By Phil Schipper / August 27th, 2013
|Title: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
Release Date: August 11th, 2013
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Age Rating: E10+
The Mario franchise is one that many gamers think is falling apart in the last few years. With the influx of titles starting with “New” and the disappointment around Paper Mario: Sticker Star, many fans have lost faith in new Mario games. So can we expect this latest entry in the beloved handheld RPG series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, to fully carry on the Mario & Luigi saga?
Dream Team carries on the tradition of exploring new territory in each entry. Where Partners in Time used time travel and Bowser’s Inside Story focused on the workings of a body, Dream Team, needless to say, is about the realm of dreams. Things start out innocently enough, when on a vacation to Pi’illo Island, the brothers stumble upon a mysterious stone slab. When Luigi (who has been napping heavily lately) falls asleep on it, a portal suddenly opens, leading Mario inside Luigi’s dreams.
Predictably enough, Peach will eventually get stuck inside and you’ll have to rescue her–but the story doesn’t stop there. Between the history of the long-lost Pi’illo race and their nemesis Antasma, and the inevitable appearance of Bowser, the dream world soon becomes both the safest and most dangerous place on Pi’illo Island. It’s a story that, surprisingly enough, does not involve you simply travelling the world collecting key items–rather, Mario and Luigi are facing an evolving crisis.
This means you’ll be jumping back and forth between the real and dream worlds pretty much constantly. Even something as simple as finding a missing tour guide can’t be solved without searching out a specific Dream Point and plunging in for a little dungeon. And while this setup does extend some tasks beyond all reason, most Pi’illos are optional to rescue, and once you find them you might be in for nothing more than a one-minute puzzle or a handful of battles.
The cool thing about this is that it mixes up the gameplay pretty constantly. The real world hearkens back to Superstar Saga, full of creative platforming and coordinated moves between the Bros. Conversely, Luigi’s dreams are closer to the sidescrolling of Bowser’s Inside Story. To get through these areas you’ll have to harness the power of Luigi’s imagination, allowing you to make towers of Luigi copies or even control time and gravity.
Battles work on the exact same system as the other Mario & Luigi games. Whether you’re dishing out an attack or dodging one, timed button presses are the only way to succeed. In the overworld there is a button for each bro, as in older games, but in the Dream World, the dream form of Luigi fuses with Mario and enhances his power. In this case, dodging will involve running or turning with the 3DS’s Circle Pad as well. Since Dream enemies tend to swarm you, this adds a much fuller variety to their attacks than we’ve seen in the past.
This time, though, you have motivation to succeed with your attacks, beyond the immediate reward of damage numbers. Expert Challenges reward you with points when you do things like get 10 Excellent strikes in a row, or dodge every attack from a particular enemy. These points give you some pretty rare and unique items even early in the game. And every successful move you make fills one of your two badge meters, getting them closer to the point where they touch and yield out a badge effect. Instead of individual badges for each bro, the combination of badges is what determines the effect. You might get one to heal Mario and Luigi, or to inflict damage or status effects on enemies. A few badges even have a random effect!
Bros Attacks, as well as the “Luiginary” attacks that are available to you in the Dream World, get even crazier than the normal ones. These involve not only running around and pressing buttons with precise timing, but often tilting the 3DS as well. The most obvious example of this is the Luiginary Ball, which tasks you with tilting it to add more and more Luigi clones to your ball as it rolls, before kicking it hard into a swarm of enemies. These bits will even automatically turn off 3D temporarily to save your head from imminent pain.
But Luigi’s move for center stage goes much further than that. Several times in the game, the Bros will be faced with a massive, seemingly unbeatable Dream World boss. Luigi’s fear, combined with his innate drive to help his brother Mario wherever possible, will turn his dream form into an impressive Giant Luigi. In these battles you turn the 3DS sideways to see Luigi on one side and the enemy on the other. Touch controls replace the button presses, but it’s generally the same idea–choose the most effective attack, execute it well, then dodge or counter all the enemy’s attacks to win. Some of these become surprisingly difficult later on, but… in a way, it helps you see Luigi in a new light.
Which isn’t to say characters have stopped their age-old habit of forgetting who Luigi is or just brushing him aside. It’s one of the oldest jokes in the book–and you didn’t think we could have a Mario & Luigi game without a sense of humor, did you? In Dream Team, almost every character in the entire game has some wacky quirk or other. Even the random encounter enemies take the chance to show off their silly side. I’d even say that a certain mountain dedicated to weightlifting takes things to new heights of nonsense.
Combined with the lighthearted, whimsical, soaring soundtrack and the usual bright and colorful sprite-based graphics, the effect is the same fun-loving world we’ve come to expect from this series. And if that wasn’t enough to bring series fans into a nostalgia trip, Pi’illo Island is full of memorable characters returning from the past. Remember Popple from Superstar Saga? Or the block people from Bowser’s Inside Story? They’re all back–and as a little more than just a simple cameo. The developers even left in the classic Save Blocks despite giving you the ability to save anywhere you want.
One last touch that makes any Mario & Luigi game complete is minigames, and there’s no shortage of them here. The game makes that extremely obvious by throwing several of the simplest ones at you right from the start, and they’ll continue to crop up throughout the main story. They’re admittedly not as fun as I would’ve expected, especially considering the great work found in the rest of the game, but a handful do actually add something worthwhile.
All this adds up to about 40 hours of gameplay. While that may seem really long for a game in this series, the way the game mixes up its many different elements means that you will never, ever feel like this is a drag. Even in the endgame where things inevitably got very complicated and difficult, I didn’t find myself getting frustrated at all. If anything, the game’s presentation keeps you going nonstop even more at that point.
So there you have it. In a world where new Mario games are divisive at best, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team manages to give us hope–and a really good experience too.
Review copy supplied by author.
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