Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey (3DS) Review

Kicking off this week is a new review for a game that launched early this year. It's Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey, and between this game and the previous review for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games: Tokyo 2020, my fingers are cramping up typing up all of these long titles! As we pour one out for the developer of this game, Alphadream, who has since fallen into bankruptcy, let's check out the SPC review of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey for the Nintendo 3DS.

The ins and outs of the Mario & Luigi series's greatest adventure

2018 was essentially the final year of major support for the Nintendo 3DS, and what's left in 2019 is pretty much slim pickings for 3DS owners as Nintendo and its various third party partners have moved on with a laser-like focus on the new hotness that is the Switch. The biggest games from Nintendo this year for 3DS owners are both retreads of familiar games. While SuperPhillip Central has already covered the first, let's take a look at the second with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey.

When Bowser devours a mysterious Mushroom that causes him to inhale and digest everything within his reach, including the Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and various Toads, it's up to an unlikely alliance of Mario Brothers and Bowser to work together with Mario and Luigi venturing through the Koopa King's body to help Bowser out in the outside world. This is all the while the nefarious fan-favorite Fawful takes over the Mushroom Kingdom, including both Peach and Bowser's castles respectively.

This is a pretty plump problem for the plumbers to solve!
You can bet they're on top it, though!
Bowser's Inside Story switches off between playing as the duo of Mario and Luigi inside Bowser's body in 2D side-scrolling areas, and then playing as the Koopa King himself in a traditional overworld map. Many times throughout the adventure, you'll switch on the fly between the two to solve puzzles and change the environment inside Bowser's body. For instance, a platform inside a "dungeon" in Bowser's body is deemed too high to reach for Mario and Luigi, so Bowser can go ahead and fill his body with water on the overworld map for Mario and Luigi to reach the previously inaccessible platform. There are also mini-games that play out which gives Bowser the necessary strength or abilities he needs during certain scenarios in the game, but some of these appear too often for my liking and feel like padding for the most part.

What Bowser does on the outside can have effects on his insides, such as in this example.
There are sections of the game where Bowser transforms to humongous size and takes on massive bosses. These parts of the game have you turning the 3DS on its side, portrait-style, and using the touch screen to attack and guard against the enemy's advances. They show up just a handful of times, and tend to last a little overlong, but overall, they're enjoyable slices of gameplay to keep things engaging.

Fi-fie-fo-fum, a gigantic Bowser is here to get him some.
If you've played a Mario & Luigi RPG before, then you should feel right at home with Bowser's Inside Story. You use both plumbers to perform platforming stunts around areas, using the A button for Mario and the B button for Luigi (or having both jump at once with a press of the Y button), and switch between various abilities with the L and R buttons. For example, Luigi can hit Mario on the noggin with a hammer in order to flatten him to a small stature, allowing Mario to fit inside small passageways that the plumbers together couldn't otherwise access. There's also a twister ability that grants both plumbers the ability to spin across wide chasms that a normal jump wouldn't allow them to pass over.

Meanwhile, Bowser also has his own set of overworld abilities that he can use, whether that's setting trees and foliage that obstruct his way on fire with his flame breath, punching down heavy walls, leaping into the air and smashing downward with his shell, or curling up into a spiky ball to climb specially marked walls and cross over hazards.

Battles initiate when the player makes contact with an enemy, and if you wind up attacking a foe on a game map to initiate battle, you start the battle attacking the enemy directly. However, the enemy can also do the same to you.

The same context and timing-based combat system that dates all the way back to Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo is put to good use in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. It's all about pressing the button at the right time to deal the most damage when performing attacks. Pressing the jump button immediately before Mario or Luigi makes contact with a foe means additional damage occurs. Meanwhile, dodging attacks is performed by either jumping or using Mario and Luigi's hammers with proper timing. Bowser's combat is similar, just change "jumps and hammers" to "punches and curling up inside his shell" to dodge or block attacks instead.

Powerful special moves in the form of Bros. Attacks can dish up
some damage quite quickly if your timing is sharp!
Starting off, enemy attacks are rather easy to avoid with simplistic tells as to who and when they are going to attack, but as the game chugs along, you'll discover that enemies can be quite challenging to avoid their attacks, and that said attacks deal some heavy damage if not avoided! I found it rather clever how Alphadream has enemies give away who they're going to attack, such as performing a specific and subtle animation to determine if the enemy is going to aim at Mario or Luigi.

Some Bowser battles require him to vacuum up enemies, literally inhaling them to miniature size inside him for Mario and Luigi to do battle. While you're not simultaneously fighting two fronts at the same time--instead Mario and Luigi take care of the enemies brought inside Bowser's body first, and then the battle outside recommences--it's a cool and creative feature and element that brings some freshness to the Mario & Luigi format.

So, Mario & Luigi's combat system isn't a passive one. You're always actively engaged with battle, whether you want to be or not. I say the latter part because some enemy encounters tend to drag on and not seem to be worth the time or effort for the experience or coin reward given. Thus, if you're just randomly hitting buttons without paying attention, these battles will just last even longer than they would otherwise.

However, if you DO want a passive experience, then Nintendo and Alphadream have cooked up one for this remake of Bowser's Inside Story. Like its remade predecessor, Superstar Saga, also on the 3DS, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story's 3DS version features a side story featuring Bowser's minions. This time around it's Bowser Jr.'s Journey, centered around Bowser's offspring as he ventures throughout the Mushroom Kingdom searching for Bowser's missing minions. Here, battles play out with minimal input from the player, simply having them select a series of minions to protect Bowser Jr. Then, it's basically watch a parade of enemies battle one another and see if you're successful in fending them off. It's a rock-paper-scissors-like experience, and one that is much too "hands off" for my liking. I ended up dropping it about halfway through, despite enjoying the snappy new dialogue featured in the game.

Unlike what this screenshot says, there's nothing really "Excellent"
 about Bowser Jr.'s Journey, other than the dialogue.
Speaking of which, the humor is on point as ever with Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey as a whole. Mario and Luigi may have their names front and center on the title of the series, but yes, it is Bowser who steals the show. Seeing how Bowser tries to throw his weight around--both figuratively and literally--with various characters and the hilarious interactions he has with them seldom failed to give me a smile at the very least, and a hearty chuckle at the very most. Adding to that everyone's favorite Mario & Luigi series character Fawful as the leading villain (he has fury, don't you know), and you have a game that is impossible not to play without laughing. Try it, I dare you.

With regard to the presentation, those who played the remake of Superstar Saga should have an idea of what to expect. You have an updated art style with less expressive characters and animations, as well as a new take on the classic music from the game. Like Superstar Saga, there is no support for stereoscopic 3D, much like many 3DS games released in the system's twilight years. Of course, part of that is due to both screens being used in battles.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story + Bowser Jr.'s Journey doesn't completely replace the need for the Nintendo DS original Bowser's Inside Story, but also adds enough content and updates to the game that it makes for a nice supplement all the same. Bowser Jr.'s Journey is a disappointment in how "hands off" the experience is, but considering it's an extra mode to a game that would otherwise already be full-featured, it's hard to knock it too much. After all, when you have the excellence that is the 25-30 hour adventure of Bowser's Inside Story, not even Bowser could find too much to complain about... other than some filler and padding in the form of repeated mini-games, of course!

[SPC Says: B+]

Want even more Mario & Luigi? Then, check out these other SuperPhillip Central reviews!

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser's Minions

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