You know, you have to wonder if Mario getting all of the attention and praise is causing poor Luigi some serious psychological harm. Granted, the younger Mario Brother has done alright for himself, accompanying Mario when it counts, spending plenty of time with him go-karting, partying and playing sports, and he’s even gotten a ghost-busting business off of the ground. Sure, he’s no Bill Murray, but we doubt that Mario wants that embarrassing King Boo kidnapping from 2001 to go public.
The fact is, Luigi is an important part of Mario’s career, if for no other reason than to remind people of how awesome Mario is. Traditionally, Luigi has been a flake and a coward, but when he steps up, he really steps up. Hell, he even gained the ability to speak coherent English in the various Paper Mario games! Yeah, it’s an ability he inexplicably loses again in the Mario & Luigi games, but I’ve learned long ago never to try and reason out RPG logic. You’ll just hurt yourself.
Of course, like any other underappreciated human being, Luigi spends a lot of time losing himself in delusions of grandeur. Fortunately, Luigi’s psychological trauma is our gain, as his inferiority complex has lent itself to another fun and charming RPG adventure, just in time for another vacation with Princess Peach to go horribly awry. You’d think that they’d know to pile on the plumbing contracts when Peach feels like a getaway by now. Then again, at least Pi’illo Island is a better vacation idea than Rogueport. Still, if even Delfino Isle can’t be visited without some disaster unfolding, maybe Mario and Luigi should keep their vacations at their weird uncle’s house, like everybody else.
Well, I suppose in that case, we wouldn’t have any Mario games to enjoy outside of the Mushroom Kingdom, so, lo and behold, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team! The premise of the game is that Pi’illo Island was once home to an ancient kingdom of pillow people. Hey, sit down! Would I make that up?! Anyway, the pillow people had an arch-enemy, a bat overlord that feeds on nightmares called Antasma, who tried to steal the power of the wish-granting Dream Stone… Yeah, you really think I’m making this up, don’t you?
If you said yes, then chances are, you have never played a Mario RPG. Protip: They don’t take themselves too seriously. Dream Team is no exception either, offering plenty of eccentric personalities and wacky scenarios as you explore Pi’illo Island’s beaches and deserts and forests and mountains. What do you mean, this doesn’t sound like a very noteworthy vacation spot? What if I told you that you can only travel there by blimp? I don’t know, I didn’t design the place!
In all seriousness though, the overworld of Pi’illo Island is disappointingly bland and by-the-numbers as far as a Mario & Luigi game goes. You learn the same moves as the prior three games when it comes to exploring, and the locations all feel like cookie-cutter landscapes as far as RPG backdrops go. RPG gamers like me have climbed enough mountains, scoured enough beaches and crawled through enough deserts to be able to do it in our sleep now, even with the charm of Mario and Luigi spin-jumping and hammering everywhere. No, I don’t care if the mountain is called, “Mount Pajamaja”, because it’s still just another bloody RPG mountain!
Thankfully however, this is when Dream Team pulls out the old ace up its sleeve. Just when you feel like Princess Peach really needs to spend more time on Mushroom Kingdom TripAdvisor before picking a vacation spot, Luigi has to fall asleep on one of the enchanted pillow people with his convenient case of on-demand narcolepsy, the kind that opens magic portals into his dreams. I don’t believe they have medication for that, but given how readily Mario leaps headfirst into his brother’s sub-conscious mind, I guess he’s not too concerned about the health risks of Luigi falling asleep on a sentient pillow creature.
It’s a good thing too, because anything productive done on Pi’illo Island is almost always done in the world of Luigi’s dreams. Don’t bother with the blackboard, because I can’t explain it either. In any case however, when inside Luigi’s mind, Mario will be accompanied by a slightly taller and slightly more handsome psychological manifestation of Luigi called ‘Dreamy Luigi’, while also shifting from the three-dimensional isometric navigation of the overworld to a classic two-dimensional view.
It’s here that the game places less emphasis on wandering around aimlessly talking to tourists, and occasionally hammering a switch, and more time on having actual engaging level design. The world of Luigi’s dreams is much more novel and colourful than the predictable overworld locations of Pi’illo Island. Surreal and drowsy-looking outlines of characters Luigi has met, or Luigi himself will run and float around the screen, as the background environments appear to swirl and melt into their own environmental effects. Needless to say, it’s much more exciting to look at.
The dream landscapes are really at their strongest when the 3D Slider is cranked all the way up too! Dream Team presents outstanding use of the 3DS’s 3D effect, making the environments seem all the more swirly and engrossing, almost trance-inducing to look at. The multiple environmental layers in most dream landscapes make the 3D stand out much, much more than it does in the real world as well. During extended play, looking at the dream visuals will almost make you feel a bit drunk, but for once, that’s a good thing!
Where the 3D really shines however is in battle. Attacks will explode in brilliant flashes of light and colour when executed correctly, and the way that first-person viewpoints and enemies swooping in on you from the foreground and background is done is nothing short of outstanding. Dream Team may be the newest contender for some of the best 3D effects that I’ve ever seen in any 3DS game, and you can tell that developer, AlphaDream just lept at the chance to put as much colourful and trippy 3D into the game as they could!
Now if you have never sailed on this here Mario & Luigi vessel before, you may ask, “But Brent, you’re so wise and skilled and good-looking, but I must confess that I’m ignorant as to how you fight enemies in this fine gaming product. Would you please enlighten me, Sir?” Well, since you flattered me enough times, I’ll tell you.
As with any Mario RPG, battles aren’t random. You instead engage enemies by coming into contact with them in the field. If you jump on them or hammer them first, you’ll even be given a free hit before the battle starts, though enemies can literally trip up Mario and/or Luigi if they attack while you’re facing away from them, often giving them a free turn. Also, don’t jump on spiked and/or flaming enemies. That won’t work well for you. Mario and Luigi don’t shop for footwear at the Batcave!
Anyway, once battles properly start, combat is turn-based. Just like your favourite water slide however, there is a bit of a twist! Rather than just punching in menu commands and slugging it out methodically with your foe like Saturday morning cartoon gentlemen, you’re instead allowed to both try to dodge and counter enemy attacks, as well as increase Mario and Luigi’s potential damage with properly-timed button presses during their own attacks. As with previous games, A controls Mario, and B controls Luigi. You could also use Y for Mario and X for Luigi, but that would just make you weird. Even the game thinks so, as the button prompts are only ever for A or B.
For example, your jump will be more powerful (and more attractive) if you press the A or B button right before you land on an enemy. Likewise, tapping A or B with the proper timing when charging a hammer attack will make you swing it harder, because physics. On the enemies’ turn, they’ll often give you clues as to whether they’re about to attack Mario and Luigi (or both), challenging players to both press and hold/release A and B with the proper timing to try and counter enemies and turn their attacks against them, or perhaps avoid damage if an enemy is too smart to be whacked in the face with a hammer when charging straight ahead for the twentieth time. It could happen.
Honestly, it’s pretty standard as far as Mario & Luigi battle systems go. Hell, it’s the exact same battle system as the prior three games! Yes, in the dream world, Mario sort of absorbs Luigi (??), allowing him to target vast groups of enemies by dropping Luigi clones on them during jumps and getting more Luigi clones to hammer shockwaves at them, but that’s it.
Fortunately, battles are given a few unique hooks this time around. Chief among these are the new Luiginary Attacks, which take the place of the returning and less interesting Bros. Attacks in the real world. Luiginary Attacks, like Bros. Attacks, consume BP to use, and require you to drink syrup when you need to replenish them. As usual, Mario and Luigi don’t need an excuse to drink condiments right out of the bottle. In fact, if you do this in battle, you’ll see that they have literally one drop of syrup, and then toss away the entire bottle, still entirely full. Even if you’re littering in Luigi’s dreams, I’m sure that still causes mental clutter! Aaahh, you see what I did there?!
What was I saying again? Right, Luiginary Attacks! These allow Mario to summon hordes of Luigi’s in order to lay a serious smackdown on enemies. If you’re a fan of Luigi, these are among the most awesome attacks in Mario history! If you don’t get lazy with collecting the ten Attack Pieces scattered around each dream world, you can ride a stack of Luigi’s to crush enemies, balance an army of Luigi’s forming a hammer that can whack foes, and even smack Luigi around, bouncing off a wall of other Luigi’s, air hockey-style. These attacks require a lot of practice, even compared to the Bros. Attacks, and messing them up will often cancel the whole attack and leave your best accomplishment of that turn being a few laughs on YouTube. Still, when you pull them off, they’re very fun and very satisfying to ravage enemies with, especially bosses!
Oh, and speaking of the bosses, they’re pretty awesome in Dream Team! Mario RPG bosses generally make for fun battles, but the bosses you’ll fight in Dream Team are perhaps the best in the Mario & Luigi series to date in many respects! They’re all creative, challenging, memorable, and most importantly, if they hand your ass to you, you can opt to fight them with the difficulty reduced. It’s a nice gesture by AlphaDream, in case you didn’t want to tell your husband that you stole his 3DS and totally love this game, but if he asks, video games are stupid and you never talk anymore.
Fortunately, if you do know what you’re doing, Dream Team also rewards your skills with ‘Expert Challenges’. These work like an in-game achievement system, rewarding you unique gear to equip for successfully pulling off special attacks, beating enemies without getting hit, consistently chaining perfect attacks, and more. They only exist in battle, but that makes sense, as there’s no gold star for doing your five-hundredth spin jump to get across your thousandth spike pit. Sure, the Expert Challenges are purely optional, but hey, why not get a free pair of overalls for not falling on your ass every time you jump on something? Makes sense, right?
Oh, and before all of you Mario & Luigi aficionados raise your hands, yes, the Giant Battles from the previous Bowser’s Inside Story are back in Dream Team, except now you’re Giant Luigi instead of Giant Bowser. The drill is much the same however, turning your 3DS on its side so that you can accommodate all of Luigi’s macho splendour, as well as the macho splendour of the gigantic pile of houses that suddenly decided to attack you. Luigi’s messed up sometimes, man…
Of course, the RPG mechanics give way to what is otherwise a more strategy-esque mano-a-mano duel, relying on deducing how enemies will attack, and often finding the correct way to take them down whenever it’s your turn. They’re more like puzzles with an action component, but hey, they’re still a lot of fun… As long as you’re not forced to use that damn gyroscope. Believe me when I say that the tilting controls in Dream Team function much like if you spilt an entire bottle of whiskey onto your 3DS, after downing an entire bottle of whiskey yourself. Do not use the gyroscopic sections of Dream Team as a sobriety test, kids. You will go to jail.
If RPG’s are a familiar stomping ground for you, then you must be curious about the quality of the story amidst all of this craziness however. The story is… fine. It hits a few too many beats from the prior Mario & Luigi games, right down to chasing some macguffin in some foreign kingdom that some stock one-note villain wants to conquer the world because it’s Tuesday and there’s nothing good on television. It’s workable though. There’s a bit less wit and laugh-out-loud moments than the previous Mario & Luigi games, but the charm and humour show up just frequently enough to prevent you from being bored during dialogue.
Considering that this is a thirty-five-to-forty-hour game (yes, seriously), I suppose that it could be worse in that case. Still, this series really loses something without the presence of characters like Fawful… Or Bowser forgetting most of his personality on this trip. Seriously, AlphaDream made an entire game about Bowser last time, and it was awesome! Why does Bowser just feel like he’s phoning it in here? His henchmen are much more interesting than he is!
On another note though, I do have to say that the music in Dream Team is excellent! It’s loads of fun, very catchy, and presents undoubtedly the best Mario & Luigi soundtrack to date! Everything from the environment themes to the battle themes to the dialogue themes is composed to perfection, perfectly complementing the colourful visuals and charming cast of characters.
As usual, you won’t find much reason to revisit the game after you beat it. Yes, beating this game will take noticeably longer than other Mario RPG’s, but your only reasons to come back are to rescue petrified Pi’illo people, collect stat-increasing Beans, fight bosses again, or listen to the music. Even AlphaDream knows how amazing their music is here, as the first thing they award you with upon completing the game is a good old sound test. Ohhh, it’s sublime! Is it my birthday? Is it Mardi Gras?
So, while not all of the many individual mechanics in Dream Team perfectly come together, especially given that the real world of Pi’illo Island feels a bit dull to explore outside of Luigi’s dreams, the game is a worthy Mario & Luigi offering that presents its share of charm and fun over the course of its lengthy adventure. Fans of Mario games and RPG’s alike will enjoy it and should definitely give it a try, even if they’ll no doubt that feel that the series has done better with Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story in particular.
Luigi might benefit from talking to a psychiatrist though… Just saying.