A virulent Metakoro plague is sweeping the Mushroom Kingdom. Princess Peach calls a meting at the castle to discuss how to handle it. Mario and Luigi, the usual saviors of the Mushroom Kingdom are invited. But, Luigi isn’t quite the hero Mario is. He stumbles into Peach’s castle buckling his overalls and tying his shoe before falling flat on his face. During the council meeting Luigi falls asleep. Poor Luigi, always stuck playing the comic sidekick role.
During the meeting Bowser storms into Peach’s palace and tries to kidnap her again. Since Luigi is taking a nap it’s up to Mario to thwart him. Mario & Luigi RPG 3 mixes action with turn based combat. If you played any of the other Mario & Luigi RPG games this should be familiar. Mario jumps on enemies and if you hit A at the right time while he’s in the air you do a second jump attack for extra damage. The system is easy to grasp, but in the unlikely case you don’t get it Mario & Luigi RPG 3 will offer tutorial tips every time a new move is introduced. During this battle you’re given tips on how to activate the second jump and when to leap over Bowser’s fireballs. After you win Bowser is knocked out of the castle and Princess Peach is saved. Luigi continues to snooze.
A magikoopa revives the bruised Koopa King in the middle of a forest. Obstacles like rocks and trees block Bowser from following his loyal servant. These can be cleared with his fists and fire breath, respectively. Play time with Bowser is short this round since his mind gets taken over by Gerakobits after eating a so called lucky mushroom. Bowser heads back to Peach’s castle and uses his new ability to devour everything in sight. The castle, Mario, and Luigi who wakes up in the nick of time to futilely cling to a table all get sucked into Bowser’s gut.
Mario awakens inside a Bowser’s digestive system which also happens to be a 2D platformer. Doesn’t sound like a friendly place, but it’s loaded with question mark blocks containing coins and recovery mushrooms. Cellular enemies attack Mario, but since he’s solo and the commands are easy fights are a breeze. If you jump on an enemy to initiate a fight you open the battle with a hit all ground pound. During combat you have to actively defend Mario from microbial tackles by pressing A. It’s like jumping over Bowser’s fireballs, but if you get the timing right you can simultaneously evade and counterattack by landing on an enemy. Fights were pretty easy at this point so I avoided most of them by jumping over the monsters.
Luigi is trapped up ahead. Rescue him from the clutches of cellular creatures and he joins up. No, you can’t leave your brother behind. His attacks and field jumps are mapped to the B while the A makes Mario jump. The two plumbers are glued to each other and since you can’t let either stray far behind you have to get used to double jumping. To leap over a pit you need to run forward, hit A to make Mario jump, and then quickly hit B to make Luigi follow. In battle Luigi’s dodges are controlled with the B button too. In theory you should have to watch an enemy closely for clues to see which brother its going to hit, but I found it easier just to hit A and B at the same time. Go double dodge!
Helmet wearing creatures and spiked foes that you can’t jump on are the next monsters you meet. Mario and Luigi can crush these with mallets or kicking a green koopa shell back and forth. The green shell attack is a special move, which consumes SP. Once you activate it Mario (or Luigi if he starts the chain) kicks the shell when you press A. The shell hits an enemy and bounces towards Luigi where you need to hit B to keep the shell in motion. As you ricochet the koopa shell from brother to enemy and back to brother it speeds up and becomes harder to hit. The green shell attack was not unlocked by leveling up. Collecting attack parts, puzzle pieces scattered in question mark blocks, granted Mario and Luigi the new move.
While all of this digestive dungeon crawling was going on Bowser was lying unconscious on the top screen. He gets a rude awakening when Mario hits a raw nerve with a mallet. Communicating with a floating yellow star friend, Bowser reluctantly agrees to work with the brothers. This isn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. However, Bowser doesn’t exactly join your party since you’re inside him. Bowser acts on his own. You can flip to the brothers by pressing A or B. Pressing Y or X puts you back in control of Bowser.
Bowser acts alone, but he handle it. He can crush rocks and punch giant goombas carrying lollipops by with the X button. The mega goombas are a pushover. All they do is try to headbutt Bowser. You can stop them in their tracks with a well timed counter punch.
Food for thought:
1.) On one hand all of these pop up tutorials are good for people who never played an RPG before. On the other it feels like Mario & Luigi RPG 3 is holding your hand. Tutorials can be skipped over by selecting no, but messages that ask if you need help with simple things still break the flow of the game early on.
2.) In another example of being super friendly Mario & Luigi RPG 3 has the most save points I’ve ever seen in an opening dungeon RPG. Every three screens you can find another Hemoglobin that saves your game or recovers your life.
3.) Mario & Luigi RPG 3 actually has “voice acting”. This isn’t full voice acting, just sound bytes with gibberish and simple phrases. Considering Mario rarely talks any voice acting for a Mario game is a surprise.