Final Status: Story finished.
Put this on your box: I HAVE CHORTLES!
Most intriguing idea: Leveling up your arch-nemesis to defeat your other arch-nemesis.
Best design decision: Constantly layering something new and interesting on the core mechanics.
Worst design decision: The unbalanced dodge mechanic and the tedious temporary invincibility in the boss fights.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story follows an established pattern for the Super Mario role-playing games. It combines light platforming action with turn-based battles that are supplemented with timing-based action to improve damage or defense. This has worked before and it works here, creating a perfectly competent RPG where Mario and Luigi roll around in Bowser’s guts, powering up the big spiky turtle so he can take down the ludicrous Fawful, who has conquered both the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser’s domain.
The gameplay is mostly solid, but the dodge mechanic is unbalanced. If you figure out the dodge for an attack, you’ll never take a point of damage, but if you don’t figure out what to do or the proper timing for it you will die constantly. Earlier RPGs in this series mostly used the dodge to reduce rather than eliminate damage, and that would have been a wiser choice here, as the ability to escape harm completely seems to have encouraged the designers to make enemy attacks very powerful. In addition, many of the bosses have some kind of invulnerability (Fawful, for instance, is effectively invincible for five turns at a time), which makes fighting them fairly tedious.
On the plus side, every area inside of Bowser seems to have its own interesting twist, making sure the platforming never gets old, and powering him up uses some nifty rhythm games that I rather liked. The writing mostly works well, especially when you encounter the loopy dialogue of characters like Fawful, Sakon, or the doctor. Unfortunately, Bowser himself is pretty one-note, although his tough-love attitude towards his subordinates, and their adulation towards him, can be pretty funny. After a while, though, he wears thin, and there’s so much of his dialogue in the game that it gets a bit tiresome. For me, the game overstayed its welcome a bit, but despite some minor design hiccups it’s a high-quality experience that delivers both humor and gameplay depth.