Bowser’s breakout adventure hasn’t aged a day.
Back before AlphaDream lost the plot with where to take the Mario and Luigi series of turn based action RPGs, they managed to have one last hurrah by putting out a game that is not only the best of its series, but might actually be the best Mario RPG ever. Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story launched for the Nintendo DS in 2009, and it was a fantastic game. It built on the strengths of the GBA’s Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga with its clever meld of turn based and action RPG gameplay, it had multiple extremely clever gameplay hooks by getting players to manage the Mario Bros., alongside the big bad Bowser, it involved platforming and RPG elements alike, it leveraged the DS’s unique hardware, including the dual screen layout, the clamshell design, the microphone, and the touchscreen, and it was extremely well written and superbly funny. It is not an exaggeration to call it one of the funniest games to be ever made.
Now, on the Nintendo 3DS, AlphaDream is bringing Bowser’s Inside Story back. In terms of the core design and writing, nothing really has changed. Everything I described above still applies. The game is still part platformer, part action RPG, it still blends elements of turn based and action RPGs, and it is still riotously and gloriously funny. It still leverages the strengths of the DS, though some of them conflict with the 3DS’ core design. It’s every bit as great to play now as it was back then.
It’s not a straight port at all, however. AlphaDream’s biggest change to the game is also perhaps the most controversial one here, because the look of everything has changed. Bowser’s Inside Story on the DS was an absolutely gorgeous game, employing some beautiful pixel art to look timeless. As a result, it still holds up to the extent that, let’s be honest, the game didn’t need a remake as much as a re-release. But a remake is what it got, and said remake changes the look to a substantial degree, employing a mix of 2D art and 3D models.
"It is not an exaggeration to call Bowser’s Inside Story one of the funniest games to be ever made."
To a very large degree, this works, and it works well. The new animations are full of charm and personality, and in a lot of ways, help the game look like you might remember it looking, but which it didn’t actually look like back in the day. But on the other hand, there is a hit to the art style here somewhat, especially since in some cases, the move to 3D models feels a bit more generic than the delightful pixel art, and because in other areas, there’s a weird clash of 2D art and 3D models. To be clear, the game still looks absolutely gorgeous—the only reason I can complain about this is because I have the original game to compare to. If I were playing this for the first time, I daresay I wouldn’t have had any issues whatsoever. But given that this is a remake, it is worth pointing out that the 2D art is, in a lot of ways, better a lot of times.
But as I have already pointed out, the meat and bones here is the unique gameplay, and the fantastically comedic writing and situations the characters find themselves in. Bowser’s Inside Story sees an unknown disease invade the Mushroom Kingdom, and through a contrived series of events, sees Mario and Luigi end up inside Bowser’s body. It sees the player control Bowser in the overworld in RPG segments, while Mario and Luigi are controlled in sidescrolling segments inside Bowser, with what is done in the overworld affecting what’s happening inside Bowser, and vice versa.
Bowser himself is the star of the show. He gets the best lines, he’s laugh out loud funny, and the best gameplay segments all star him. He has more personality in this one game than he has had across every single bit of Mario media through over three decades before, and one of the main reasons I love Bowser as much as I do is because I grew up playing and loving Bowser’s Inside Story on the DS.
"Bowser himself is the star of the show. He gets the best lines, he’s laugh out loud funny, and the best gameplay segments all star him."
The 3DS remake seeks to give Bowser’s unloved son Bowser Jr. a similar big break. Bowser Jr.’s Story is a fairly substantial new episode that is added to Bowser’s Inside Story, which sees the eponymous Bowser Jr. set out to find the cure for the mysterious Blorbs himself. The gameplay style here is new, with gameplay being a bit generous in how things play out, given that a lot of it is things playing themselves after you set your formation with the Koopalings for battles. The dialog here is witty and clever, and again, the characters shine, but it’s decidedly inferior to the main course here.
That said, it is new content, and if you want it, you can access it right from the main menu, without every completing or even touching the main story itself. It’s self contained in a lot of ways, so you can get into it without needing any larger context or setup.
While Bowser Jr.’s Journey is relatively underwhelming, the core package is incredibly strong, and the game has aged like fine wine. If you still have a copy of the DS original rocking, you don’t necessarily need to spend money on this version, but if you’ve never played the DS original, or played it and loved it, but don’t have that copy around for whatever reason, jump right back in. Bowser’s Inside Story stands the test of time, and is a fantastic, light hearted, fun game, and an incredibly strong addition to the 3DS’ already strong library.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
Extremely funny, extremely unique, leverages the unique strengths of the hardware, Bowser is the best he has ever been, is every bit as compelling now as it was ten years ago
The new graphics look great, but purists may dislike the new look; Bowser Jr.’s Journey is a bit of a miss
Bowser shines in this adventure that has stood the test of time, and remains every bit as riotously funny and compelling to play today as it was ten years ago.