Putting the Fun Back in RPG
Bowser's Inside Story (BIS), if you're not familiar, is the third installment of the handheld series of Mario & Luigi RPGs, and though the two previous games were great, this thing here just hits it completely out of the park. Forget what you think you know about role-playing games. Bowser's Inside Story might not reinvent the wheel, but holy hell, it sure fine tunes it to an immaculate sheen!
The gist of the story is that some dude named Fawful is after the Dark Star in order to attain ultimate power. He turns many of the toads from the Mushroom Kingdom into fat, over-sized rollie pollies, and when he causes Bowser to uncontrollably suck up everyone in Peach's castle, Mario and Luigi find themselves having to work, incognito, with Bowser…from inside his belly. Yup, it's a crazy story, and it is some of the very best humor I've ever experienced in a handheld game.
What truly makes BIS so amazing (and I don't use that word lightly) is the mix of incredibly entertaining combat and what I can only describe as near-perfect pacing. You're never going to grind in this game. You'll go from one exciting battle to the next, with tons of really fun boss battles in between, and the delights just keep on comin'.
A couple of the basic battle mechanics, such as hammer and jump attacks, make a return here, but for the most part, it's all new stuff. You'll spend a lot of time playing as Bowser, and his attacks are a ton of fun. Like the last game, timing is crucial in battle, and it's not the type of combat system that allows you to just sit back and watch the show. In BIS, you're actually playing the game pretty much the entire way through.
In addition to the regular combat, there are a ton of great set pieces and mini-games that tie everything together perfectly. A variety of special attacks make great use of the stylus, but you'll also be called upon to help Bowser out of the occasional fix. Nothing ever feels gimmicky; it's all straight-up fun from start to finish.
It also doesn't hurt that the game is absolutely gorgeous. I loves me some polygons – don't get me wrong – but the 2D artwork on offer here is butta'. And everything's better with butter. The backgrounds are simply beautiful, and the sprite work is the very best you'll see on DS. There are some moments where Bowser grows huge and things get a little pixilated, but overall, the game looks fantastic.
It also sounds fantastic. The music is varied wonderfully, and the sound effects and text scroll are equally entertaining. The presentation, too, is just out of this world. Little touches, such as flags that indicate how far along your characters are with leveling up, add so much to the complete package. The menus are much prettier and easy to use this time around, and really, it's hard to pick at anything in this game.
I've never given a 10 to a game before, but a 9 or even a 9.5 is just not enough for Bowser's Inside Story. No game is perfect, but damn if this game doesn't come as close as humanly possible. I'm really having trouble thinking of any other RPG that, after 30-some years of gaming, compares to this. This isn't one of those situations where someone says, "if you like Mario and/or RPGs, try this game." No, if you like fun and own a DS, get this game. It's as simple as that. Enjoy!