Mario & Luigi 3 (M&L3) is one of my honorable mention GOTY of 2009. Read about the basics of the battle system in the link.
For this article I want to highlight the boss battle between Bowser and Midbus using the DKART system and cover the depth or interplay design as well. Watch the video first without annotations. Skip to 3:00.
The skill spectrum of M&L3 is more diverse than most JRPGs because it's an action RPG. Engaging the real time skills of reflex, timing, and dexterity, battles involve more than just knowing the optimal strategy.
- Speed: Shy Guy Squad (repeatedly swiping on the screen). Goomba Storm (quick taps on the screen). Bowser's INHALE attack.
- Stamina: Bowser's INHALE attack (mash "X"). Shy Guy Squad.
- There are a lot of stats and attacks in the game that you should already be very familiar with at this point in the game. So, I'll focus on all the new elements. whether you store the new information in your LTM or STM they consist of...
- Various Midbus attacks and mixup variations (including damage dealt)
- The strength of your attacks on Midbus
- The whims of the crowd (they throw coins and food onto the stage)
- Cooked Chicken: restores 50 HP and powers up character
- Cake: restores 20
- Donut: 10 HP
- Tier.1 Adapting to the variations and moving targets.
- Tier.2 Adjusting to a lack of stamina to inhale food that's thrown onto the stage. Adjusting to a lack of knowledge of Midbus' attacks or a lack of timing skills.
- Reflex: Some of the most surprising elements you have to react to have approximately .5 second windows. This isn't too fast, but you still have to pay attention to successfully counter attack.
- DVA: There are plenty of external timing challenges that require players to keep track of moving objects.
- Eye Movement: Goomba Storm fills the touch screen with running Goomba. Tapping each one generally takes a rapidly shifting focus.
- Static (External): Getting the most power out of your attacks requires carefully timed button presses. Each attack has different timings and different visual wind up cues. Generally, countering Midbus' attacks takes fairly lenient timing for the SHELL and precise timing for the PUNCHes.
The depth of M&L3 battles generally extends beyond the interactions of a single turn in the turn based combat. By killing enemies, hitting enemies with specific attacks to start chain reactions, sucking up enemies for Mario and Luigi to fight, or by leaving elements in the field the decisions of one turn can be extended or suspended across turns. Int his way, the battle state can support decaying and/or cause and effect counters. In this battle between Bowser and Midbus, the counters are mostly preventative falling on the players side of control, while Midbus merely uses mixups to throw off your ability to counter his moves. For these reasons, though the battle isn't very deep, its interplay design is varied and engaging.
- Midbus Chain Ball Attack
- part 1. Midbus will swing the ball and move back and forth. Duck with SHELL to avoid getting hit. Be careful with your timing. Sometimes Mmidbus will swing the chain ball over your head repeatedly without moving back. Only holding a well timed SHELL will keep you safe.
- part 2. Midbus will back all the way up and try to mix you up by either throwing the chain ball high or low. If it's low you must PUNCH it. If it's high, you can simply hold the SHELL.
- Midbus' Bouncing Slam
- Don't get distracted by Midbus' extra bounces. The last one is the only one you need to focus on. Though he'll fly up and off the top screen, be ready to determine if he'll fall on top of Bowser or in front. If he lands on top, use the SHELL. If he lands in front the timing window to counter attack PUNCH is smaller.
- Midbus Belly Drum attack
- When Midbus walks into PUNCHing range you have very little spare time to land 9 punches on him to prevent his powerful attack. If you land that 9th punch, get ready to land the 10th when Midbus dances forward for a final surprise attack. If you do not land the first 9 blows in time, you will take great damage and get dizzy preventing you from moving for another turn.
- Crowd Throw Food
- Here's where you have to make some tough strategic decisions. When the crowd gets excited, they throw food and money. After the food lands on the stage, on your turn you have the choice of sucking it up with the INHALE ability. This move already takes some stamina to use repeatedly, but in this battle, the most helpful food item (the chicken) is harder to suck up off the field. If you fail to suck up the items you lose a turn. Even if you get them all, you merely get a health bonus (and possibly a power bonus) at the sacrifice of damaging Midbus for that turn. Depending on the amount and type of food on the field, it may be best to let Midbus eat it and recover some health.
The design of every M&L battle is intricate, interesting, and unique. When you encounter enemies and bosses for the first time, your lack of knowledge will make it difficult to counter attack. With repeated exposure, you'll learn how to counter attack, which helps you live longer and kill faster. The way the enemy mixups are designed, you can trick yourself when you know 80% of an enemy's mixups. These moments can be frustrating and hilarious at the same time. Like most RPGs and most strategy games, knowledge is the most stressed skill making it the most effective to have. But when you enjoy the journey acquiring the knowledge, such a game is even more enjoyable.