Have you ever wondered what's up Bowser's arse? Who hasn't? Well, wonder no more, because in Mario & Luigi Bowser's Inside Story, the third Mario & Luigi role-playing game from Japanese developer AlphaDream, you find out.
Up Bowser's Arse isn't a level called "Up Bowser's Arse", of course. After all, this is a family-friendly Nintendo game. It's called "Rump Command" ("Power Space Bottom" in the Japanese version, "Rump Post" in the Spanish and, wonderfully, "Posterior Sanctuary" in the French), and it's pretty, pretty crazy.
Mario and Luigi find themselves sloshing about Bowser's greasy innards after the giant Koopa King inhales Princess Peach's Castle and everyone inside, including the Italian plumbers. Why did Bowser do this? Because the syntax-challenged mad scientist and sensational star of the show, Lord Fawful, tricked him into eating a… "Lucky Shroom", one that sends him doolally. Okay…
All very Woodstock, huh? Well wait till you get a load of this. In Rump Command, Mario and Luigi meet "Evoglobin". They're transcendent spiritual forms - "waves of spirituality spawned us temporary arms and legs", they tell the moustachioed ones. They want them to save Bowser, their host, after he's crushed by his own flying castle, now controlled by Fawful. The Evolglobin have been awaiting you "in this sacred place, ever patient". Right…
So, as you'd expect, Mario and Luigi board "the boats of revival" and ford the "adrenaline channel". Bowser's Inside Story then transforms from a 2D side-scrolling platform RPG "thing", into a vertical "shmup". The boats of revival are ships, moved left and right with the d-pad, and guns are fired with the A and B buttons. Coloured balls drop from the top of the screen, red for Mario and green for Luigi. They must be fired at by the corresponding ship… sorry, boat of revival, to revive Bowser with adrenaline shots. It's Ikaruga meets Trauma Centre.
After successfully powering Bowser up with adrenaline, he grows to Godzilla size, and takes on his own castle in a bonkers boss battle which requires the DS be held on its side. With Bowzilla on the left screen and the castle on the right, you need to swipe and touch with the stylus to trigger punches and fire breath as Midbus, one of Fawful's minions, sends attack after attack at our anti-hero. Looks like Bowser's not the only one who's eaten a "Lucky Shroom".
This is Bowser's Inside Story: not really an RPG or a platformer, but more a collection of crazy mini-games punctuated by turn and skill-based battles, and tenuously held together by the most psychedelic story in recent memory.
It is a game fans of the previous two Mario & Luigi RPGs, Superstar Saga and Partners in Time, will find instantly familiar. Newcomers, on the other hand, will find it gloriously bizarre and nonsensical. But both will come out the end of the lengthy, 20 hour plus adventure, with smiles on their faces and bellies brutalised by laughter.