“Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey” is most commendable for its ability to always feel fresh to those who never experienced the 2009 title that informs this Nintendo 3DS remake.
In the game’s main campaign, players take control of the Mario brothers and Bowser as these two rival parties (inadvertently) unite to take down a common enemy. As a role-playing game though, the core of the gameplay lies in turn-based battles rather than the platforming most people imagine when they think “Mario.”
Buddying up with Bowser
Though the Mario brothers have starred in other turn-based roleplaying games and have had to team up with Bowser before, these instances are infrequent enough to make “Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey” a nice change of pace for fans of the “Mario” franchise.
However, the game’s main adventure is a novel one for more reasons than its genre and situation, as it features many locales, characters and battle opponents outside of the standard “Mario” fare. Despite taking place in the famous Mushroom Kingdom, it doesn’t rely too heavily on the baddies and world themes conventional of the fictional land.
Not only is “Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey” refreshing conceptually but also varied enough in its gameplay to never grow stale. Even though it’s a roleplaying game, it contains segments characterized by puzzle solving, rhythm challenges and other deviations.
Regarding these segments, the game cleverly contextualizes them with its story. At the beginning of the adventure, Bowser accidentally consumes the Mario brothers, providing the basis for one of the many creative settings: inside Bowser’s body. During one puzzle segment, players must make Bowser drink and stop drinking water to make his body navigable for the brothers. Because these segments don’t exist under arbitrary conditions, the game’s world feels alive.
While it maintains engagement via its diverse gameplay, “Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey” also absorbs players with its dynamic combat.
During battles, players don’t simply wait until it’s their turn to select an action. Rather, they must press certain buttons with precise timing both to make their attacks useful and to avoid those of enemies. Although attacking is fun, the game’s avoiding mechanics are what make its combat truly shine.
When players battle as the Mario brothers, both characters are simultaneously vulnerable during enemy attack turns. Taking advantage of this handicap, enemies fight cunningly — they may either target the duo at the same time or make it unclear which one they intend to strike until shortly before their attempt. Because each brother corresponds with a different avoid button, these attacks keep players on their toes.
One of the cleverer uses of this avoidance system comes from enemies known as Fawflants. In battle, a Fawflant may target Mario while another targets Luigi. During this move, they approach each brother from opposite sides and often from different distances. As a result, players must keep a close eye while dodging.
Despite the dynamism of combat, the lack of enemy variety in each area can make battles feel repetitive at times. Fortunately though, the high frequency of interesting boss fights alleviates this issue.
Like father like son
In addition to giving the main adventure a fresh coat of paint, this remake comes with a mode not included in the original version: Bowser Jr.’s Journey. Containing battles defined by real-time strategy, Bowser Jr.’s Journey provides an experience distinct from that of the primary mode. Before a confrontation, players must select and organize troops as they consider the selection and organization of those in the opposing team.
Because there is little player participation during the fights themselves and no gameplay segments to break up the combat, the mode is too basic to offer an adventure as grand as the main one. However, it is still deep enough to succeed in its role as supplementary content, as it includes a leveling system and troop types that are either strong or weak against one another.
For “Mario” fans who missed out on the original version, “Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey” is a must-play, not only because it diversifies the franchise but also because it compels players by continually surprising them. Even without the influence of “Mario,” its success in keeping players involved would still make it an excellent game.