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Mario & Luigi RPG 3

Preview: Mario and Luigi turn tiny for an in-to-body experience

Ever seen the film Innerspace? It sees Dennis Quaid shrunken to microscopic size and mistakenly injected into Martin Short, where he floats around, trying not to kill his panicked host from the inside. Swap Dennis Quaid for the brothers Mario and Martin Short for Bowser and you've got Mario & Luigi RPG 3. Just don't expect Mario to be melting a Goomba's face off in digestive juice any time soon.

Story details are scarce and what we have is extracted from Google-translated snippets such as "Mario goes super happy in the laughing fisherman's delicatessen". But we do know this: a gigantism disease arrives in the Mushroom Kingdom, bloating Toads into Kirby-like blimps and forcing Mario to turn Jack Bauer on the bio-terrorists (with less torture and more going 'waahoo').

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At this exact moment Bowser arrives, hopped up on crazy mushrooms, and inhales half of Peach's royal court. We would say Dickens it ain't, but this is actually the plot of Little Dorrit.

Internal plumbing
Watching the brothers gradually dissolve their way through Bowser's intestines would not a good game make. Instead, AlphaDream have reworked the co-op play of previous Mario bros RPG Partners In Time. In that game, four characters could be divided into two parties across the two DS screens. Here, the screens are split into Bowser's outsides and insides. For example, inside Bowser's throat, Mario and Luigi amble across 2D platforms until they collide with a stubborn bony chunk. Outside on the top screen, Bowser can stomp over to a fountain and glug down a drink. Back inside: the water flows down the pipes, causing the blockage to float up, so Mario and Luigi can swim on. But alas, water isn't the only substance coming down the pipes - Bowser can breathe in enemies he doesn't want to fight, leaving Mario and Luigi to duke it out inside him.

Bowser is foolish. If you had two little men armed with hammers, fire flowers and green shells floating around your innards, would you anger them? As the old adage goes: people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones down their own throats where little men capable of stabbing them in the heart reside. Or something. So if Mario and Luigi hit a nerve inside Bowser's spine, he's going to feel it. Invasive surgery it certainly is.

However, while they could leave Bowser defecating through a pipe, they'd still be trapped inside, and such heartlessness is more Coen bros than Mario bros. Instead, Bowser is compelled to heroic deeds by the power of internal suggestion. Faced with an out-of-reach land mass, Bowser's natural whim would be to give up and go and stamp on a Goomba. However, the brothers manipulate muscles to give him the oomph needed to heft the continent over in a geological tug-o-war.

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Another time, a Wiggler challenges Bowser to a carrot-eating contest. Tugging the carrot from the soil requires the plumbers to beat Bowser's back muscles with a green shell hit back and forth, Pong-like, with timed hammer swipes. Bowser then gets his chomp on as the brothers dash to his stomach (Bowser's insides are laid out like a Tube map) to mash up the incoming carrot chunks in a stylus-tapping minigame. It's a great showcase for how digestion really works. You'll be listening to your belly button for footsteps.

He's got guts
For all the cutsey charm, the conceptual sophistication of these anatomical actions is far more compelling. We had some doubts about the 2D design of Bowser's innards - they wear the series' GBA roots with too much pride - but what's actually made of those innards is impressive. The rock-steady combat - basic turn-based stuff bolstered with timed button presses to magnify damage - returns with stylus support.

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