The latest highlight to hit the smoking hot Nintendo 3DS is Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, another installment into the noteworthy series of Mario RPGs. Like most Mario branded games, Dream Team sports a specific charm that’s somewhat difficult to resist. There’s no shortage of excellent RPGs on the 3DS, so do the Mario brothers do enough to distinguish themselves from the competition?
The game starts off with Mario and the gang receiving an invitation for a stay at the beautiful Pi’llo (pillow) Island Resort. Things start of swell until Princess Peach is of course kidnapped in Pi’llo castle. Mario and Luigi then discover a magical pillow while searching for her within the castle and by sleeping on this pillow Luigi is able to open a portal into the dream world. In the dream world Mario and Dreamy Luigi discover the batty villain Antasma who has kidnapped Peach.
Soon thereafter Bowser joins forces with Antasma villain and they concoct a fiendish plan to use the powerful Dream Stone to conquer the world or something of the sort. Of course Mario and Luigi can’t take that lying down (well, at least Mario can’t) and so the adventure begins.
The game starts up very slowly and I was still being introduced to new mechanics a dozen hours in. Throughout the game you’ll switch between the real world and the dream world, all the while gaining levels and coins and upgrading your gear. As I’m sure you’ve already gathered, the dream world is a huge part of this game. Game-play in the real world is more similar to a traditional RPG as you explore the fairly well detailed environments, discover items, solve puzzles, chat it up with NPCs, enjoy a number of minigames and distractions and of course get into various battles. In the dream world however the game plays more like a classic side-scrolling Mario platformer.
The game’s visuals are bright and crisp, although the use of 3D is less impressive than I’ve seen in some other games. The soundtrack is rather enjoyable and is oddly relaxing.
Because Luigi is in the real world fast asleep anytime Mario is in the dream world, Mario is accompanied by Dreamy Luigi for the dream world portions. Dreamy Luigi will need to interact with various items in the environment in order to complete the dream world portions. What’s cool is, these interactions require the player to manipulate the sleeping face of real world Luigi on the touch screen.
This is kind of difficult to explain, but basically you’ll use the touch screen to play with real world Luigi’s face and this allows Dreamy Luigi to create paths and clear obstacles for the dream team to progress through the dream world segments. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense when you lay it out like that, but it is pretty fun.
There’s also plenty of platforming to be done in the real world as well, with Mario and Luigi needing to team up to tunnel underground, hover over gaps and drill through rocks to explore the world and discover goodies.
One high point that I simply must mention is the game’s excellent sense of humor. Some of the dialogue actually had me laughing out loud as I played the game, earning me startled looks from other public transit passengers and family members. There are lots of funny characters and the general charming, light-hearted atmosphere is really refreshing. I spent a lot of time smiling and laughing as I played this game. Some of the minigames are delightful distractions. My favorite involves discovering and solving jigsaw puzzles scattered throughout the game world.
Combat is familiar to anyone’s who has played the other Mario RPGs. Battles are turn-based but an interesting mix of real-time elements keeps things exciting. When you attack an enemy you have to press buttons at just the right time to deal maximum damage. Likewise, when an enemy attacks you, you have to evade or counter in real-time. Sometimes this annoyed me, because I like to just mash my way through when I’m level grinding and Dream Team doesn’t really allow you to do that. You have to constantly pay attention during even minor skirmishes, which isn’t an issue per se but it just isn’t something I’m used to.
There is a big variety of enemies in the game, with some being far more problematic than others. Studying specific enemy patterns and learning to counter them is rewarding.
Battles vary between the dream world and the real world too. In the real world you control Mario and Luigi separately, they each get a turn and you can do something different with each of them. In the dream world Luigi like…possesses Mario or something and you only get one turn but Mario is far more powerful than usual and several Luigi clones run forward to bolster every one of his attacks. It’s a neat variation.
One thing that I really wasn’t crazy about is the bros. attacks. These are this game’s super attacks, limit breaks or what have you. Using BP Mario and Luigi can team up to deliver a powerful attack to the enemy. These are nice and everything, but they also transpire in real-time and some of them were particularly tricky to pull off. If you fail the input your attack ends immediately, and your BP and turn are both wasted.
In the thick of a heated boss battle, if I choose to expend BP for a super attack, I need that super attack to come out, no questions asked. I didn’t like having to win the minigame to actually deal the damage, because failing comes at quite a cost in certain spots. I recognize that many players enjoy this element of these games, but this detracted from the experience for me. Also, you can select a slow motion option which makes some of the attacks easier to execute, but I would probably have preferred an outright auto option.
Another note about the bros. attacks is that you have to collect ten puzzle pieces in each new area to actually unlock them. Needless to say, I would have preferred a more straightforward system where you unlocked them simply by leveling up your characters, but the pieces are easy enough to find and I won’t fault the game for daring to do something different.
There are no proper magic spells or skills in the game, but this is countered by a large variety of items, gear and the cool badges. Badges offer a variety of different effects, such as temporarily increased defense or health restoration. Furthermore, you can equip two badges at a time, and every combination of badges results in a different effect. It’s certainly worth it to collect these and explore the different kinds of benefits you can obtain. It’s also pretty cool that activating a badge doesn’t consume a turn in battles.
Leveling up in the game seems extremely straightforward, but one thing thrown in to give it some variety is the rank system. As you level up, you’ll eventually obtain a new rank. Increasing your rank allows you to choose from one of a variety of useful perks, such as adding another equipment slot, amplifying your defense by 25%, and giving a bonus increase to a certain stat with each increased level. Much of the gear you equip also has useful effects, such as the overalls that temporarily boost your defense every time you take damage.
So while combat and character progression may seem somewhat thin and overly simplistic at first, there is actually much to consider in the gear, badges and rank perks.
As a general complaint the game is very slow, sometimes excruciatingly so. I mentioned earlier that I was still seeing tutorials over a dozen hours into the game. The leveling is slow, even for a seasoned grinder like me. The game really takes its time introducing certain elements to you and while I would normally appreciate this, I think Dream Team took it to the extreme. For that same reason though, I think younger players or genre newcomers would have a fine time with this title.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is certainly a good game. Series fans should find plenty to enjoy here. The unique mix of real-time and turn-based elements in the combat, the fun platforming, minigames and puzzles, and the wonderfully humorous dialogue are all shining merits. The crawling pace and arguable bros. attacks aside, it’s a fun romp and I’m certain it’ll be an absolute hit with the younger audience. I don’t see it necessarily being a system seller, but regardless, Dream Team is solid fun and an easy recommendation for genre and series fans.