After a long hiatus, there are suddenly a handful of memorable, worthwhile titles for the Nintendo DS: Chinatown Wars, Rhythm Heaven, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, and most recently Scribblenauts. It took Nintendo, however, to save the best for last.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story might sound, at first read, like a kid's title. It's not; in fact, it's the third in a series of unique role-playing games featuring Mario, Luigi, and the rest of Nintendo's immortal cast of Mushroom Kingdom characters. The last in the series, Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, came out for the DS back in 2005. In case you've never played before, you have to understand that it's barely a role-playing game at all: yes, Mario and Luigi level up, collect items, and go on an adventure, but battles unfold as real-time quick-reflex minigames, and much of the story unfolds with a completely absurd sense of humor. This series of games might be Nintendo's best-kept secret in its first-party lineup. We played it, and yes, we loved it. Here's why.
Bowser's Inside Story adds additional strange wrinkles to an already trippy Mario universe: the game follows Mario's giant fire-breathing nemesis Bowser, who has inexplicably grown huge and sucked people into his gut, Mario and Luigi included. The upper screen follows Bowser while the lower screen focuses on the Mario brothers, who find themselves navigating Bowser's digestive tract in a series of side-scrolling levels. It sounds like a game best enjoyed on hallucinogens, but the formula adds up to a hybrid action/adventure with many hours of gameplay. It's also commendable because Inside Story uses nearly every button the DS has to offer, and does so cleverly. Like its predecessor, Partners in Time, character attacks and special moves are assigned to specific buttons on the Nintendo pad, split between A/B for Mario and Luigi and X/Y for Bowser.
The side scrolling levels are no New Super Mario Bros., but the puzzle-solving and mild platforming they bring to the table are the next best thing. Which brings another question to mind, unfortunately: if the Mario & Luigi series was able to get a second game on the DS, why hasn't there been a New Super Mario Bros. 2?
Nintendo seems to shy away from giving its biggest-ticket games sequels on the same platform. While some exceptions have been made, such as the upcoming Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, we're still waiting on follow-ups to 2006's New Super Mario Bros. and 2006's Mario Kart DS. And while we're at it, why hasn't F-Zero ever been released in DS form? But, I digress from the game at hand.
In short: Bowser's Inside Story is the type of Nintendo game we've been waiting for since 2007. Don't be put off by the title.
Bowser's Inside Story may just fill the Super Mario Bros. platforming void that has inflicted the Nintendo DS over the past year. Sure, it's not as polished as an in-house Mario game, but there are still plenty of familiar levels and gameplay elements that are likely to pacify fans of the classic side-scrolling genre.
We do need to note, however, that this title isn't strictly a platform action game. At its core, Bowser's Inside Story is a role-playing game, but it doesn't always necessarily play like one. You'll need to casually pay attention to some numbers and stats, but like a lot of friendlier role-playing games, most upgrades and level-ups are done for you.
Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is another notable gem among a seemingly endless drought of quality titles for the Nintendo portable. It's definitely a must-have for fans of the previous Mario and Luigi RPG title, and Inside Story is even more accessible and satisfying than its predecessor.