Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is back, and the Nintendo 3DS version of the game does like the Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga port and brings a new campaign to the game. Just like the previous installment, a real-time strategy appears alongside of it. Unlike Bowser’s Minions, Bowser Jr.’s Journey sets itself apart by allowing people immediate access to its campaign and making its stars some of Bowser’s most iconic and memorable minions.
Bowser Jr.’s Journey takes place alongside the events of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. We learn Bowser went to the Blorbs conference at Peach’s castle because some of the Goombas at his castle were also afflicted with the disease. Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings are left in charge. Except Fawful’s Best Fitness Friends prey on Roy and Wendy and convince them that a medicine called Skeletone can make everything better. They provide the recipe, which kicks off Bowser Jr.’s journey. He wants to make the supposed Blorb cure, which leads to an entirely new adventure around the kingdom. The gameplay doesn’t change too much from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions. You still have a captain character and a small army of nine facing off in real-time against waves of an opposing army. However, as a nod to how important the Koopalings also are, Bowser Jr. isn’t the sole captain. He can have them alongside him as a First Officer, with their abilities offering positive passive effects for the entire army and the ability to activate certain offensive and defensive abilities.
Bowser Jr. is an absolute joy as a protagonist. His behavior as an antagonist often steals the show, as he is this absolutely earnest kid with some bratty tendencies who wants to make his father proud. He can sometimes come across as more mischievous and annoying than genuinely malevolent, and we get to see him attempt to make good here. He’s clearly still abrasive, what with how adamant he is about getting his way, his short attention span keeping him from actually learning anything, and his problems with basic math, but he does have a noble cause and is doing the best he can. His innocence and naivety can shine through, and his brashness can be quite amusing. Considering how this can be a real-time strategy game where you might sometimes feel like your are attempting to brute-force your way through opposing armies by picking the right units and issuing the right directives, it seems fitting to have a protagonist who can feel very "my way or the highway." Especially since, as the story goes on, he learns that his attitude and methods aren’t effective and wouldn’t make his father proud.
Just as Bowser Jr. is a joy, the speed with which the Koopalings are brought into Bowser Jr.’s Journey helps with its appeal. In the Bowser’s Minion storyline, these characters were initially minor antagonists and eventually join Captain Goomba one at a time after about the halfway point of the adventure. Here, we have the Koopalings around right away. Their personalities really help set the stage here. Especially since Bowser Jr.’s plays so well off of them. For example, Ludwig takes on an advisor role, but Bowser Jr. finds his constant prattle annoying. In fact, during one "tutorial" segment, we end up in Bowser Jr.’s shoes and see him replace the "helpful" text with "blah blah blah." Someone like Morton gets along better with him, due to his brevity. The Koopaling’s interactions with one another add even more flavor to the adventure. An early example shows how fearsome Roy considers Wendy. But eventually, we see how these characters get frustrated with his behavior and how their interactions and reactions help form bonds between them and the young lord.
Having the Koopalings around so quickly also helps people learn different strategies and experiment. In Bowser’s Minions, your recruits are the sorts of NPCs we have seen throughout the Super Mario games. By the time you finish Bowser’s Castle (East) in Bowser Jr.’s Journey, you have Iggy, Larry, Ludwig, Morton, Roy, and Wendy in your army. That means you have two melee, one flying, and three ranged units that are all stronger than the normal minions you will pick up after stages right away. But then, as the story goes on, people eventually leave for various reasons. For example, Ludwig leaves not long after reaching Dimble Wood, because he has a bad feeling about Lemmy having been left behind at the castle. Roy gets sick of Bowser Jr.’s attitude and goes. Having them around and as a First Officer gives you a chance to have some extra power to your group, but the way the story is organized keeps you from relying on them as a crutch too early on and keeping from growing and experimenting with other units.
By relying on such major characters, Bowser Jr.’s Journey makes this extra element in Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story stand out. Getting to see what Bowser’s son and respected minions are up to as he is dealing with his issues with the Mario Bros. and the Blorbs infection is spreading is great, since all of these characters play well off of each other. It keeps from getting too silly by actually showing real character growth and relationship development between Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings. It is generally better executed than Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga‘s Bowser’s Minions quest, which might make a better impression on people who try this real-time strategy game.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser’s Jr.’s Journey is available for the Nintendo 3DS.