Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) - Session 1

Play time: ~30min

What Happened:
Although I only just got into gameplay at the end of my 30min, I wanted to record my impressions before I forget them. The game opens with a cinematic of some toadstools at home getting ready for dinner - this ends in catastrophe when it is revealed that the head of household has come down with "the blorbs" - which, told through charming, newspaper style narrative (the image of the father fades to a sepia tone with the headline "THE BLORBS") is a mysterious, incurable illness that's sweeping the Mushroom Kingdom.

Mario and Luigi meet with the princess and the toadstool council to figure out what to do. On the way, I learn how to control Mario and Luigi - the game is shown in an isometric view, and there is some platforming (I learned through some trial and error that the brothers are joined by an invisible tether, so when you jump Mario onto a block, he'll get stuck until Luigi joins him - I was sure I had discovered a bug when this first happened). Actions are executed through a context-sensitive 'action button' (A & B - one for Mario, one for Luigi). At the castle, Bowser bursts through the door, and becomes combative upon realizing that I am there - which begins my combat tutorial. (I'll get into the positives and negatives below). We boot Bowser outside - and then, I find myself in control of the "King of Awesome" himself! I learn how to control him (punching rocks is INCREDIBLY satisfying - see below), then he gets tricked into eating a magic mushroom, which makes him swallow everything (there's more to it than that, but I'm going into too much detail...)

Mario and Luigi are amongst the swallowed, so now control is transferred back to Mario (who has been separated from his brother), and at this point I got too tired to keep going and stopped for the night.

What I Liked:
Narrative. This is one of those, few, perfect examples of a game where I don’t actually mind the amount of sitting, waiting and watching through the first 20-30min of a game! Every time a cinematic takes over, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen – because from the very beginning of the game, what’s happening is interesting! For the most part, every bit of narrative is told in a way that it doesn’t feel like it holds a lower place than gameplay – there is care in crafting jokes, and simple, fun animation which supports the dialogue. For example, the decision to have Luigi rudely snooze with his head on the conference room table when the brothers join the debate over how to save the kingdom. Also, Bowser refers to himself as the 'King of Awesome.' :)

Visuals. All-around fun and awesome. Mario and Luigi have a little bit of a strange walk cycle, but I find it funny, so it doesn't bother me too much. There are loads of little (I would imagine) one-off animations which add a whole other dimension of life to the game. For example, when Luigi (who is still snoozing) starts to get inhaled by Bowser, he clings to the table in a desperate attempt to save himself, which actually made me laugh out loud.

Being Bowser. Any game that lets you be a big, comical baddy is alright in my book. The best thing about Bowser is that he feels fun to play - he has a sense of weight and power - and punching rocks out of existence is incredibly satisfying. You feel like a beast.

Pacing. So far, almost everything has felt like it's taken exactly the right amount of time. For me to say this is a big deal, as it is generally my problem with most games. I only played for 30min, but I feel like a lot happened, even though I've only just begun to get into gameplay. I never felt like I was stuck doing homework to get to the next step.

What I Didn’t Like:
Combat tutorial. Although I thought the tutorial was incredibly charming in presentation (at one point my instructor asks Bowser to 'kindly shoot flames' my way), there are issues with learning the combo system. You can tap and double tap at a certain point in Mario's jump to inflict more damage - but each time you're shown how to do so, the teacher freezes the action - so it's actually really hard to get a sense of the timing. I would suggest that they make you do it correctly a couple of times before moving on to the double tap, or maybe give you an X in your trajectory to show where the sweet spot is. Because I struggled with this, the Bowser battle took FOREVER, since I kept only dealing 1 point of damage, and had to keep guessing at the timing.

Mario & Luigi tether. As I mentioned above, it was just confusing the first couple of times it happened - I thought there was a collision bug, since Mario was on a small platform and couldn't walk all of the way across it. On the second or third platform I figured out that I needed to have Luigi come with me. It seems like sort of a short tether.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I’m going to go play some more right now! I am excited to really start digging into gameplay.

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