Wednesday, 2 December 2009

On the Menu: Pesky Plumbers a lá mode - Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story

No screenshots, unfortunately. This game refuses to be emulated in No$GBA, and I don't like using stock screenshots. Sorry. D=

The Mario series of video games is one that's recognised the world over, from devoted video game fans to your gran. In the nearly 30 years he's been around, he's starred in more video gaming genres than most would care to count (or have even heard of). Some of his exploits have been incredibly successful - Everyone loves Mario Kart and the Super Mario games - others less so. The less said about Mario Teaches Typing, the better.

But one group of games from this pop culture giant has been a bit understated; the Mario Role Playing Games (RPGs). Acclaimed by fans for being a breath of fresh air from the Final Fantasies and Oblivions out there, they've always been packed with humour and series references, bundled up in bright, happy colours and an easy-to-learn control scheme.

The newest incarnation of these games is Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story for the Nintendo DS; and thankfully it stands up to the high standards the previous games have set for it. To break the plot down; Bowser's regular plans to kidnap the Princess Peach and ruin everyone's day goes awry when he's tricked into eating a dubious 'Vacuum Shroom'. Instead of just capturing the princess, he ends up inhaling her... along with the Mario Brothers. From there the game plays out as Bowser from the outside and the Mario Bros. from the inside. The lush Mushroom Kingdom that our anti-hero traverses switches almost seamlessly to his neon, cartoon-y insides as you switch back and forth to solve puzzles. This is a biology lesson like you've never seen before; when Bowser needs to do some heavy lifting, Mario sprints off to his biceps, thwacking his muscles with a hammer to make them tense up. When there's a wall too tall to jump over in Bowser's stomach, have him guzzle water from a fountain, flooding the area and letting you continue. As the game progresses, new puzzles taking advantage of Bowser's abstract anatomy are served to you, right up to the final moments of the game. A few of the tasks take a little longer than they held my interest for, and the infrequent instances where you use the stylus to play a minigame could be unresponsive, but then the next cool body part opens up to play with (Kicking around pollen in Bowser's nose to make him sneeze? Very gross, very fun), and the stagnant moments are quickly forgotten.

But it's not all just playing around in Bowser's body, there are fights with enemies to be had! In a lot of RPGs the battles are turn-based, and all it takes to smack the foe silly is a single button press. Not quite so here; while you still have to wait for your turn in battles, you're not allowed to relax - well timing your button presses during your attacks will rack up the damage, have Mario and Luigi do some cool acrobatics, and you get to feel really cool and involved. You even defend attacks that way. If you're hardcore enough, you can avoid any and all damage! Bowser's battles also work this way, but being the gigantic turtle monster that he is, his attacks are much slower and stronger. While the Mario. Bros team up to perform combination attacks, Bowser throws out brutal left hooks and scorching fire breath. He can even use the vacuum ability he's gained to swallow his enemies whole, delegating the battle to the plumbers inside him. While there's a lot to perform and experiment with, it's all very intuitive. And a good thing too, because the fights get steadily more demanding as the story goes on with steeper penalties should you fail to dodge attacks. There's even a Challenge Mode - er - Challenge Node for you to really test out your skills.

While this game can be enjoyed by anyone with a DS and a sense of humour (and that's you, right?), Nintendo fans will get a lot more out of this - it's stuffed to the nines with references and jabs at the gaming company's history. The way Bowser has almost a fatherly pride for the Goombas and Koopa Troopers he employs as his army (weak enemies that Mario stomps on a day to day basis) can't fail to crack a smile.