Review: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey: No guts, no glory
by on February 1, 2019

I’ve always thought it took a lot of guts for Bowser to take on Mario and Luigi so many times, but I guess Nintendo took idea much more seriously than I ever did.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey is a remake of Nintendo DS game Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story for the 3DS and 2DS. Like with the other games in the Mario & Luigi series, Bowser’s Inside Story is an action-RPG mixed with various other genres such as platforming and adventure.

What makes Bowser’s Inside Story stand out is the added feature of playing as the big boss himself: Bowser. While much of the gameplay is similar between the bros and Bowser, the villain’s bad attitude and penchant for brute force make his half of the quest feel like a unique game all its own.

Full Disclosure
Nintendo of America provided us with a review copy of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey

A giant plot

This could probably work as a PSA for the dangers of eating strange foods.

The game’s story takes quite a different turn from what is seen in most Mario games. It begins with an epidemic sweeping across the Mushroom Kingdom. Many of the residents have contracted something called “the blorbs,” which causes them to swell up and grow to enormous sizes. Princess Peach convenes a meeting to discuss how to handle the problem, a meeting which is crashed by Bowser. Mario naturally defeats Bowser and sends him packing, but Bowser later meets a mysterious figure who offers him a way to defeat Mario and the others. Bowser returns and uses his newly-obtained ability to inhale everything in sight, including Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. It turns out that Bowser was tricked, however, as his actions allow his mysterious helper, who is revealed to be the villain Fawful, to enact his plans to take control of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Now the Mario brothers find themselves trapped in Bowser’s body, and they must help the Koopa King regain his strength and find a way to stop Fawful.

Fury. He has it in spades.

The core of the Mario & Luigi games has always been the now-iconic turn-based battle system they use. One’s strategy is important, but what is equally crucial is the precise execution of attacks and defensive measures, which are done by successfully performing the Action Commands. Jumping on a Goomba’s head will damage it, but pressing the button a split second before landing will allow Mario or Luigi to land a second jump for more damage. Likewise, tapping the button at just the right moment before an enemy connects an attack will help avoid taking damage altogether, whether by jumping over it or blocking it with a hammer. The further you get into the game, the more complex the commands become, requiring a decent amount of focus and speed.

Once you get the basics of the Action Commands down, the next step is to master the art of Bros Attacks. Bros Attacks are powerful moves Mario and Luigi can perform as a team to deal massive damage or take out multiple enemies at once. These attacks are collected and learned throughout the adventure, and I strongly suggest you find all of them. Each move offers a distinct option in battle and can save you during particularly challenging boss fights.

I don’t know what this creature did to deserve this. Maybe he was just bugging them.

Battling as the big, bad Koopa

Battling is important, but so is the exploration of the game’s various locations. For the Mario Bros., much of the game takes place inside Bowser’s body and from a side-scrolling perspective, purposefully reminiscent of the classic Super Mario games. The brothers must navigate the bizarre and dangerous inner workings of their most dangerous enemy. This ends up being very fun, puzzling, ironic, hilarious, and somewhat gross all at once.

I can only imagine how bad they must smell after sloshing around in there.

Much of exploring Bowser’s body requires the manipulation of it. At one point I needed to force Bowser to chug a massive amount of water in order to flood his stomach so Mario and Luigi could swim to areas they could not normally reach on their own. It sounds weird (because it is, honestly), but it was a very clever idea for how to have all characters cooperate. Sure, Bowser actually has no memory of inhaling everyone and doesn’t even know he’s helping Mario and Luigi, but it still counts as teamwork, kind of.

Eventually, Mario and Luigi do get the chance to explore the Mushroom Kingdom and return to the more conventional top-down RPG style seen in previous games in the series. They can and will explore all the regions that Bowser had, but they are also able to reach areas he cannot by means of their unique abilities and teamwork. The inverse is also true. Bowser will at times be the only one who can perform certain tasks in the overworld, most of which require the use of immense strength or his ever-reliable fire breath.

Honestly, playing as Bowser by himself is probably the highlight of this adventure. Being the villain is a refreshing idea to be seen in a Mario game. As Bowser, I had the pleasure of overwhelming the enemies I encountered, and literally punching my way through obstacles. He’s not the greatest example in terms learning how to calmly solve one’s problems, but a chance to play out Bowser’s typical “I’m in charge” approach to life was fun. See an enemy in your way? Start things off by setting them on fire. Is there a bunch of boulders blocking your path? Lunge a punch to fly right through them and crush them to pieces. This aspect of the game would have been fantastic as a standalone game, and that’s where my biggest problem with Bowser’s Inside Story lies.

Fire. Always a problem solver.

Juggling three different characters shouldn’t be too much a feat to handle. Games such as Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam proved that. The problem is that Bowser is far from being anything like Paper Mario. He’s not similar to Mario and Luigi in any way. Throughout the game, he barely even directly interacts with them, and all the other times are during minigames that Mario and Luigi must perform to help Bowser. I would like to stress “must” because many times I had to force myself to play the often repetitive and borderline annoying minigames. Many of them were technically different, but they were still iterations of the same premise, which was to press the A and B buttons in a timed sequence or rapidly tapping of the touch screen. The touch-screen usage and controls were at least responsive and well-designed, but they ultimately felt unnecessary. Every time the game stopped to tell me to pull out the stylus, I knew what I was going to be in for.

This was sadly the most prominent method Bowser’s Inside Story used to make the characters work together. There were the interactions and manipulations of levels, but it often felt like the developers took every chance they could to add in what equated to little more than distractions from the main gameplay. Luckily, everything else in the game felt spot-on to me as I played, minus one or two odd decisions or mistakes.

There’s so much gameplay already in this game, some of it great and some of it sketchy, but Nintendo decided to go big with the inclusion of the giant Bowser battles. Get it? “Go big?” No? Moving on, then.

He always did think his dad was larger than life.

It’s all great if you’re not left-handed

It’s the surprise, third battle system Bowser’s Inside Story offers. During a handful of times throughout the adventure, Bowser will grow to gigantic proportions and fight equally enormous bosses, such as a seemingly alive mountain and Bowser’s own castle. These fights were what I was worried about the most as I prepared to play this remake. They were not the greatest back during the Nintendo DS days. Controls were the issue. These boss fights are played entirely by use of the touchscreen and while holding the handheld sideways. I would move or tap the stylus on the screen as prompted in order to successfully perform an attack or defend myself. Doing all this back in 2009 was much more of a hassle than it ever should have been.

This time around, though, I notice a stark improvement. Bowser would do what I wanted him to do. If I tapped in a direction to send a fireball in a specific direction, he would shoot one at that spot. And when I repeatedly drew a circle to enact a powerful finishing move, it actually registered instead of pretending that I wasn’t drawing. (Yes, pretending. I still think the DS version of this game would mess stuff up on purpose. It got that bad.) Granted, these fights are still essentially touchscreen minigames, like the ones I was just harping on earlier; however, I’ll make an exception here as they are much more fun and unique.

On the flip side, there is one major problem with these fights that I need to address as it affects me personally as well as the marginal group that I am a part of. Bowser’s Inside Story offers no option to change the controls to left-handed orientation. As I said, these battles force the player to hold the 3DS with the touchscreen on the right side, which meant the top screen and most of the action was obscured by my own hand as I played, since I had to operate the stylus with my left hand. I was able to work around it, but it was still more frustrating than it needed to be.

In addition to the battle systems and exploration, everything else great about the Mario & Luigi games returns, including the upgrades, leveling system, and extra content.

Each character can equip themselves with any combination of a vast assortment of gear and items to grant advantages in battle. Stats can be increased, special abilities such as being able to heal oneself or resistance to status ailments are common bonuses for putting on the pair of pants the Mario brothers stole off a defeated enemy. The same goes for Bowser, though he’ll put on a new shell rather than pants. I didn’t even know he could take the thing off. (I also don’t want to know what he looks like without it.) My actual point is that knowing what gear to equip and when saved me a lot of hassle as the battles got more difficult. Make sure you wearing the proper attire for every occasion.

Characters can even learn new categories of attacks, though some of them kind of suck.

The leveling system, which I have always loved in these games, was as good as I expected. Each character has six attributes that can be enhanced each time a character levels up or through bonuses from gear. Some of these stats include attack, health, speed, and defense. You even get the chance to add bonus points to the stat of your choice during each level up. It’s important to choose a stat that either helps any strategy you have planned or helps the character receiving the points compensate in an area they are weak in. I will often use my bonus on Luigi’s speed stat to help him catch up to Mario, and I’ll give Mario more Defense points to keep him alive longer. You just need to be able to plan ahead and know what is needed most.

There’s more to do in Bowser’s Inside Story than complete the main quest. Some things you have the option to do are collect all the gear available, unearth a variety of beans to upgrade stats with, find all the missing Blitties, which are weird block/cat creatures desired by a fanatic, and compete in the Gauntlet, which is a boss rush where the characters can re-fight bosses. The Mario brothers can challenge stronger versions of defeated foes, or Bowser can do the same with all of the bosses from the giant battles. These battles don’t help with the progression of the game, but they do reward you with a good amount of money and a very satisfied pride.

The story of the prince isn’t just a boring add-on

A chip off the old blockhead.

While not exactly the main draw, the side game Bowser Jr.’s Journey adds a fun, new excursion through the same timeframe of the main game. I didn’t know what to expect from this side game, but I was happy to learn it had a separate and unique style of gameplay from Bowser’s Inside Story.

The events of Bowser Jr.’s Journey happen simultaneously with the events of the main game, starting as Bowser learns of the meeting taking place in Peach’s Castle to discuss the blorbs crisis. Many of Bowser’s minions have been affected by the disease as well, which adds to his frustration over not being invited. Bowser heads for Peach’s castle to crash the event and leaves Bowser Jr. behind. Junior decides that he should try to find the cure for the blorbs himself, and the royal pain in the butt sets off with his minions to seek out a cure and impress his dad.

The gameplay of Bowser Jr.’s Journey is focused on team building, team attacks, and team strategy. Junior has many minions at his disposal, including Shy Guys, Boos, Koopa Troopas, and even the Koopalings. All minions fall into one of three categories of either Melee, Flyer, or Ranged, with the groups being strong or weak against each other in a rock-paper-scissors-style.

Before each battle, you must organize your party and choose minions that will best handle the opposing forces and position in groups akin to military formations. As battles play out the minions and Junior will at times need to react to opportunities to perform strong group attacks or defend against the enemy’s own group combos.

Staying in the back while making everyone fight for him. A born leader.

Bowser Jr.’s Journey is an interesting side quest. I wasn’t too concerned with it at first, but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of fun I had with it by the time I was done. It’s definitely worth trying once you complete the main game.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey is welcomed remake for what is considered by many a staple of the DS’s library of games. While I did and still do see some unavoidable issues with this game, I am happy to see it receive this upgrade. The gameplay and story keep to the standards set by the rest of the series and is worth a playthrough by any RPG or Mario & Luigi fan.

Now, when is Nintendo going to backtrack and give us a remake of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time?

Score Similarity to other Mario RPGs
8.5/10 Mario & Luigi: Dream Team – ★★★★★
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga
 – ★★★☆☆
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam ★★★☆☆
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
 – ★★☆☆☆
Zac Pricener
Just your typical Nintendo and Legend of Zelda fanatic.