Nintendo bosses beware: one of your underlings is off-message. Twenty hours of wondrous RPG-ing confirm it: without a single concession to 'new' gamers, Bowser's Inside Story is a glorious tangle of in-jokes, ideas and fan service navigable only by those who grew up on Nintendo. This game isn't about lounging with Girls Aloud; it's about being a greasy hermit - locking yourself away for a weekend and hooting yourself hoarse.
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Refusing to toe the company line, Alphadream (and the witty localisation team) go one further - they stomp the company line. When the dreaded Blorb disease bloats the in-game Toad population into huffing flab-balls, the skinny Toads are quick to ridicule the Mushroom Kingdom's sudden obsession with diets and fitness. "There are weird fads popping up everywhere," they cry. You listening, Satoru Iwata? The underlings don't want no Vitality Sensor.
On that subject... Iwata's pulse-policer promises to take us to an "inner world" but Alphadream have already delivered on this front. Inhaled by a Bowser driven loopy on vacuum mushrooms, Mario and Luigi finally get to see the world through his eyes. Or anus. Depends which end of him you're wandering in, really. Guts, heart, brain, lumbar, funny bone... Forget knowing Bowser in the Biblical sense, this is knowing Bowser in the Dorling Kindersley's The Human Body sense.
Intestines, veins, muscles - not rendered in lifelike detail, but far superior to jungle, ice and fire worlds. Carved from rainbow goo and Day-Glo nerves, they're resolutely Nintendo designs, policed by resolutely Nintendo creations, gelatinous cells known as Globins. Guiding you through Bowser's innards, these jellies crack gags about how ambiguous the art design is ("go down that pipe-ish thing"). Nintendo are self-deprecating about design charm most devs would kill for. Show-offs.
If the outer world is more sedate - Toad towns, forests, beaches and Monty Mole-carved underground railroads - Bowser makes up for it. Cast from his fortress by the syntactically dubious Fawful ("I have fury!"), his is a journey home, picking up the pieces his intergalactic enemy has smashed his life into. Minions need rescuing (Bowser's concern for his trapped goons is quite sweet) and his castle re-seizing. What's funny is seeing him cope with the hassle of an RPG.
Traditionally, Bowser is the problem that buffets heroes from one locale to the next. In many ways he still is - few things stand in Bowser's way like Bowser. Playing the Japanese version in April, we had no idea just how preposterous his scheming was. Whether trying to repurpose a carrot as a missile, accidentally destroying the foundations of the Mushroom Kingdom or falling victim to a pile of cakes, every twist's a simultaneous head-slap and chortle.
Mario RPGs always have fun with Bowser (though are we the only ones to find it odd when he reverts to his serious self in the main Mario games?) but this time ol' turtle breath really earns his place centre stage. Perhaps we're just tired of Mario and Luigi's earnest silent shtick. In a game where even minor characters can out-natter Quentin Tarantino, their silence seems unsporting, gormless even. Bowser relishes the attention. Come on, doesn't it feel right to see him on a magazine cover for once?
When inner and outer worlds collide, things get really interesting. If Bowser eats, Mario and Luigi receive. If Mario and Luigi go mallet happy in the brain, Bowser... well, let's just say things wouldn't end prettily for him. Both have the option to cause untold damage, but what with the common enemy (and Nintendo's stance against stories ending with Bowser in intensive care) they agree to work together.