The Mario & Luigi series has always been an interesting part of the Nintendo family. This RPG/platformer hybrid brings familiar characters into new worlds, with unconventional combat. Dream Team is the latest in the revered franchise, and the first entry for the 3DS. All of the familiar mechanics and charm that has defined the series is here, along with the trademarked Nintendo quality, making it yet another must-have title for the system.
Dream Team takes place in the world of Pi’illo Island. This is a vacation destination that Mario and his entourage are whisked away to at the outset of the game. Like most adventures, Peach is captured and dragged into a dream world, where Mario must enter through his brother’s dreams. Not just any dreams though, Luigi must fall asleep on a special pillow in order to trigger these worlds. This opens up fantastic worlds for the brothers to explore, as well as being the catalyst for much of the game’s mechanics.
People on the island of Pi’illo do love to talk though. Series staple Broque Monsieu returns, complete with a thick French accent that took me awhile to get accustomed to reading. The dialogue is all text-based, with characters mouthing some gibberish for effect, and there is a ton of it. It drags down the pace somewhat in the beginning of the game. Combined with extensive tutorials this makes the first several hours of the experience feel a lot longer than they are. Dream Team is terrible about beating simple mechanics and functions over the head with excessive explanation. I had to be careful not to ask for them to be explained twice.
The world of Pi’illo Island consists of familiar landscapes and worlds to traverse. There are desert and forest areas, but the real star of the show are the dream worlds. Once Luigi finds a place to rest his head, these side-scrolling areas are ripe with interesting mechanics and game play. Inside these worlds logic is not applicable. Instead Luigi’s snoozing head invades the bottom screen, and manipulating it becomes a piece of the game play.
Tugging on his mustache can launch Mario onto platforms, while tickling his nose can generate a sneeze to blow items from the background to the foreground. These mechanics become some of the more interesting parts of the exploration. There are several ways they are put to use, with one being so cool and unique; I dare not mention it here. I found myself enjoying these sections of the game much more than the hub world. Not to mention there are not as many characters that want to chit-chat here either.
For those that have never played a Mario & Luigi game, jumping in takes some adjusting. Players control Mario and Luigi independently with the A and B buttons. This includes moving around the world as well as combat. This adds a layer of complexity to everything in the game. I actually found myself just pressing both buttons in tandem for most of my adventure.
Combat works like any other RPG with encounters being sparked when Mario or Luigi touches an enemy. This initiates a turn-based battle with plenty of action elements. Taking my turn is as simple as choosing an attack, and then tapping my jump button in time to perform combos. Miss the timing and less damage and hits are achieved. Defense works as sort of a mini-game. Every enemy has a specific attack, and Mario and Luigi can dodge anything thrown at them. Learning how enemies attack, and how to avoid them is half the fun of the combat system.
Combat changes up when in the dream world, as only Mario is there to attack. Luigi throws in support when my timing was spot on. All combat is rhythm-based, and Mario and Luigi will gain new attacks and even combo attacks as the game progresses. This is where one of my biggest gripes with Dream Team comes into play.
There are so many mechanics and ideas to keep track of, and the game never stops introducing them. Team attacks, badges, puzzle pieces, the list goes on and on. In the first five hours of the game, it felt like I was being bombarded with tutorials for more than one title. Every time something new was introduced, it almost nullified the last thing it taught me. It was a vicious cycle of trying to keep all the core concepts straight. Leaving the game for more than a couple days and trying to jump back in would be a nightmare. I could barely keep track of all the systems while playing it in succession.
The rest is standard RPG flare. Battles earn XP that can then be used to upgrade abilities and stats. There is also a hefty amount of gear in the game, none of which changes appearance, but ups stats. Gloves, overalls and boots are the main items that can be dropped or purchased. Sadly, most of them feel insignificant as far as boosting stats. There are also tons of items, but I never felt overwhelmed with any of it. It feels there for the sake of checking a box, rather than enhancing the mechanics. I would have been just as content had it not existed.
I love the art style of Dream Team. It takes the classic Mario look and feel, and gives it just enough flash to create a unique world. The dream world sequences were my favorite though, as they did a great job of highlighting areas with a gorgeous color palette. The use of 3D was also subtle, but effective. Audio wise I had the battle music stuck in my head after every session, but the rest felt pretty standard. The voices coming from Mario and Luigi were a nice touch, and the overall ambiance just felt dreamy, which I guess works considering the locale.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a great entry in the long-running series. The problems it has can be overlooked with some patience. I do wish more time was spent streamlining the game, and perhaps axing some of the mechanics and items. 3DS owners continue to receive plenty of quality software for the machine, and this is no exception. Anyone who has loved the series so far definitely needs to check it out, and newcomers shouldn’t shy away. Going in cold is not an issue. The combination of platforming and RPG elements just works, and delivers a great experience.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.