Mario and Luigi are back once again in the latest Mario & Luigi RPG, Dream Team, and this time not even the consciousness of the human mind is safe from all the jumping and hammer-swinging you’ll be doing throughout this wonderfully fantastic good time! In the game, players resume the role of iconic plumber brothers Mario and Luigi once again, as they accompany Princess Peach on a vacation getaway to the sleepy and distant Pi’illo Island. But of course, since this is a Mario & Luigi game we’re talking about here, you know that everything isn’t as calm and idyllic as it all would initially seem. In fact, some strange happenings pop up almost immediately after their arrival, which throws the bumbling brothers into an epic quest to save the future of the island and the sleepy-eyed Pi’illo Folk (and of course, Bowser will be sure to rear his ugly head and make things all the more complicated for everyone involved).
The first thing you’ll notice about the game is how beautiful the graphics and the game world of Pi’illo Island really are, and how incredible they look in full 3D on your Nintendo 3DS system. However, you’re also likely to notice that something just feels OFF about the character designs, as well. I’m not really sure how to explain it in words, or what exactly it is that makes them seem this way, but I guess every character in Dream Team feels a bit flat compared to their surroundings; this is especially apparent in our heroes themselves, as well as the weird yellow block-headed residents that seem to populate every corner of Pi’illo Island. I wouldn’t say that it actually hurts the overall experience in any way, but for the first couple hours of your adventure, when you’ll mostly be doing lots of reading instead of playing, the awkward characters and accompanying movements will definitely stick out to you as you sit and scroll through many screens of traditional humor-infused Mario & Luigi dialogue.
But once you get into the meat of the adventure, Dream Team really starts to shine as the different gameplay elements and methods of progression begin to interlace and weave together. The basic roadmap of the game goes as follows: move to a new area of Pi’illo Island, encounter a problem that a character is having, and help them solve it by uncovering dozens of stone pillows and completing subsequent Dream World stages. And don’t be deceived by that world map you’re given – this is an absolutely MASSIVE game, with tons of areas to explore, and even more secrets to find hidden within. While the design of Pi’illo Island is certainly beautiful in its own right, the many segmented levels within the Dream World are what really let Mario & Luigi: Dream Team stretch its legs and try out some fun new concepts with little attachment to the reality that’s based around it.
You’ve probably seen a bit of the Dream World gameplay in countless previews leading up to the game’s launch. Basically, whenever you come across a stone pillow in the game world, Luigi settles down to take a nap on it, with Mario jumping headfirst into his consciousness to rescue some Pi’illo Folk who have somehow been magically trapped there within. In Dream World, you’ll be accompanied by an alternate dream version of Luigi who’s lovingly coined “Dreamy Luigi.” Dreamy Luigi can do some pretty cool stuff, like fusing himself into environmental objects that allow you to progress by interacting with Luigi’s sleeping face down on the touchscreen. For instance, after sending Dreamy Luigi into a Luigi-faced symbol in the sky, by rubbing real Luigi’s nose and making him sneeze, you’ll cause question mark boxes to be pushed into the foreground, allowing Mario to jump into them. Another big winner comes in the form of stretching the ends of Luigi’s moustache from side to side, in order to fling Mario up to higher ledges that he couldn’t possibly have ever reached otherwise.
Dreamy Luigi also comes in handy when it comes to the turn-based battles in Dream World. In these battles, while you’ll only be limited to one turn via Mario before the enemy makes their move, Dreamy Luigi makes his presence more than known by helping you at every turn. After jumping on an enemy’s head with Mario, dozens of Dreamy Luigis will fall from the sky and tack on dozens of damage points to many of the other surrounding enemies on top of that. His presence is even greater in the special Bros. attacks, where you’ll get to partake in fun little mini-games, like using your 3DS’s gyroscope functionality to steer a giant bowling ball made of Dreamy Luigis down a winding track, squishing more Dreamy Luigis that stand in your way to build the ball up, before nailing an “Excellent!” hit on the trembling enemies that are stuck at the end of your path. What’s really great is that the Dream World stages vary in length and objective, with some featuring tantalizing amounts of challenging battles and intricate level designs, and other compressed to a single room with a quick and breezy environmental puzzle.
The only real frustrating thing about the entire experience is that the game tends to do way too much handholding in the first half-dozen of hours, and it isn’t until you reach the second desert-themed area of Pi’illo Island that it finally begins to loosen its hold. Literally every new concept in the game is accompanied by a lengthy and drawn-out explanation, from learning a new Bros. move, to rescuing Pi’illo Folk for the first, and then nearly every subsequent time. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that most characters in the game just don’t know when the hell to shut up, and how everyone seems to love overly explaining the simplest of concepts. At one point, I even elected to skip the tutorial of a newly learned move entirely, before my guide just blatantly disregarded my and decided to dive into an excruciating explanation anyway. Not cool Dream Team, not cool.
I know this is a full-fledged RPG and all, and that talking is all just a part of the game here, but sometimes I actually want to just GET TO PLAYING THE DAMN THING ALREADY: which I guess is a true testament to how much fun the gameplay in Dream Team really is. While every battle in the game is distinctly turn-based, there’s so much action involved in executing perfect moves and serving up counter-attacks that this could very well pass as a classic action-based Mario title at that. Each of the many enemy types has their own unique attack patterns which you’ll need to figure out and counter, and the expansive moves list between both Mario and Luigi offer tons of exciting new ways to play every time you come back to the adventure. As an added incentive, players can work towards completing HUNDREDS of expert challenging through regular gameplay, like performing 10 “Excellent” attacks in a row, or defeating a specific enemy type without taking any damage.
Aside from this, the game might be a little too linear for some, but it’s nothing that fans of the Mario & Luigi series haven’t seen before, and so this slice of familiarity might actual be a welcomed thing amidst all the fantastic new that’s been introduced. The badges also feel a little underutilized here as they did in games past, with the Bro. Attacks and Dream World eccentricities easily taking the center stage here. So in the end, it’s very clear that Mario & Luigi: Dream Team isn’t afraid to try new things, while still closely adhering to the basic core concepts that gamers first fell in love with in previous installments in the series. Whether you look at it as a pure RPG or a more action-oriented experience, there’s just no denying the fact that this game is an absolute BLAST to play, and easily stands up against the other greats in the Mario & Luigi series. And if you’re able to deal with a number of characters just talking your ear off well into the night, then you’ll easily be able to get dozens of hours out of this one. Just make sure you turn your 3DS off before you actually fall asleep – you don’t to find Mario hopping around inside your head!
Pros and cons:
+ Dozens of hours of content
+ Lots of fun action elements to battles
+ Dream World offers lots of unique twists to the gameplay
– Too many characters don’t know when to shut up
Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Graphics – 9/10
Sound – 9/10
Replayability – 9/10
Overall rating – 8.8/10