Let's begin with Mario and Luigi, back in action in the belly of the beast. The Mario & Luigi series has always taken a less bright and cheery approach to character artwork compared to the more jovial Mario bros. we see in other installments of the franchise. More importantly, we're looking at actual 2D artwork here. No shiny 3D models with plastic-fantastic faces this time, and it is glorious. Nice socks, Luigi.
The trusty hammers of games past are back as well, giving the brothers the same skills from Superstar Saga in addition to a few new tricks. Character artwork featuring the heroes wielding hammers is a recurring motif in the Super Mario series, but surprisingly, the traditional pose of Mario in mid-swing seems to have been left out this time around. And honestly, what is with those socks?
Mario and Luigi are trapped inside Bowser's body at the start of this adventure, forcing them to navigate his various bones, muscles, organs, and antibodies to find a way out. That little spiny guy there is part of Bowser's innerworkings, and while it will attack our heroes, you really can't blame it. Mario and Luigi are technically invaders in the host organism, so antibodies and immune defenses are just doing their jobs when they poke, prod, and pinch the duo, seen here climbing on one Bowser's bones. That little uninteresting circular sidekick seen hovering near Mario is Starlow, but there's not much to say about a floating sphere with feet. Again, note Luigi's socks.
Of course, Mario and Luigi aren't going to take any abuse from white blood cells. Here we see Luigi fattened up to bowling-over size in order to knock some sense into Bowser's immune system. Does that checkerboard cookie look familiar? It should. It's one of the cookies from the 1992 puzzle game Yoshi's Cookie. And once more, socks are on display.
Still admiring the game's heroes, believe it or not, we come to Bowser himself. Although he actually begins the story with the best intentions, he eventually falls back into his familiar pattern of trying to abduct Princess Peach. That doesn't last long though, as he's forced to turn his attention to recovering his stolen castle and saving his kidnapped minions from Fawful. With his big spiked shell and even bigger ego, Bowser has a lot of work ahead to reclaim what is rightfully his. No socks for Bowser, by the way.
Speaking of Fawful, here is the doom-bringer himself, an odd fellow with a habit of speaking in poorly structured phrases that recall a simpler time when video games suffered from poorly translated localizations ("I have fury!"). Aside from running his own little empire comprised of stolen minions inside a commandeered Koopa castle, Fawful hasn't changed much since the original Superstar Saga. He still has his big teeth and swirly glasses, plus that stylish oversized cape never goes out of style. He's not working alone, however.
Meet Midbus, Fawful's sidekick. The tattoo of a snout with horns is a nice touch. Serving as a brute force counterpart to Bowser, this porker incorporates several of the Koopa king's characteristics into his own design. The bracelets are obvious, but take note of his tusks and how they relate to Bowser's horns. Spikes running down both of their backs and tails are another common trait, as are the stubby clawed three-toed feet. And, of course, they both pack a mean punch.
Let's check in with some of the supporting cast. The Toads are a familiar sight, and while they're usually found in the kingdom's Toad Town, a number of them were swallowed along with Mario and Luigi. They've made the best of it though, searching Bowser's body for helpful items and bringing them back to the newly established Toad Square in the center of the king's insides. Here we see a Toad bringing syrups to sell in one of the makeshift town's little shops, and not much about the usual Toad design has changed. Even the little feet that look like dinner rolls are intact.
Two new characters added to the mix are Broque and his dog Broggy. Made somehow of the conventional metal blocks that have littered the Mushroom Kingdom for years, the master and his pet serve as shopkeepers for Bowser's side of the storyline and occasional tutorial aids. Broque adds some supposed comic relief with his clichéd French accent (he addresses Bowser as "Monsieur Turtle Bits"), while Broggy does not like Bowser at all and has no issues with attacking him during their first meeting. From a design point of view, there's not much happening with these two characters, and frankly join Starlow as disappointing additions to the game's character roster in terms of design. What can you say about a man made of blocks?
Not all of Bowser's minions are under Fawful's control. This trio escaped with one of the castle cannons. Some work has been done to turn what would otherwise be a generic Goomba, Koopa Troopa, and Shy Guy into recognizable, distinct characters. The Goomba seems to have fled from Fawful in the middle of the night judging by his pajamas, while the Troopa has had to get by with a bucket for a helmet. The Shy Guy captures my attention the most thanks to that magic wand that he carries. Do you recognize it from Super Mario Bros. 3? I find it interesting that out of the three of them, it's the Shy Guy that's carrying the wand, considering that Goombas and Koopa Troopas were a part of Super Mario Bros. 3, but the Shy Guys were not. I have a feeling that I'm reading too much into that, however.
Speaking of minions, let's end with a big finish. Bowser is not the threatening force that he once was in the Super Mario world, but he can still pull out the crowning moment of combat awesome when needed. Here we see him sending his loyal Goombas into fiery battle, reminding us all that while he's not quite as dangerous as he used to be, he's still not someone that you want as an enemy. That's the real inside story here.
(Images via Nintendo and Gamehiker)