Not content to simply let New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe kick-start my new year, Nintendo of America has seemingly taken great pains to monopolize my family’s Q1 gameplay on all fronts. Another Mario Bros. classic is back and better than ever, the spirit of Wii Fit lives on in a calorie-busting new Switch exercise title, and a trio of outstanding 3DS releases are about to get a whole lot cheaper.
A Second Helping: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey
For those not fortunate enough to have come up during the series’ GBA/DS heyday, the Mario & Luigi spinoff (a slightly updated take on fan-favorite Super Mario RPG) has long been synonymous with satisfying gameplay, gorgeous graphics, and positively delightful writing. In fact, its humor and charm were usually only outshined by its innovative approach to traditional action-RPG mechanics, and 2009’s Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story offered both spades.
This new 3DS reimagining combines all that you loved about the original with even more engaging content. While the title eschews the system’s stereoscopic 3D visuals, the graphics have been nicely upgraded to suit the discriminating eye of the modern gamer.
The plot, however, arrives unchanged. A new disease, the Blorbs, has set upon the Mushroom Kingdom, swelling Toads, Goombas, and the like to comical proportions. When new villain Fawful—also the source of the Blorbs plague—tricks Bowser into eating a tainted mushroom, he inhales the Mario Bros. What unfolds is a war on two fronts. Mario and Luigi must find a way out of Bowser’s body while the Koopa King, unaware of what’s happening internally, seeks to unseat Fawful.
This, in turn, leads to the game’s trademark madcap gameplay, with Mario and Luigi’s action inside the lower screen’s Bowser biome (controlled by the A and B buttons) helping the big guy himself in his top screen exploits (using X and Y). In the vein of classic RPG, gear and accessories can be procured and equipped to help you on your way, and the combination of turn-based combat coupled with timed button-presses still feels as rewarding as ever.
Turning your system vertically for Giant Bowser gameplay—an element I’d completely forgotten about from the original outing—is still a treat, and the combination of button-mashing and touch interface gaming helps to remind us what a perfect piece of tech the Nintendo 3DS still is.
While the core experience has been slightly rebalanced, the real change here is the addition of Bowser Jr.’s Journey, which gives us a third perspective on the turmoil in the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser Jr. does his best in the absence of his father, recruiting allies for a little squad-based combat, but is ultimately as self-centered and petty as you’d expect from a junior despot.
For the most part, the battles take place automatically, but in true Mario and Luigi fashion, there is the occasional opportunity for timed button-pressing buffs. There’s a Fire Emblem-style weapons triangle at play—wherein Flying fighters trump Melee troops, Melee is effective against Ranged attackers, and Ranged can easily bring down Flying-types—which, along with special bonuses for specific fighter formations, adds a nice layer of strategy to what would otherwise be a pretty hands-off affair.
In all honesty, without the new Bowser Jr. mode, Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story would still be worth your time—even if you’ve previously played it on the original DS. But all that heart and humor plus the Bowser Jr.’s Journey content at the $40 price point makes it an incredibly easy recommendation.
Feel the Burn: Fitness Boxing
I have not so much as seen the inside of a gym since… well, mid-2018 at best. Unsurprisingly, I started off the year with a few additional holiday pounds packed on and only a modicum of motivation to shed them. Thankfully, a new Switch release is poised to help me get back to my fighting weight.
Fitness Boxing easily fills the niche originally inhabited by Wii Fit by offering timed, guided exercise routines rooted in the sweet science. Part activity trainer, part rhythm game, Fitness Boxing relies on the Joy-Con accelerometers to measure the accuracy of your jabs and hooks in time with a soundtrack of licensed pop favorites.
String together combos from your ever-growing boxing repertoire with the help of labeled punches on the scrolling left and right rhythm bars and a customizable trainer. The lovable Lin kicks off your inaugural lesson, but you can soon swap her out for three other female and two male instructors, each complete with a chiseled polygonal physique and ambiguous accent.
You can easily tweak things like eye, hair, and skin color, with new instructor clothing options—not to mention an expanded soundtrack—unlocked by reaching various training benchmarks. Overall, Fitness Boxing does a fine job with its all carrot, no stick approach, thanks in no small part to its tendency to regularly meter out these content rewards.
While I’m scarcely the type to consider fitness fun, the game does keep things upbeat. (Being subtly encouraged to rock back and forth in time with the rhythm of “Call Me Maybe” has given me a new appreciation for fighting games’ idle animations.) If, however, you’re more of an exercise buff, you’ll find a satisfying array of training routines that can keep your strutting your stuff for anywhere from 10-45 minutes at a clip.
The length of your session and accuracy of your punches are recorded both as an in-game score and as calories burned, and adding a daily stamp to your training calendar—another element borrowed from Wii Fit—gives a nice sense of regular accomplishment. There’s always more specialized training to explore (and revisit), and there’s even a two-player mode for those of us less self-conscious about our questionable fighting form.
While there’s always a way to cheat in titles like these (though why you’d want to is beyond me), the Joy-Con controllers, with their bevy of onboard movement tracking and physical feedback features, feel much more accurate and less intrusive than the previous generation Wii remotes, and while the visuals aren’t groundbreaking, they are universally warm and inviting. Even the licensed soundtrack—all 20 songs of it—manages to inject a little variety without feeling overblown.
That said, I do have a couple of minor complaints. First, as an American, my knowledge of all things metric is… limited. Having to put in my height and weight in cm and kg respectively required some Googling, and even then inputting the resulting numbers didn’t exactly mean anything to me.
Speaking of controller inputs, things like entering data and moving through written instructions require using the directional pad and face buttons, while the actual exercise controls are limited to the Joy-Cons’ L/R (or, in a pinch, ZL/ZR) buttons. As Fitness Boxing relies on the pistol grip-style of Joy-Con holding—a loose fist with the Joy-Con’s flat side against the inside of the fingers and rounded side against the palm—switching between that and the more traditional button-side-up interface gets a little tedious and often feels unnecessary.
Also, if I had my druthers, I’d appreciate additional options for tweaking the tempo of my workout. As in, make it slower. Much slower. Of course, that may just be my middle-aged body talking. (It is.)
Fitness Boxing isn’t exactly the type of title I expected to land on the Nintendo Switch, but it understands what it is and does a wonderful job coloring within those lines. Even though I’m just starting my journey—or, perhaps, because of it—I can really feel these daily workouts in my calves, shoulders, and core. Although, Lin advising me in the ways of proper pre-workout stretching and post-workout cool-downs does seem to take some of the edge off.
She’s a good egg, that one!
Cheap at Twice the Price: New Nintendo Selects
First-party Nintendo titles are notoriously difficult to find at a discount. Sure, maybe you can catch some good prices on Black Friday or find the odd BOGO half-off deal, but these little beauties tend to hold their value. In previous generations, Nintendo used the Player’s Choice line as an opportunity to rerelease million+ sellers at a budget price, with that designation later changing to the Nintendo Selects.
On February 4, three more Nintendo 3DS titles will hit shelves with new Nintendo Selects packaging at a paltry price of $19.99 each. The first is Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS, the portable remake of that standout Wii U release that gave the Minecraft generation a perfect 2D toolbox.
The other two are Nintendo 64 throwbacks reimagined for the modern handheld marketplace. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, originally released in 2015, brings Link’s time-looping Termina adventure to stunning life with enhanced stereoscopic 3D graphics, touch controls, and gyroscopic features.
Similarly, 2011’s Star Fox 64 3D lets you take the scrolling shooter with you anywhere with multiple game modes and an expanded suite of control options—but it still has that same nail-biting gameplay that originally made it a ’90s classic. While it’s easy to overlook the noble 3DS in favor of the new hotness that is the Nintendo Switch, deals like these provide a perfect on-ramp for young gamers to experience these iconic titles on the go and for the rest of us to revisit our longtime favorites without breaking the bank.
Review materials provided by Nintendo of America. I think Lin is trying to kill me with cardio. Please send help.