Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story Hands-On Preview
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story box art
System: DS Review Rating Legend
Dev: AlphaDream 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Nintendo 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Sep. 14, 2009 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Everyone 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
The Inside Scoop!
by Jonathan Marx

August 6, 2009 - Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is the third entry in the Mario & Luigi series - the spiritual successor to the Mario RPG franchise. Ever since the series' debut on the GBA, players of all stripes have flocked to these handheld RPGs.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story screenshot

The pairing of the plumbing duo, the wonderful character design and development, the witty humor, and the satisfying gameplay make this franchise one that truly shines. If there ever was a must-buy portable series, this is it. After getting extensive hands-on time with the latest entry, I can safely say that yet another brilliant title is in the works over at AlphaDream.

The portable series has always centered on using the distinct abilities of Mario and Luigi (or those of their Baby counterparts) in tandem in order to best the adventure. This time, rather than just using Mario and Luigi to save the day, players will also get to try their hand at controlling Bowser - the legendary princess-snatcher himself. Switching back and forth between the mustachioed heroes and the fire-breathing dragon turtle is quite satisfying, as it serves up fresh gameplay experiences while still staying true to the proven formula established in the original titles.

For those of you who haven't played the first two entries (get online or head on down to your favorite used game store right now and start playing), the battle system is similar to what was offered in the Super Mario RPG and Paper Mario franchises. Players take on foes in pitched battles, use item power-ups for ability boosts, and gain XP upon resolution in order to level up the heroes. As Mario and Luigi become more powerful, they will continually add to their arsenal of enemy-squashing skills. Timing in Mario & Luigi is crucial, as gamers will have to execute complex button presses in order to maximize a specific move's damage. Likewise, enemy attacks can also always be thwarted by well-timed jumps and mallet swings. Once you get really good at the timing, you can even turn an enemy attack on itself, damaging your foes with counterattacks. The gameplay in the Mario & Luigi series is seriously fun. It is also complicated yet accessible.

The first two titles (one for GBA and one for DS) took players on a hilarious ride through the Beanbean and Mushroom Kingdoms, respectively. Players were introduced to new characters and enemies in those games that were so compelling, they've endeared themselves to all who played the titles. Perhaps the most interesting and funny of them all was Fawful - Superstar Saga's antagonist Cakletta's beanie henchman. I am happy to report that Fawful is back, having more fury than ever before.

The storyline this time around has Mario and Luigi trying to solve the mystery behind an epidemic in the Mushroom Kingdom called The Blorbs. The Blorbs is deadly dangerous, as it causes all the poor little Toads to swell into giants. As Mario and Luigi mull over their prospects with Princess Peach, Bowser storms into the castle intent on kidnapping Peach. Though his initial attempt is thwarted by the brothers Mario, Bowser comes back after eating a funky mushroom that allows him to suck up the heroes, shrinking and ingesting them whole. As it turns out, giving Bowser the tainted mushroom was the plan of Fawful; with Mario and Luigi out of the picture, the evil genius from the Beanbean Kingdom is free to take over the Mushroom Kingdom. Subsequently, players will have to adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom as Bowser and inside Bowser's organism as Mario and Luigi in a two-part narrative. Players will be able to switch between both sides of the story at will in order to beat Fawful and restore the status quo.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story screenshot

Playing as Mario and Luigi is nearly identical to what was found in the previous games, but Bowser sections are distinct. Bowser is not nearly as lithe as the Italian jumpers. As such, players will have to use the Big Bad's strength to blast his way through enemies and obstacles alike. Bowser's size is further enhanced by the fact that players will have to turn the DS on its side in order to play. Using Bowser's innate skills and calling upon the combined force of his minions will get players closer to taking out Fawful and foiling his devious plot. While playing through the demo levels, I found that both Bowser and Mario and Luigi levels offered diverse gameplay experiences. I truly enjoyed the disparate abilities and play style each section offered, and I feel it is likely to shake up the formula in a significant way - as was the case in Partners in Time, when gamers got to take on the role of Baby Mario and Baby Luigi in the Mushroom Kingdom's past.

In addition to the game's two main stories, players will also be able to hone their timing and challenge themselves to a series of mini-games that are based on using various player character skills. Selecting from a number of skill challenges, players will have to defeat more and more difficult foes in survival-like game modes. The more enemies you defeat, the bigger score you'll accumulate. These mini-games are similar to and about as addictive as those mini-games featured in other classic portable Mario titles such as New Super Mario Bros. for DS.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story screenshot

Though the release of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story is still more than a month away at the time of this writing, the game has already been out in Japan since February of 2009. The reason the game has taken so long to come to North America is largely due to the arduous task of translating all of the text and dialogue featured throughout the game. The Mario & Luigi series is known for its laugh-out-loud humor, thanks to perhaps the best Japanese to English localizations ever made. From just what was on display in the demo version of Bowser's Inside Story, all of the hilarity and wit of the first two games is still present in this latest installment - the interactions between Bowser and his sycophantic minions are especially funny.

While Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story may not be wholly innovative, it appears as if it once again has mastered the tried and true formula of the franchise. The time we were able to spend with the demo was full of fun and laughs. The environments, characters, controls, and humor are all expertly done. We can't wait to jump back into the Mushroom Kingdom when the full game releases on September 14th.

By Jonathan Marx
CCC Editor / News Director

Game Features:

  • Players are in control of two separate storylines. One features Bowser and his efforts to stop an arch-villain from taking over his castle. Meanwhile, inside Bowser, the microbe-sized Mario & Luigi must muscle their way through challenges and keep their nerve if they want to find a way out. They take action to control Bowser from the inside - but without his knowledge.
  • Players can switch between storylines at will. What happens inside Bowser affects what he's doing on the outside. Sometimes Mario & Luigi must solve puzzles and challenges behind the scenes to help Bowser overcome various obstacles and advance the plot.
  • Players must make well-timed button presses to enhance their performance during battles and challenges. In some battles, Bowser grows so large that players must turn their Nintendo DS or Nintendo DSi system sideways, blow into the microphone or tap on the touch screen with the stylus to keep up with the action.
  • The game features the same hilarious dialogue that has been the hallmark of the Mario & Luigi series.

  • Screenshots / Images
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