Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story Review

By Tim Stevens - Posted Sep 17, 2009

Good things happen when Mario and Luigi hang out. Sure, those things sound tragic without context: the abuse of many small mushroom-like creatures, the stomping of nearly defenseless turtlemen, and the abduction of doe-eyed and over-dressed blondes. But, everyone maintains their sense of humor and good times are had, especially when it's wrapped into a Mario & Luigi game. Bowser's Inside Story is the latest, typically light-hearted entry, and it's perhaps the best in the role-playing series.

The Pros
  • Genuinely funny script
  • Colorful, bright, detailed visuals
  • Plenty of entertaining mini-games
The Cons
  • Very long-winded at times
  • Boss battles are occasionally tedious
  • Gratuitous microphone use

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside StoryGood things happen when Mario and Luigi hang out. Sure, those things sound tragic without context: the abuse of many small mushroom-like creatures, the stomping of nearly defenseless turtlemen, and the abduction of doe-eyed and over-dressed blondes. But, everyone maintains their sense of humor and good times are had, especially when it’s wrapped into a Mario & Luigi game. Bowser’s Inside Story is the latest, typically light-hearted entry, and it’s perhaps the best in the role-playing series.

Gobble Gobble Gobble


Lord Bowser (King Koopa if you’re otaku) has always been the biggest of the core characters in any Mario game. In Mario Kart, his ride handles like a fire truck; in Super Smash Bros., his stomp shakes the screen, and in Mario Tennis  -- let’s just say his strength is not at the baseline. This game, too, is all about his considerable bulk, which at various points in the game gets rather more considerable, swelling to fill the screen in epic, Godzilla-like battles.

However, Bowser isn’t the villain this time; he’s been conned by Fawful, the Björk-talkin’ enemy from 2003’s Superstar Saga. Fawful tricks Bowser into eating some funky mushrooms, causing His Crankiness to march into Peach’s castle and inhale her, her supporters, and the Mario Bros. Thus, begins a split adventure, alternating between exploring Bowser’s innards as Mario and Luigi and controlling the big boy himself as he tries to get back at Fawful.

This creates an unlikely partnership, the mushroom having damaged enough of Bowser’s internal organs to disable his hulking strength and fiery breath, among other things. Mario and Luigi must explore those 2-D guts on the DS’s lower screen to fix the big green guy up, engaging in mini-games and quests as needed. Bowser stomps about on the upper screen, generally controlled in an isometric view, chasing after Fawful and trying to get his domain back.

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Role Playing from the Inside Out

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside StoryWandering about as Mario and Luigi will feel like old times for anyone who’s played one of these games before. The two plumbers are both controlled by the D-pad, with the A button making Mario do something, the B button controlling Luigi, and the R button toggling through actions like jumping, sledgehammering, or spinning like a helicopter. Bowser is a little more limited, relying on his fire (once stoked up again) and his right fist to get by most obstacles.

Battles begin whenever you bump into an on-screen opponent, with the winner decided RPG-style, one turn at a time. The Mario bros. can jump on opponents, hit them with hammers, or use a variety of other special attacks – most requiring some sort of timing and finesse to properly execute. Bowser has a similar complement of attacks, calling upon swarms of his minions to charge enemies, leaving you to stab or stroke the touchscreen to boost their damage.

All enemies have attack patterns that must be learned for success; most are obvious, like a worm that looks up before jumping or looks left before charging, but some will take a few turns to identify. Once mastered, nearly any battle can be completed without taking a lick of damage, occasionally making things a bit repetitive, but a steady stream of new opponents will keep you on your toes. It’s also tedious to blow on the microphone to trigger Bowser’s fire attack in certain boss battles, because there’s nothing like huffing ferociously on a little gadget to make yourself feel like even more of an outcast in a public place.

No Laugh Track Required

Plenty of RPGs try to be funny, but most score a roll of the eyes at best. Bowser’s Inside Story will actually make you laugh, despite a script that is at times ridiculously wordy (don’t expect to do much but read for the first 45 minutes). The game never fails to be entertaining, whether it be thanks to an obese Bowser squirming and struggling after falling through the floor or the constant stream of pseudo-Italian gibberish that flies out of Luigi’s mouth.

It’s all paired with the classically-styled but lovingly detailed 2D graphics that look fantastic throughout. Every sprite is expertly drawn, placed, and animated, all layered over warm backgrounds. The simple music is as period-sounding as the visuals are looking, and while there’s no spoken dialog, everyone has a sort of babble track accompanying the on-screen text. It all blends together perfectly.

A Mushroom Kingdom Three-Way You Won’t Soon Forget

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside StoryThe previous Mario & Luigi games have been must-purchase titles for Game Boy Advance and DS owners, and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is no exception. If you have even the slightest affinity for the various characters in the Mushroom Kingdom or for light-hearted RPGs, this game is worth your attention. It’s too good, too fun, and too funny to miss.