Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey review: Internal Affairs

Did you know that the Nintendo 3DS is eight years old? It’s weird to think about, and it sure makes me feel old. Although the little system becomes overshadowed more every year by its newer sibling, the Nintendo Switch, it’s still the chosen platform for some spectacular game releases that wouldn’t really fit anywhere else. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey is one of those games.

When the original Bowser’s Inside Story released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS, it was praised for how well it used the system’s dual screens; shifting between perspectives is visually satisfying, and parts of the game require you to flip the DS on its side, like a book, for some seriously big battles that just wouldn’t look as good horizontally. Bowser’s Inside Story sees you playing as both Bowser, solving environmental puzzles on the overworld, and the Mario Brothers, manipulating the scene from inside Bowser’s internal organs. Wait, what? Isn’t that… super weird and gross? Sure, but the game is so wacky and well written, you probably won’t think twice about it.

After being tricked into mindlessly inhaling Mushroom Kingdom residents and having his castle stolen, Bowser embarks on a long journey to take back his throne. Unbeknownst to him, the Mario Brothers, Princess Peach and some other colourful characters are now stuck inside his organs, equally desperate to solve the situation. Put in one word? It’s weird. It’s a very weird game with superbly bizarre dialogue and writing. The graphics are crisp, the music is great, and the puzzles are a lot of fun once you get around switching between the Mario Bros and Bowser. Playing as Bowser for once is a refreshing change from fighting him, and you get to do funny things like make him drink water for almost an hour straight while you solve puzzles in his stomach (sorry Bowser) or help him eat a carrot twice his height (that one was his fault).

Compared to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga (which was also remade for the 3DS), I felt that Bowser’s Inside Story was a lot easier. I’m not sure whether this is just because I’ve had more practice with the game’s battle system, but I didn’t find enemies to be nearly as much of a struggle to beat, and it seemed like there were fewer of them overall. I’m not complaining, though; the difficulty balance feels great, making combat challenging but fast. The game offers tutorials for battle and overworld mechanics, but you can easily skip them if you’re already familiar with how the game works. Another nice touch is the ability to fast-forward cutscenes, speeding up the pace for those who have already played the original (or are impatient, like yours truly).

It’s also worth mentioning the new gameplay mode, Bowser Jr’s Journey. Similar to the Battle for Bowser mode in Superstar Saga, this is a strategy mini game where you create a team made up of Bowser’s minions, who then auto-battle an enemy platoon. The idea is that you choose units that will match up with your opponent’s weaknesses, rock-paper-scissors style, so they’re easier to beat. With the exception of some special attacks that require you to press the A button, the game automatically controls your units. As Bowser Jr is one of my favourite Mario characters, I was thrilled with the quality of the new dialogue and cutscenes for him and his siblings. If you ever wanted a reminder of how idiotic yet cute Bowser Jr is, here you are!

Unfortunately, this new content doesn’t save the mode from the problems that were also present in Battle for Bowser. It’s still tedious, and well… a bit boring. Compared to the main game’s constant action and movement, Bowser Jr’s Journey is slow, and it’s frustrating to not be able to directly control the action. I couldn’t sit and play it for long before wanting to go back to the main game mode. Regretfully, Bowser Jr’s adorable buffoonery was the only thing that kept this mode moderately interesting to me.

Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey is an eccentric adventure with a huge amount of character. It’s a winner all round: the game is witty, it has a well-balanced level of difficulty, refined mechanics, and you’ll really have no idea what to expect with each twist and turn. The only letdown is how tedious Bowser Jr’s Journey is, but it doesn’t detract at all from the quality of the main game. Though you might not have used your 3DS in a while, do yourself the favour of dusting it off, charging it up, and grabbing a copy of Bowser’s Inside Story. It’s a lighthearted little game that’ll keep you entertained and smiling from start to finish — it’s considered a Nintendo DS classic for a good reason.