“The series still strikes out on its third entry...”
Throughout the years of Alpha Dream’s makings, the Mario Bros’ roles have grown shorter, along with the series lacking in any true effort or improvement. It is clearly unknown why the later titles, including this game, lack the great versatility and fun as its perfectionist Superstar Saga had. It’s become a downer for Alpha Dream since then and somehow, they never learned from the rest of their mistakes since Partners in Time. They managed to fix some of them, but not all of them. And where did they fix them? In this game, of course...
In Bowser’s Inside Story, the whole game stars Bowser instead of the Mario Bros while the Bros explore the tyrant’s anatomy to find a way out without finding themselves in the toilet. The Bros help Bowser get bigger muscles and aid him in his quest while the big guy just doesn’t care and just jumps all happily and proudly to believe that he is “god”. This game also introduces Bowser as a playable character on the over world and battle screens, one of the most unusual things to ever happen in a Mario RPG. Bowser was already playable on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars and so as in Paper Mario 2 and Super Paper Mario, but since Bowser is the laughing stock in this game, the reputation for the Koopa King will most likely be ruined. Look on the bright side: At least Bowser’s Inside Story is not as bad as how flawed Partners in Time was.
To start things off, the story is very questionable. First that happens, then another thing happens...leading to a Mario RPG containing the most confusing plot ever in mankind. The intro is the same as the first two titles in the series, with the exception of Bowser returning and vacuuming the people in Peach’s Castle down to his gullet. At first the cut scene with Mario falling down Bowser’s throat is very disturbing, but the worst comes when he finally lands on ground, leading to the most confusing adventure yet. Bowser’s anatomy looks like a poltergeist-thingy in a strange dimension from a spooky show like Twilight Zone, only endless. Yoob’s belly may have been disgusting to travel through in Partners in Time, despite being a short moment in that game, but Bowser takes the cake as you’re stuck in his body for halfway through the game. If you’re a fan of Bowser, you’ll feel very bad for him in Bowser’s Inside Story.
And if you thought the story was bad, then its game play is easily and mostly unforgivable. The balance may have shifted very badly since Partners in Time, but Alpha Dream alienates it in Bowser’s Inside Story greatly while bringing some balance back. Hard-hitter Bowser replaces the sissy-slapping babies while the Mario Bros are still the half-witted versions of how they were in Superstar Saga, since Partners in Time. Battles introduce the new action commands from Super Mario RPG that must be precise as how they were in Paper Mario 2. Press the button at the exact time and you may get either a “Good”, “Great”, or “Excellent” hit. It’s very boring to even enjoy and very hard to do, but they become very vital much later on.
Bowser’s playable fighting techniques may look like a good addition, but once you start playing and getting used to him, he becomes another flaw in battles. He can punch enemies that imitate Captain Falcon’s falcon punch move from Super Smash Bros (yeah, Bowser’s punch is that strong), breathe fire at the entire enemy party (another strong one), or even attack with his minions (much stronger than his punch and fire breath combined) like how Mario Bros do their Special Attacks. Later on in the game, Bowser gains the ability to inhale enemies for the Mario Bros to do his share of the job in his gut. Unlike the other battles with the Mario Bros in other titles, you have a limited amount of turns to take the enemies out before they jump out of his gut. If the Mario Bros successfully defeat all enemies in there, Bowser will have lesser problems to handle. And whether or not the Mario Bros defeated the enemies, they still get their fair share of EXP while Bowser hogs the most of it to himself. The only downside to Bowser is that once his HP hits 0, you lose. There’s no one to revive him immediately since he’s the only one in the team. C’mon, Alpha Dream! Haven’t you already thought of an Auto-Revive item before releasing this to the public? Oh well, that’s cool. There are plenty of weird games out there than this.
The inhale ability is also used for many different things in the game. Bowser can inhale some stuff off of enemies to recover health or grant a temporary defense boost, but while the Mario Bros can face off enemies that he swallowed, stuff like this won’t be of any of the Mario Bros’ concerns. (Or in other words, nothing happens after inhaling the stuff and getting benefits off of them) Once you meet a certain person in the game, in some battles with certain enemies, should Bowser ever use the inhale ability? A small kitten will come out of the enemy and go into his mouth, but doesn’t get swallowed. (A cat got your tongue, Bowser?) If you manage to liberate them all, you get a surprise when you meet that person again. Bowser usually doesn’t do nice things, but since you’re controlling him, you can do whatever you want with him.
Yet, there’s the over world controls for Bowser. D-pad moves him around, the X button causes him to punch, and the Y button gets him to use fire breath. Both abilities are required to solve some puzzles while they can also be used for getting the upper-hand in battles with enemies. Punch the enemy and the enemies take the pain, and same goes for fire breath. And there are even small enemies in the game that are too easy for Bowser to handle. So what does Bowser do when he touches one of them? He kicks them aside to get free change while going about his business. He can also fire breathe the ones that flee too quickly, but when you use that to start battles, the game play becomes far too easy as Bowser. Bowser can easily get the upper-hand in any battle as always. Plus, Bowser can expand his abilities through the culprit of the Mario Bros in his body. The abilities are nice, but still it could’ve been better.
For the Mario Bros, they’re the same as how they were in the series, only less fun. Each will have commands like Jump to jump on the enemy, Hammer to hammer the enemy, Special Attacks to use a special attack, Items to use the items they have in hand, and Run to just run from normal enemies. Unlike Bowser’s battles, you control two brothers at the same time and have access to more items while in the expense of both brothers being traditionally weaker than Bowser. How you control them on the over world is also the same in the series, only that when you’re in Bowser’s body, the whole thing is 2-D Side Scroller like the traditional Super Mario Bros titles, which is by far the most excellent in the series. Button A gets Mario to jump while B is for Luigi. Later on in the game, you gain hammers and more abilities for the bros and are chosen by pressing L or R. Like Bowser, the Mario Bros can jump or hammer their enemies to get upper-hands, in which they have to engage it in close quarters to do so. Now, I personally think the Mario Bros’ game play is a lot more balanced while Bowser is just “let’s get this over with already” thing. And whether you’re sword-playing with the Mario Bros or hauling dirt with Bowser, Bowser’s Inside Story is broken for its unbalanced game play.
The clothing equipment in Partners in Time had been the only equipment that adjusted stats for a brother, but Alpha Dream still never learns to make it right in Bowser’s Inside Story. The pants are still the stat increasers while other clothing that increases stats does so by a percentage, which isn’t necessarily how Mario and Luigi’s equipment system is supposed to work. At first each brother and Bowser can have one equipment at a time, until later levels they’ll be able to equip more. Three equipment slots at maximum are far too short of leg room for more equipment and the abilities for other equipment are just too uninspiring as they just keep repeating like clones, like a glove that increases POW by 10% while another one increases it by 20%. The percentage ones help a lot at higher levels, but still it could’ve been better. At least Alpha Dream managed to fit in a useful glove in the game, which gives the wearer the “pharmacology” effect. In this effect, the brother will restore more HP or SP as usual, but only during battles.
Badges in Partners in Time have been a problem since each badge had only one effect and only affected one brother, but Alpha Dream kind of improves it while being an annoyance. BIS’ badges play a new role that is similar to Final Fantasy VII’s Limit Break system, but for most reasons it’s just not fun. Each brother does a command correctly physically or the use of a Special Attack, in which the meter moves towards the other brother’s spot in progression. If Luigi aces it, his face on the left of the meter moves right and vice-versa for Mario, with his face being on the right. Should the brothers’ faces meet? Tapping on it will trigger the badges’ effects and the meter resets. There are a total of 8 badges in the game, four of them for Mario and the other four for Luigi. Mario’s badges determine what bonus that is while Luigi’s badges handle the strength of the effect’s effect. The four effects are restoring HP, SP, boosting attack power for the turn, and earning more coins and EXP. If you’re trying to level up quickly or defeat bosses sooner, this is the only way to do so. And for some reason, whenever you want to change badges, the meter resets and you’ll have to fill it up again, making a flawed aspect more annoying. You can also change badges during battles, but the same annoying expense is just too unforgivable.
The problem with the level up and stat-roulette system is the same problem as how this game’s badges are. And the stat roulette from Partners in Time is insidiously broken in Bowser’s Inside Story. Whatever stat you choose to increase always have 1 point most of the time and somehow in later levels, each of your stats won’t get that much beef as most of the time and 1-3 points for each stat during roulettes is far too low to consider leveling up to “build character”. Superstar Saga and Partners in Time’s stat roulettes were always balanced at later levels, which it starts off as 1-3 points at beginning, then 4-6 later on. And very irritating to see that Bowser’s Inside Story is very picky on “level-grinding”, requiring you to collect tons and tons of EXP for hours than minutes. Superstar Saga and Partners in Time didn’t take very long to level up by 5 levels whereas for this game, it would take at least an hour. If this is Alpha Dream’s excuse to making this game enjoyable longer and more challenging, it’s not working. The enjoyment wears off very quickly and the challenge is boring, yet hard.
The beans have been a huge problem for why there were no stat-increasing items in Partners in Time, being spent for rare badges that made that game easier. If you loved Superstar Saga’s beans that increased stats without limit, then you’re going to hate the beans in Bowser’s Inside Story. There are three types of beans in the game and are entirely limited whereas in Superstar Saga, you can stock up like pirates and cash them down for stat increments. Those three beans are found by digging underground and increase HP, SP, and POW by 1 lousy point when used as an item, with a combined total of 251 of them in the game. You cannot get more than that number, so once you feed the bean to whomever, it’s gone for good. And to top it off, beans cannot go back into the dirt once you’ve collected the 100th bean for that stack. For instance, if you collect 100 HP Beans, you’ll be forced to drop that one and still have the max capacity at 99. But at least there’s a menu on the items screen to keep track of beans in each area so far...
As for the items, most of them from Superstar Saga are back, yet a few of them in Bowser’s Inside Story are kind of useless. One of them is the Retry Clock, which lets you start from the beginning of the current battle with full HP and SP and your current items back, yet it saves you the trouble of having to watch cut scenes over and over again before a boss fight. The Golden Mushroom from Superstar Saga is replaced with a Star Candy, which fully restores HP and SP, and they are found far too commonly as normal items. The Max Mushroom and Max Syrup items no longer restore HP and SP to maximum as they still recover a fixed amount as the normal, super, and ultra items. Does anybody know why Alpha Dream broke the Max items?
The pepper items that increased POW and DEF temporarily in Superstar Saga are no longer in Bowser’s Inside Story and not even the Blue Pepper (increases SPD for a short time) from Partners in Time return, so because of that Alpha Dream removes the good staple and old tactics of the two predecessors in substitution with avoiding the whole time in the game while dishing out heavier damage, but so much worst for Bowser since he hits like a ton of steel bricks. Combining this with beans, badges, and equipment, Bowser’s Inside Story has a major emphasis on offense. Most strategies that are made in this game rely on hitting harder than the hardest while avoiding attacks of any kind, another term being “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”. You want to hit harder? Boost up the badge meter and increase your damage given in one turn, equip an item with a high percentage increase for POW, and feed a character tons of POW Beans to do so.
The Bros Attacks from Superstar Saga were balanced and the best in the series while Partners in Time’s Bros Items ruined the game. Bowser’s Inside Story combines the two of them, plus in order to learn more Special Attacks, you’ll have to find 10 Attack Pieces on the over world, most of them being in Bowser’s body. It is perhaps not the greatest idea Alpha Dream has pulled off, but at least it’s better than getting it immediately like how you got Bros Items in Partners in Time. All special attacks are far more elaborate than the two predecessors and may either be fun or frustrating to pull off. For instance, the Jump Helmet uses two screens to show Mario in the air from jumping on the helmet that Luigi wears and all the way until when you finally reach the enemy, hit the A button one last time to dish it out. If you miss the helmet, the attack fails and does nothing. Another example would be the Snack Basket, where Luigi eats the food that falls from the sky and bloats to size. Shortly afterwards, Mario has to throw him up in the air in struggling and finally Luigi slams to the ground to hit ground enemies. The special attacks are useful, but the Fire Flower, Super Bouncer, Spin Pipe, and Magic Window could use more tweaking.
And let’s not forget about the special attacks for Bowser, but instead of executing them with buttons, you use the touch screen. Unlike the Mario Bros’ special attacks, Bowser unlocks special attacks by liberating his minions in the over world somewhere and they are gotten immediately as they are not separated in pieces, and similar to the Mario Bros’ special attacks, Bowser requires SP to pull them off. I won’t say his special attacks are lame, but their touch screen functionality could use more tweaking. For instance, Goomba Storm causes Goombas to storm at enemies and touching them will cause Bowser to light them on fire to cause more damage to the enemy. Another example would be the Magikoopa Mob, where the slide stroking is too complicating to do and most of the time, you won’t get it right.
The battle music was always a problem in most Mario RPGs, with Paper Mario 2 and Partners in Time being good examples of it. Bowser’s Inside Story at least learns from that and pretty much the only game to have better battle music tracks contained. And both the Mario Bros and Bowser have their own battle music. The Mario Bros’ battle music is quite peppy while Bowser’s is dark and evil, but could’ve been used in an actual fight against him. And while for the over world music tracks, they’re quite okay, but could use more fixing. So, the music tracks in this game are so-so.
And there are mini games. The mini games have been essential in most RPGs, with Superstar Saga having the best mini games around while Partners in Time having 1 boring one. Bowser’s Inside Story has tons, but even some of them aren’t that fun. Most mini games in Bowser’s body will require the Bros to lob electricity back into the biceps to get Bowser stronger, bounce mindlessly on the leg muscles to help Bowser heave faster, and even help him dissolve the carrots he eats. Most of them are frustrating to enjoy while some others are fun, yet both of those kinds of mini games are only played once. The one mini game I enjoyed was the Rump Command, where the Bros pilot a ship to shoot at the colored energy with same colored energy from each brother to shoot at, kind of like Namco’s Galaga. It was always fun and hoped it could be played over and over again, but sadly it doesn’t happen.
There also mini games that are played infinitely as well, but those mini games tend to grow boring faster than the speed of light while faring good equipment items with the most obnoxious high scores. Those mini games utilize special attacks on how long you can last the special attack before slipping on ice. The Bros get one chance while Bowser gets three goes, but it doesn’t really matter since those credits help end the torment of those mini games soon. If you’re really planning to get the equipment, be prepared for an incredibly ridiculous challenge to getting them. For instance, you see a Jump Rope mini game and the highest score is 100 jumps while to get that gold medal you must do 50,000 jumps in the row. Yeah, that’s how ridiculous the challenges are in this game, so if you can’t do it, Alpha Dream is to blame.
There are even fights that involve Bowser as a gigantic...giant, but shameful that there just isn’t enough of it. You hold your DS sideways with the touch screen on the left, and the whole thing utilizes tapping, swiping, and the microphone. And both he and the enemy have an equal amount of health. You want Bowser to punch? Swipe the stylus across the whole touch screen. Should Bowser want to breathe fire? Blow into the microphone long enough to bring out the summer burn. Is Bowser ready to throw in the towel? Touch the mushroom icon (which is only available if he finds a mushroom in the battle) to heal up. On defense, you punch and breathe fire by tapping to counter the enemy’s attack. So if you think about it, the Giant Bowser battles are like Godzilla in Turn-based Game play. The bosses get better and better, but a shame that they are only played once.
Lastly, there is an optional side quest in the game, where six of the bosses you already defeated in this game are back for a rematch. Unlike other battles you had with them, you can only use the items that the arena offers you and you must defeat them in a set number of turns to win. They’re also stronger than they normally were, but at least they can be confronted over and over again for fun. Leveling up massively will cause them to become a joke, but the real challenge starts when you unlock the final challenge, where you face off all six of those bosses, plus the hidden boss at the end under the accumulated amount of 35 turns. Can you do it? Who is the boss at the end? Who knows? It’s a mystery!
THE BROS ATTACKS ARE BALANCED AGAIN!! YEAH!!
The Special Points are implemented
Some mini games are fun
2-D Side Scroller is much more expansive than the other Mario RPGs
The story is longer
The bosses are fun
The best battle music tracks ever!
Giant Bowser is fun
The humor is back
Touch screen is usable
Bowser’s anatomy is disgusting
Stuck in Bowser’s body throughout halfway through the game
Some mini games are hard, yet played only once
The fun mini games are played once
Why can’t we do the Giant Bowser battles again for fun?
Bowser’s the star more than the Mario Bros
Bowser’s Inside Story was a good game at first, but in the end, you’ll feel bad for the Bowser we used to know. He was cheap, evil, and funny for the way he was. Still, like Partners in Time, this game is all coin flips as to whether you’ll get it or not. It may not be a good game in the series, but look on the bright side: The Bros/Special Points are back, the Bros Attacks are balanced and do a reasonable amount of damage, there are much more mini games, the touch screen is usable, the bosses are back with a vengeance, the 2-D Side Scroller areas are back and better than ever, the humor is not cheesy, the story is longer, and the Giant Bowser battles are fun.
And sad as it seems, the series’ weak point is more noticeably the Nintendo DS, where not much is utilized from even Superstar Saga for Game Boy Advance. If Alpha Dream ever has plans for a fourth entry, hopefully they’ll get back to the way they were with Superstar Saga. If not, what ever happened to Alpha Dream?