Partners in Time, the previous DS RPG, was a great time but didn't embrace all the possibilities of the system. Sure it used the two screens and four face buttons to ably keep track of the Bros, but Inside Story reveals all the missed opportunities; developer AlphaDream really dug deep and has provided not just an exceptional RPG, but also a decent showpiece for the system.
To start with, all of Bowser's standard special attacks involve the touch screen. Whether lighting Goombas on fire or being pushed around by Shy Guys, the controls of his more powerful and challenging techniques are a fun deviation from Mario and Luigi's button-based specials. But the best use of the touch screen comes when Bowser grows toKaijuproportions and battles against giant mechanized opponents. Here you beat down your opponents using the stylus to smash and the mic to spit fire. It only occurs a few times, but they’re some of the most engrossing and taxing bits of the game. We certainly wouldn’t have minded a few more.
Mario and Luigi keep up with Bowser's DS-tailored shenanigans while you explore his surprisingly NES-like internal organs. Though more than half of their time involves 2D platforming, you’ll find a cornucopia of minigames while searching his interior. Some are rhythm games and swinging each brother's hammer in the right order, others are vertical shooters that have you blast the correct color spheres with the correct brother, and a third set with the two sent hurtling between different trampoline-like muscles. Only one, involving pushing the spinning siblings in the right directions, got annoying.
This is also one of the funniest games we've played all year. It's normal for the series to have such a light tone, but this was even cleverer than the previous entries. Perhaps Fawful taking center stage took it over the edge, but even without him the humor would be a huge draw thanks to several other standout characters.
There's Broque, a Frenchman made out of the blocks that are floating everywhere in Mario's world. He enjoys working with Bowser but refuses to help Mario and Luigi because of their history of smashing blocks. Fawful's second in command Midbus is wonderful, as the monosyllabic behemoth squares-off often against Bowser.
There's also entertaining twists on classic Mario characters. Our favorites included a group of Monty Moles that talk in bro-speak like frat boys, and Bowser's former minions who constantly and laughably suck-up to their new boss, Fawful. We won't reveal the circumstances of the Kuribo Shoesmaking a cameo, but we loved the sequence so much we nearly gave the game a 10 right then and there.
The localization of the already superlative game was even above Nintendo's usually high standards. Anyone could make the dialogue accurate in the translation, but to keep it funny in a whole other language takes some very hardworking and witty people. Kudos to series regular Nate Bihldorff and the team involved who expertly made every line of text burst with personality.