"Bowser's Inside Story" is a finely polished game that strikes a perfect balance in nearly every way.

User Rating: 9 | Mario & Luigi RPG 3!!! DS
The "Mario & Luigi" series has become somewhat of a dynasty on Nintendo's handhelds with its third superb installment. Gaming's most notorious brothers have had their greatest moments together in this action RPG series. Like its predecessors, "Bowser's Inside Story" brings out the color and personalities of the Mushroom Kingdom and its characters in a very creative, humorous way.

The story in "Bowser's Inside Story" is as wacky and lovable as the story in "Superstar Saga". The main villain, whom I hate, in "Bowser's Inside Story", is Fawful. Yes, the little green, bug-eyed, midget who was Cackletta's sidekick in "Superstar Saga" is the main villain. As much as I despise him, his plans to overtake the the Mushroom Kingdom are quite ingenious, setting up a hilarious and wacky story. Much of the toads in the Mushroom Kingdom have something called "the blorbs", which causes them to swell to immense sizes. They are so bloated that they can't move, and their only way of moving around is to be pushed or carted around. During a meeting between leaders and residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser crashes the party. Mario beats him up as usual, sending him packing. Bowser runs across a mysterious figure who bribes him with a mushroom that he claims can make Bowser stronger than Mario. Bowser takes the bait, only to find himself inhaling everything around him. He returns to the castle in the Mushroom Kingdom, inhales Peach, Mario, Luigi, Toadsworth, and countless others. Enter Bowser's belly, where Mario & Luigi spend a bulk of their time.

The Mario and Luigi gameplay plays much like a 2D platformer/role-playing game hybrid. In addition, players also play as Bowser on the top screen. The x & y buttons are used for Bowser's actions, as the a & b buttons are used for Mario and Luigi's actions. Playing as Bowser is a blast, and it makes you love him even more as a character. He's a jerk, but a lovable one. And it feels good to beat tough foes and bosses with Bowser to see him brag and boast in his strength and power. It's something you don't get to see Bowser do much of since we are so used to beating him with Mario in our Mario games all of the time. In combat Bowser has two main attacks. He can pummel foes with a huge, powerful, satisfying punch. He can also breath fire, which requires the player to blow into the DS's mic. The longer you exhale into the mic with one breath, the greater the damage. Timing is important in attack, dodging, and countering attacks in combat.

The style of combat is turn-based, but very quick paced and action oriented. Enemies usually give a hint or indication as to who and how they will attack, giving you an opportunity to dodge or counter. Timing is key, and sometimes getting a feel for the rhythm of the battle is important. Mario & Luigi have their basic attacks such as jump and hammer. In addition, the brothers can use special attacks, which are some of the best the series have had yet. Special attacks with the brothers require the player to successfully execute timed button combinations. The attacks require some skill, and are a blast to use. Bowser's special attacks are no fluke either as they integrate the DS's touch screen and mic abilities into the frame of play. When playing as Bowser, faced with a smaller foe, Bowser can inhale enemies. When the enemies are inhaled, Mario & Luigi battle the foe inside of his belly. This makes for some uniquely interesting combat that allows the player to tactically and strategically take out their foes.

Outside of battle, Bowser travels the Mushroom Kingdom, punching, smashing, and burning his paths. The puzzle components are largely found inside of Bowser with Mario and Luigi. When Bowser comes face to face with a tough obstacle, such as not being able to lift something, or push something, Mario and Luigi know how to stimulate his muscles. When Bowser can not lift something, Mario and Luigi travel to his arm and play a sweet rhythm game with their hammers. When Bowser can't push something, the brothers travel to his thighs where the player plays a mini-game where the brothers jump and press in on two muscles. There's even a space invaders style mini-game that causes elements in Bowser's body to go haywire and make him grow to a gigantic size. When Bowser grows to a ginormous size, he is pitted up against a gigantic foe, which brings about an entirely different and unique battle mode with Bowser. Turning the DS sideways, you use the touch screen to fire fireballs at enemies, to punch large foes, and use the mic to blow fire on enemies. The text that I am using to explain this unique battle mode which only occurs a little over several times in the game, is more cooler than what I make it sound, believe me.

As with any RPG, winning battles give the characters experience points, which levels up the characters. You can also purchase items at stores in the game which have the capabilities of enhancing character stats, healing health, special attack points, and status effects in battle. You can also buy clothing for Mario and Luigi that will enhance their stats. Also available in the game's stores are badges, which introduce a neat new feature to the series. Both Mario and Luigi are allowed to equip one badge each. Every time one of the brothers successfully attack a foe in battle, that brother's badge on the badge meter will move closer to center. When both badges on the badge meter meet up in the center of the meter, connecting to one another, the player can tap the badge meter with the stylus, which will in turn have some sort of special effect on the brothers. The effect depends on the badges that the brothers have equipped. If Luigi has a badge that enhances attack power and Mario has a badge that heals, you can expect to see an effect on the brothers that mixes the power of those two badges. When the badges are used, the meter automatically resets. You can also buy items and clothing for Bowser to enhance his stats as well: spiked bracelets, power rings, etc.

"Bowser's Inside Story" is much more challenging than its direct predecessor "Partners In Time". I did not die once in "Partners In Time", and I really never came close to. In all honesty I have not died once in this game either, but I have come very close on more than a few occasions. The fact that the game is more puzzle oriented and open ended make it more challenging as well. "Partners In Time", superb in its own right, was disappointingly linear. "Bowser's Inside Story" opens back up the elements of travel and exploration that shined so brightly in the first game. More highlights in "Bowser's Inside Story" that are as good as the first game is the sound, music, and visual style. The battle theme music as well as the music in every world and environment is superb. The dark and dull graphical style of "Partners In Time" is replaced by vibrant colors and exceptional 2D animation.

"Bowser's Inside Story" is a very well polished game that is done perfectly on the Nintendo DS. Alpha Dream decided to put the DS's unique capabilities to good use, while at the same time, not overbearing the gamer with gimmicks. The game strikes a perfect balance in almost every respect. Expect a good, fine, steady paced action RPG in "Bowser's Inside Story". Fans of Mario RPGs such as "Paper Mario" and previous installments in the "Mario & Luigi" series should most definitely check this one out.