Naturally, we love Mario's platform games. They're the building blocks that form the foundation for everything Nintendo stands for. But we enjoy his various RPG adventures almost as much, especially the ones in the Mario & Luigi series. The fantastic Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is one of the funniest, most entertaining RPGs on the Game Boy Advance and its DS sequel Partners In Time was just as entertaining. As a result, we were more than happy when Nintendo announced that the third game in the series would be on its way to the DS later in 2009.
We've been messing around with a Japanese-language version of the game and we're happy to report that it's just as funny (and addictive) as the other two.
The story is suitably silly. A number of Mushroom Kingdom residents have started swelling up and inflating to the size of a huge beach ball. A new character - a small yellow ball whose name roughly translates as Chippy, though this may change by the time the game comes out here - comes to the conclusion that the cause of this condition is a virus that has spread throughout the Kingdom.
Mario and Luigi arrive to see what's going on but before they get a chance to offer to save the day, Bowser turns up for his regular princess-kidnapping attempt. This time he doesn't do so well because Mario quickly batters him (the fight doubles as the tutorial for the game's turn-based battles).
Blasted out of Peach's Castle, Bowser lands in a forest, where he meets Fawful, a villain from the Beanbean Kingdom (and one of the funniest characters from the previous games). Fawful gives Bowser a 'special' mushroom, which makes Bowser lose control of his body and causes him to constantly inhale, swallowing anything that comes near him. Under Fawful's control, Bowser returns to Peach's Castle and swallows its residents, including Peach, Mario, Luigi, Toadsworth and a bunch of Toads, before falling unconscious.
Fawful's planned all this so that he can take over both Peach's Castle and Bowser's Castle. That seems fair enough - why nick one castle when you can have two? Bowser eventually regains consciousness though and this is where the real gameplay kicks in. On the top screen you'll be controlling Bowser as he searches for Fawful and destroys everything in his path, while on the bottom screen you'll be in charge of Mario and Luigi as they try to find their way out of Bowser's stomach.
While the whole 'control different characters on different screens' concept isn't really new (the same idea was used for parts of Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time, where you'd control Mario and Luigi on the bottom screen and their infant counterparts on the top), Mario & Luigi RPG 3 does offer a slightly different take on things. Whereas the Bowser sections on the top screen are played in the usual Mario & Luigi way - with an isometric viewpoint and the ability to walk up, down, left and right as you explore each location - the sections inside Bowser's stomach are different. These offer completely 2D, side scrolling platforming in the style of old-school Mario games. It's still an RPG at heart - when you encounter an enemy it still switches to a turn-based battle - but the actual exploring sections take place in 2D instead of 3D. This means the top screen is effectively an RPG while the bottom is a side-scrolling platformer with RPG elements, making for an interesting mix of game styles.
One of the main reasons for having two sets of characters to deal with at once is that it makes for some interesting co-operative puzzles, where one character does something on one screen to make things progress on the other screen. For example, at one point Mario and Luigi find themselves faced with a large block that they must lift in order to progress. On the top screen Bowser comes across a large fire hydrant with water pouring out of it. If you make Bowser drink a load of water, his stomach fills with liquid down on the touch screen. As the water level rises the block duly floats up
and the brothers are then free to swim through the now open passageway. How's that for unintentional teamwork?