This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
I have a soft spot for second bananas, although you shouldn't buy bananas with soft spots because they might be bruised. It may just be because I too suffer from a terrible genetic disability called an older brother, but I've always preferred Luigi to Mario. He's usually made out as a coward, but hey, Falstaff was a coward. Show me a Shakespearean character whose sole defining features are blindly following the instructions of some prissy royal bitch and a tendency to jump on things. (OK, Macbeth, perhaps.)
The point is, Mario is a non-character: a blunt instrument whose only purpose is to blunder obliviously through hostile terrain in pursuit of an equally mindless princess who doesn't have the sense to not live in a underdefended castle that's within walking distance of her serial rapist's house. At least Luigi has a degree of survival instinct. And another thing, why was Tails considered inferior to Sonic? They ran at the exact same speed in Sonic 2 and Tails could fucking fly as well! And we're supposed to be rooting for the arrogant blue twat as he exploits a genetically malformed child? Anyway, I had a topic here somewhere.
I would almost go as far to say that I love the Mario RPGs, although they shouldn't relax because my love can be just as caustic and poisonous as my hate. Both the Paper Marios and the Mario & Luigi series are fairly reliably fun to play with regular gameplay innovations and best of all, they have a lightness of tone. It's nice to know that somewhere in that creaking, soulless monster that is Nintendo, there's part of it that isn't afraid to take the piss out of itself, and it's a refreshing alternative to the standard western RPG with its self-righteous, generic-faced heroes fighting to overthrow the evil Archduke Nobbin or the standard Japanese RPG with its permanent bad hair day androgo-tossers, passive-aggressively sulking on a rooftop because their under-age half-sisters never offered to suck them off.
It's just a shame that so many people confuse 'light tone' with 'kiddie game,' apparently including the gameplay designers. It's particularly shameful because Luigi & Mario: Bowser's Inside Story deals with some surprisingly deep themes that would go right over the heads of most twitching overgrown spermatozoa.
Here we have two warring kingdoms, each a mirror of the other. On one side, a nation of decadent bourgeoisie toadstool people ruled by an aloof aristocrat whose original function has become buried beneath luxurious ceremony, while the other kingdom is populated by a downtrodden working class led by a charismatic union leader - a sort of Jimmy Hoffa if he were a fire-breathing turtle lizard thing, a tragic figure who evokes the paradox of the lower-middle class as he loudly trumpets his opposition to those of higher status even while desperately seeking their approval. To this everlasting stalemate comes an anarchistic revolutionary who seeks to bring chaos to the two warring faces of order, symbolizing the inevitable entropy and decay that comes with political stagnation. Then Bowser eats a magic mushroom and sucks the Mario brothers into his body, but you probably shouldn't read too much into that.
Thus begins an ever so slightly horrific odyssey in which you alternate between stomping around the surface world as Bowser and swimming around his bowels as Luigi and the other one. So if you've ever been curious about the exact biological workings of a fire-breathing turtle-lizard thing, then Nintendo has finally met your perverted and curiously specific demands. This leads to many interesting moments, such as when Bowser attempts to lift something heavy while the Bros. play a little minigame inside his arm muscles to help him out, some of which drag on a bit too long and too frequently, but for most of the game I was thinking about the concept too much to notice. I mean, what if Bowser needed a poo? Would I have to make Mario and Luigi play a little Breakout clone where they have to bat pieces of sweetcorn out his open sphincter?
Moving hastily on from the mental image I've just given myself, another bizarre bit of gameplay the 2-D platforming with the Luigi brothers. They stand close together and the D-pad makes them both walk left and right as one, but for some stupid reason they have separate jump buttons. There will never be a situation where you want Mario to jump but not Luigi, because apparently they never got around to cutting their umbilical cords and they can't move away from each other. And it adds unnecessary complication to precision platforming, like having someone blowing in your ear while you're trying to play.
In any case, the core gameplay is the turn-based combat, that wretched little mechanic that the JRPGs always drag around with them like a piece of bog roll trailing off their shoe. But a particularly agreeable staple of the Mario RPGs is that you can actually dodge and counter enemy attacks rather than it just being a paralyzed backing and forthing of blows like some kind of fist-based televised debate. That said though, in Luigi's Inside Story, once you figure out each enemy's timing and patterns, it's quite trivial to take absolutely no damage. Even the final boss I made into my little clumsy bitch on the very first try. I guess this is where the "kiddie game" label shines brightly.
I don't have a problem with aiming games at kids, although I do despise kids. Seriously, I don't think you quite grasp how much I loathe children. Given three wishes, I'd ask for a puppy, a decent chip sandwich, and for every child-bearing womb on the planet to pop out and fly away like a cheery parade of greasy red balloons. But while kids are pretty fucking stupid (I mean, even with all the crayons in the world they still can't draw a fucking house) that doesn't mean you can't try to challenge them. When I was a kid, we played games where you had one life and every bird, insect, and blade of grass was trying to murder you. Kids today get their hands held so hard their fingers turn white and drop off. The game feels disappointingly brief and sidequest-deficient, and every new gameplay mechanic is introduced with a lengthy tutorial teaching you what buttons are where, most of which you can safely skip unless you're some kind of recently unfrozen Neanderthal and this is your first experience with electronic media, in which case: "RARRGH! Submit your soul to the one-eyed demon!"
Go me, I got through a whole review for a Mario game without complaining about the character being overused, but while I've never disliked a Mario RPG, if Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is the Jammie Dodgers zenith, then this is pretty close to the Digestive nadir. You'd be pretty glad to have it on a long plane ride, but if it goes past the ten hour mark, you'd better have some emergency crosswords on hand.
Been getting a lot of use out of the DS lately: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
And not only does Luigi jump higher, but he's clearly a more fastidious moustache groomer
If you shave Mario's moustache off he looks a bit like Leisure Suit Larry
- The Zero Punctuation episode of the game was never officially released by The Escapist on YouTube in a standalone format. Thanks to the community request, it was finally released on July 31, 2021 after nearly twelve years.