeat Mario. Despite the Magikoopa’s fears, Bowser eats that mushroom and starts feeling weird. The merchant reveals itself to be Fawful, Cackletta’s servant in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. He’s back, with a vengeance, and he won’t let anyone mock his small stature, his speech patterns, or his spiral glasses ever again! He shall spread the mustard of doom on the toast that is the Mushroom Kingdom! He has fury! Mwahahaha! All their base will belong to him!

When Fawful leaves, Bowser starts inhaling everything around himself, taking everything inside him. Shigeru Miyamoto, Kirby called, he wanted his concept back. At the conference room in Peach's Castle, the group is about to leave when Bowser steps in and inhales them all inside him, before fainting. With no one to oppose him (or so he thinks), Fawful sends Bowser away and proceeds with the next steps of his plan.

Does that mean you'll be less bossy later on?
I hope so.
A miniaturized Mario soon awakes in Bowser’s digestive track, which seems to have shaped itself into an odd 2D platformer world. He saves Starlow from a Goombule, also known as the Goomba of Bowser’s insides. Every single location has its Goomba in the Mario series, didn't you know? Later, Mario finds Luigi and the two battle more Goombules. We get some more tutorial on how to hit opponents who are attacking, as well as how to use Luigi in-battle (by pressing B instead of A), and after this fight, we get an unskippable tutorial on the Start menu. Yay, all things I already knew because I played through this game, like, three times. Later, we learn about the Attack Pieces; every important level-like part of Bowser has ten Attack Pieces, and getting all Attack Pieces in a level gives the brothers a new Bros. Attack, which they can then use in battle to deal even more damage. The brothers quickly find the Attack Pieces, and we get our first Bros. Attack: Green Shell. It’s an attack where a bro takes out a green Koopa shell and they take turns knocking it back and forth into an enemy. Of course, because there is no such thing as random in this game, we end up facing Goombules with helmets, who would be protected from the Bros.’ attacks, thus knocking the shell at them is the only way to beat them.

Not like it matters, since the Bros. soon find hammers to use in battle as well. And of course, we find enemies with spiked shells, because we need to learn what the hammers are for. Gee! This all feels like an awfully long tutorial! I mean, I get it, new players need to learn how to use the game, but since this is where Mario and Luigi get many of their new weapons, it’s unskippable, thus a tad annoying for those who are replaying through the game.

WOWCH! indeed.
Upon coming out of the Trash Pit, Mario and Luigi find that they can travel around Bowser and activate some things inside him, causing some things to happen to the turtle-dragon. As an example, hammering on a nerve causes the still-fainted Bowser to finally get up. As it turns out, Starlow is somehow able to speak to Bowser from inside him, and the burly beast seems unaware of the little world that has appeared within his body. He doesn’t even know that the brothers are in there, visiting his insides. Bowser soon realizes that he isn’t in Peach’s Castle anymore, he’s instead in some kind of cave, and for some reason he’s not able to breathe fire anymore.

Indeed, you won't taste my fist. After all, I am not
aiming at your mouth. I'll punch your snout!
Mario and Luigi find a place in Bowser where all the inhaled Toads, as well as Toadsworth, decided to reside while they were stuck in him. Unfortunately, Peach isn't there, she's lost somewhere in the beast. There’s a coliseum nearby in Bowser’s body, but the brothers are too weak for the moment. All we can do is move a bit more in the overworld. The turtle-dragon meets Fawful just outside the cave; the Beanbean mad scientist explains, despite his dozens of dubious food metaphors and odd speaking patterns, that he caused the Blorbs epidemic. This served as a distraction for the population of Toad Town and the Mario brothers, thus allowing Fawful to carry through with his real plan; weaken Bowser with the vacuum Shroom, get rid of Mario and Luigi, and thus take control of Bowser’s castle and army, then take over Peach’s Castle as well, and then, take over the world. Because of course. Fawful ships appear around Bowser’s Castle and shoot at it. And in case Fawful wasn’t serious, he even got himself a lackey, a mix-and-match power creature much like bowser: A boar/armadillo who goes by the nickname Midbus. Fawful sends Midbus at Bowser, and despite putting up a good fight, Bowser soon faces moves that he can’t counter yet, so he loses. Thankfully, it seems all Midbus wants is a good opponent to battle, so he stops and tells Bowser to come and fight him again when he’s gotten stronger.

Did I mention Midbus speaks in a mix of caveman speech and Fawful’s syntax? It’s really weird. Something to give a translator a headache. Also Fawful, my inquiring mind wants to know just how the freaking Hell you managed to plan in such a way that you KNEW Bowser would head into the Mushroom Kingdom, get beat up by Mario, and thrown exactly into the forest where you set up your shop? Either you really like complexity or you stole a crystal ball somewhere.

Thus, Bowser continues on his way, battles fat Goombas, destroys stone pillars… later on, he hears a mystical voice telling him to smash a nearby stone; in that stone, there’s a strange spinning sphere revealed to be a Chakroad, and the voice teaches Bowser how to use these Chakroads to travel to and from various areas of the Kingdom, but only the ones he has seen so far. After trying it once to go to the cave and back, Bowser wonders once more who that voice may be, but it replies that it is currently residing somewhere in the Kingdom, and that Bowser may meet it – him or her – during his journey.

Goodie, more story exposition. We needed that, didn’t we? One part almost over and we haven’t met a single boss. This game is very heavy on the story, but most of all, it very heavily relies on the two sets of protagonists and their interactions - and on explaining every single feature. As a result, there’s a load to learn and the first hours feel tedious if it’s not your first time playing.

This brings me to the first, and in my opinion, the biggest problem with this game: The story sections feel like a chore. Between the previous overworld location and the next, you can go back and forth in the Mushroom Kingdom, unlocking new secrets thanks to the more recent abilities learned by Bowser. In the same vein (no pun intended), you are free to visit as the Mario brothers the parts of Bowser’s body that have been unlocked thus far and battle the enemies you find there. We kind of need those moments of freedom, because it goes away as soon as it’s time to advance the plot. Bowser walks around the Mushroom Kingdom, meets obstacles. To deal with those obstacles, a new part of his body opens for the Bros. to visit. Mario and Luigi go there, complete the dungeon that is in there (with the length of the dungeon varying): Sometimes, you need to switch back and forth between the two sides to advance in a location. It can get rather annoying, to say the least. Not to mention that some locations Bowser visits are already pretty labyrinthine, it’s often easy to get lost, and sometimes the same applies to the body parts of Bowser that the brothers visit. It’s not exactly railroading, and more options open up once you’ve discovered all of the out-of-battle abilities for both groups, but it can be pretty annoying for some players who enjoy more open-roaming RPGs. In a way, this Mario & Luigi game stands right at the center of the balance, with most MMORPGs at the far end, providing open exploration of the world, and on the other side, games like Dragon Quest Swords, which is nothing BUT railroading outside of the main town.

Ah bah putain! Une parodie de français dans un jeu
de Mario! Bah bordel, j'm'y attendais pas! La vache!
While traveling across Plack Beach, Bowser encounters a little cube-headed man who is trapped on a miniature island; the bridge to the island fell in the water, leaving only a rope. The character, Broque Monsieur, promises to give Bowser a special action cube if the turtle-dragon pulls the whole island towards the beach. Bowser tries to do it, but doesn’t have enough strength; meanwhile, inside him, a new area opens, and Mario, Luigi and Starlow go to visit it; it’s a cannon aimed at a muscle. Using their hammers, they shoot the cannon and then throw energy balls at Bowser’s muscle, giving him plenty of power to pull the island. This whole scene sets up the gameplay mechanic where Mario and Luigi, on visiting some precise areas of Bowser, are able to power him up in certain plot-relevant situations.

Let us see youze
be a block-blocker!
As promised, Broque Monsieur (who peppers his sentences with French words) gives Bowser the Vacuum Block, and then explains how to use it in battle: When it’s possible to inhale an enemy, Bowser can choose this block, then you can press X multiple times to make the inhaling easier. The battle then brings itself inside Bowser’s body, where Mario and Luigi are free to fight whatever’s been inhaled. Broque Monsieur allows Bowser to test this in a weird little boss battle. The funny thing about this guy is that he can literally flip his head upside-down when he wants to look menacing, That’s pretty damn funny. When the battle ends, Broque Monsieur flips his head back to his agreeable big-browed self, and then congratulates Bowser, allowing the villain to continue on his way.

Bowser soon meets on the beach the Sea Pipe Statue, a stone Blooper on some kind of robot. He starts punching it – because when you’re Bowser, punching, setting on fire or becoming giant are the only alternatives – and the statue suddenly starts moving and goes nuts. A little Fawful-like spaceship comes by to explain that Fawful is the one who reprogrammed the statue so that it would be dangerous. Bowser is thus forced to fight it, and since the Blooper head is too high for Bowser’s punches, and the body is indestructible, he has no other choice but to inhale it – thus letting Mario and Luigi deal damage to it. Once again, good set-up for the boss battles in the game, where the player may need to solve a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to hurt a boss; if it can be inhaled, how about letting Mario and Luigi do some of the dirty work? I mean, Bowser seems to have no clue of what’s going on inside him, so it’s already pretty stupid of him to think that his insides will be able to hurt opponents… Good thing the Bros. are there, huh?

Apparently Bowser is thirsty enough to drink
water for 30 minutes non-stop.
Anyway, once the statue is defeated, it starts pouring water from its “arms”. Bowser declares himself thirsty, so he goes to gorge himself with the water, opening a new zone inside him. This is a watery area that only fills when Bowser is drinking, so in order for the brothers' progress, he has to drink; Starlow convinces him to keep drinking, claiming it might clean his body and “make him stronger than Mario”. And of course, this is Bowser we’re talking about, so he jumps on that occasion and goes back to drinking. While Mario and Luigi visit the Pump Works, where the water gets stocked, and they find Toadsworth. To free him, they need to access a switch – but the passageways are too small for the brothers! So Luigi remembers what he learned back in Superstar Saga: He can whack Mario to miniaturize him (more like, squash him), so that Mario can go into tight spaces. Alas, those are the only tight spaces that we’re confirmed Mario will go into. With this renewed ability, the brothers solve the puzzles of the Pump Works and unlock most of the upper half of Bowser’s body, including the Flame Pipe where they find a large bug blocking Bowser’s ability to breathe fire. It also inhales Starlow, so even if we wanted to avoid fighting it, we have no choice. Killing that bug reopens the way for Bowser’s fire, allowing him to go back to his pyromaniac roots once more.

So that's why Bowser's fire breath was kinda... buggy.
Don't do a rimshot for this one, it was pretty bad.

Talking about roots, the most Bowser will use that ability for in the game is when he has to destroy trees blocking the way. With many of their old abilities back, these two groups of heroes continue on their way… Hopefully we’re done with tutorials now…

To Part 2, this Monday!