Climb inside the belly of the beast and experience the madness all over again in Bowser’s Inside Story. Featuring refreshed visuals and a comedic storyline that remains faithful to the original, the battle for the Dark Star is just as captivating the second time around as it was in the first. But it’s a shame that Bowser Jr’s claim to fame leaves a lot to be desired; after all, his journey is better kept in the shadows.
It’s been a decade since the critically-acclaimed title, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, graced the Nintendo DS. From 2009 to 2019, Bowser and the Bros. are just getting better with age. If they were to take the #PubertyChallenge on Twitter or Instagram now, they’d probably break the internet (sorry, Ralph) with their refined pixels, beautiful ‘stache’s and sublimely polished spikes. The image would be swiftly followed by a Boomerang video of Luigi tripping over his own feet while trying to ‘twerk’ or ‘floss’, endlessly looping and garnering millions of views. If a decade is any indication of how much has changed, we’re thankful that Bowser’s Inside Story for the Nintendo 3DS has remained faithful to its original humorous storyline, albeit with a few lovely nuances – from developers AlphaDream and Arzest – along the way.
After a catastrophic case of the ‘Blorbs’ takes its toll on the inhabitants of Mushroom Kingdom, Mario & Luigi are invited to a secret conference at Peach’s Castle. It’s not long before Bowser catches wind of the conference and barrels in, only to be knocked out cold, landing in Dimble Wood. There he meets a strange creature who offers him a magic mushroom, enabling him to defeat the Bros. for good. When Bowser bursts into the meeting, he gets so angry that he starts to inhale every inhabitant, including Mario & Luigi, Starlow, Peach and Toadsworth. Sucked inside Bowser, Mario & Luigi are trapped, with the key to their survival in Bowser’s hands.
Meanwhile, Bowser’s got his own problems in the overworld to take care of. After giving Bowser the mushroom, the evil alien overlord Fawful has taken control of Bowser’s Castle, driving out all of his minions and brain-washing some of them to side with his cause. With the help of Starlow, Mario and Luigi, Bowser is ready to take back his castle, overthrow Fawful and (hopefully) the Dark Star’s curse on Mushroom Kingdom.
If you’re familiar with the original RPG, you’ll know that you control both the Bros inside Bowser’s body, as well as Bowser in the overworld. From the outset, you’ll notice a number of differences. The visuals have been updated significantly, following the same sprite design as seen in Dream Team Bros and Paper Jam Bros, making the game less like a comic-strip in appearance and more fine-tuned with its three-dimensional art. While there’s no stereoscopic 3D, the music has also been refreshed with a crisper, more indulgent tone. And, thanks to developer Arzest, the Giant Battles between Bowser and his enemies are now more accurate with the stylus, following the removal of the microphone’s ‘blow’ feature.
As you progress through Bowser’s Inside Story, you’ll notice a few changes to the game’s overall playability. Minigames inside Bowser with Mario & Luigi are now skippable, though the option only appears if you fail three times in a row; this is a godsend in the third rump command sequence. Specific puzzles, such as the timed globin-hit challenge, have been lengthened to make it easier to progress. Boss fights, in particular, have been adjusted for balance, with some much more difficult this time around. The final battle is a gruelling hour of ace-dodging, button-pushing, battle-pumping, expletive-calling frustration, which is made all the more satisfying on completion. Take that, Dark Star! Plus, you’ll also find some gear items have been switched around in the shop, and now appear in item blocks scattered across the overworld. It’s these small but subtle changes that make the 30-hour RPG even more captivating the second time around.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Bowser Jr’s Journey. In a similar vein to Bowser’s Minions from the Superstar Saga remake on 3DS, Bowser Jr’s Journey is a tactical strategy RPG that relies heavily on pre-battle mechanics, resulting in a hot-mess of randomly generated battle automation with very little user input. Using the weapon triangle, (whereby Flying type minions beat Melee; Melee beats Ranged; and Ranged beats Flying) battles are often fought in stages, typically lasting 3-4 rounds. Defeating enemy troops means you’re more likely to recruit minions into your team and you’ll also gain experience points to level up your fighters.
While the storyline is seamlessly joined to the main narrative (and gently but humorously mocks at Bowser Jr’s incorrigible manner), the gameplay feels hollow. Before the battle begins, you’ll be able to view the enemy’s formation in each stage, so you can set your fighters and arrange them into an advantageous formation. Next, you’ll need to decide on who your First Officer will be, either from the Koopalings or Kamek, all of which offer different stat buffs within the battle. Once you’re prepared, it’s time to hit begin.
Battles are, more often than not, entirely based on luck and quick-time events (QTEs). Controlling Bowser Jr, you can perform one of four attacks at any time; Deny (in which you stop an enemy’s special attack), Rally (to increase allies spirit or stats), Snack Time (to restore health), Showdown (to take on the leader 1v1). I’ve often used the same team to defeat the same level three or four times in a row, and each time there’s a different outcome. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. It all depends on what the AI’s RNG throws at you. There’s also no way to fast-forward battles, due to QTEs, and you cannot change your formation mid-way through battle to adapt to the enemies’ formation.
With 76 quests available and a range of minion types to recruit, Bowser Jr’s Journey is a bit of a mixed bag. With some adjustments, it could perform much better as a mobile game, rather than being shoe-horned into Bowser’s Inside Story. It’s a real shame too, as the side storyline has the same charm and witty comedy as the main game. For now, Bowser Jr is well and truly relegated to the sidelines.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is a remarkably polished remake with well-balanced updates that makes the game all the more enjoyable. If you’ve been champing at the bit like a chain chomp to play another Mario & Luigi RPG, you can’t go far wrong with Bowser’s Inside Story. We’ll be here, keeping calm and chortling.
A review copy of Mario & Luigi – Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey on Nintendo 3DS was provided by Nintendo UK.