The Mario & Luigi series, which is a spiritual successor of sorts to Mario RPG for Super Nintendo, has received five entries since the release of Superstar Saga in 2003. The series is well-liked, but generally speaking, Bowser’s Inside Story is the fan-favorite. It has the best writing, highlights the series’ best original villain, Fawful, and makes Bowser a playable character in a big, fun way. The original holds up as a fun RPG and is playable on 3DS thanks to backwards compatibility, so it wasn’t one fans were demanding receive a remake, but it’s here now and is worth a look, especially if you skipped the original.
As the title implies, much of adventure takes place inside of Bowser after he eats a magical mushroom that makes him inhale everything in his path. You switch back and forth between the Mario brothers walking around inside of Bowser, helping and hindering him as the situation demands, and playing as Bowser as he explores the overworld in an attempt to take back his castle. The story and dialogue is some of the best in the Mario & Luigi series, and all of that moves forward for the remake generally unchanged. The characterization of the cast, both the longtime Mario staples and the original characters, is enjoyable and often genuinely funny.
The story is mostly unchanged, making the biggest update for this remake the visuals. It’s still a 2D game, just like its original 2009 release, but more detailed sprites and animation can be found in everything. Watching Mario and Luigi bounce in place as they wait for your inputs is a joy, and the improved lighting effects add a whole new layer of fantasy to the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser’s innards. Everything, including the backgrounds, feels more expressive and colorful overall.
Other changes are harder to notice, but welcome. Some of the cutscenes and dialogue have been changed here and there, and the overall pace is better thanks to better checkpoints and the option to skip frustrating sections, which is great for young players who are potentially playing an RPG for the first time. A dedicated button has also been relegated to making Mario and Luigi jump simultaneously which makes controlling the pair much easier.
The other big addition is Bowser Jr.’s Journey, which is treated as a separate story/mode in the main menu. The mode is similar to Bowser’s Minions from the 2016 remake of Superstar Saga, but in that game the new mode was integrated into the main story and it took a long time to unlock. I prefer its integration here, letting those who played the original skip right to the new stuff.
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Bowser Jr.’s Journey is a tactical strategy game where you set up rows of familiar Bowser minions to clash with opponents. The strategy lies in how you set up your rows; the actual combat is a passive experience. You cross your fingers and watch, hoping your setup leads to a win as you occasionally press a button to try and prevent an enemy’s attack or try to power up your own. The highlight of the mode is the story content it adds to Bowser’s Inside Story. You get to see a narrative that takes place alongside the main experience and read new, witty dialogue related to everything that’s going on. The main campaign is still the destination, but I appreciate this new, wholly different content.
The updated visuals are attractive and the new mode is interesting – especially if you want to spend more time in that world – but if you played the 2009 original and consider yourself satisfied with that experience, then the incentive to return is small. If you’ve never played Bowser’s Inside Story, this is a fantastic way to experience what is probably the best of the Mario & Luigi games. As a remake, it doesn’t drastically change the experience or improve on it in a big way, but that’s a testament to the original’s quality more than it is a knock against this version.
Summary: The remake doesn’t drastically change or improve Bowser’s Inside Story, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was always a great game.
Concept: Remake arguably the best Mario & Luigi game, improving the visuals and balance, while adding a new story with new mechanics
Graphics: Everything looks sharper and more expressive from the character faces and movement to the backgrounds. The lack of stereoscopic 3D is odd, but not missed
Sound: The soundtrack is fun and offers frequent callbacks to familiar Mario tunes, and the abstract mutterings of Mario and Luigi are consistently silly
Playability: Controlling Mario and Luigi simultaneously during the 2D segments inside Bowser’s body leads to the occasional annoyance, but combat is satisfying, and stomping around the overworld and setting things on fire as Bowser feels good
Entertainment: The excellent writing, silly premise, and fun combat all translate well to the updated visual style. The added Bowser Jr. mode is worth exploring, even if it’s not the main attraction