The world of Mario and co. only has the most cursory relationship with the real world, even at its more grounded moments.
Bowser’s Inside Story sees the characters you love led down an ever weirder road than usual. A game keen on turning the tables of the Mario universe, it starts you off jumping between Mario, Luigi and their nemesis Bowser as all three work together to try and rid the Mushroom Kingdom of newly-arrived super dictator Fawful.
Bright sparks among you may have already worked this out from the title, but if you need the full explanation: this game sees you exploring Bowser’s innards as the two famous plumbers, as Bowser stomps angrily around Mushroom Kingdom.
The plot thickens
In order to make this odd premise work, a little more story is injected into Bowser’s Inside Story than most Mario games. However, it fits in just fine because this is more a role-playing game than a snappy platformer, even though you traverse Bowser’s tubes using that familiar side-scrolling view.
When exploring the world that’s not hemmed-in by skin and scales, you view the action from up above, much like any number of role-playing games released for Nintendo’s consoles over the years - the Zelda and Final Fantasy series being just a couple of obvious examples.
While Bowser’s Inside Story has many of the features normally associated with this genre - your characters level-up and gain stat points, and fighting takes place within its own dedicated scene rather than seamlessly - underneath this role-playing shell there’s a core reliance on Mario’s traditional reflexes-based gamplay.
The quick and the dead
So, although combat is turn-based, the success of your attacks and defensive moves depends on how quick you are off the mark. A goomba might rush at you, for instance, leaving you to hit 'jump' at the crucial moment - just like in the original Mario platform games.
This is executed with a simple, direct button tap. Attack combos rely on the same sort of timed taps, too. To start with, these mechanics are a bit too simple to shine, but as more challenging enemies start cropping up, with more elaborate attack patterns, you have to start to learn exactly how to deal with each enemy in order to succeed.
Bowser’s Inside Story doesn’t ever let you rest on your laurels for too long, though. Each part of the gameworld features different types of enemies, and there’s virtually no grinding involved, so as soon as you find the challenge sucked out of a particular type of face-off, you’re offered a new one.
This sort of continual pumping-in of new experiences is what makes Bowser’s Inside Story shine, demonstrating the level of game design that has given Nintendo’s first-party releases their world-beating reputation. Even as you get well into double figures of gameplay hours, brand new mechanics are introduced to keep the spring in your double jumps.
The laughing game
The script has a lot to do with keeping you hooked to your DS, too. While it’s written in a hyper-stylised fashion - arch enemy Fawlful’s favourite expression is “I have chortles!”, for example - it always raises a smile.
There’s no real speech to go along with it, but Mario and Luigi’s little digitised snippets of faux-Italian gibberish can’t fail to bring a huge grin to your face.
As the action-oriented gameplay strips Bowser’s Inside Story of some of its role-playing cred - as least in the traditional sense - you may prefer slogging through a more tradition RPG.
However, in trying to incorporate that quick Mario pace into a game of this type, Bowser’s Inside Story sidesteps a great many problems that often plague the genre. There’s no grinding, no ridiculous, epic, winding narrative - just a tightly-packaged bundle of fun.
What else would you expect from Nintendo?