The Mario & Luigi series is my personal favorite featuring Nintendo’s famous mascot, even if it’s developed by AlphaDream. With the exception of Partners in Time, all of the RPG renditions exceeded expectations when it came to plunging Mario's universe into an turn-based role-playing world. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is no different, and refines what the previous two (again, with the exception of Partners in Time) did so well. While the mechanics remain largely unchanged, the little improvements add up to a very smooth experience in an equally interesting world.
Mario & Luigi find themselves on vacation at Pi’illo Island, though trouble is not far behind. The first characters that players meet introduce the resort’s various attractions, like being a great place to sleep or see some amazing scenery. It’s also a mysterious place. The ancient Pi’illo folk disappeared long ago with no explanation, and there are those dedicated to recovering information on the lost Pi’illo Kingdom. Being a Mario game, the added depth to the otherwise shallow universe is a welcome occurrence, but it only goes so far. Expect a well-thought-out story, but not one that requires reading a wiki to fully understand.
Problems arise when Antasma, the ancient enemy of the Pi’illos, returns to take over the island. He gains the help of Mario’s common enemy, Bowser, and sparks the adventure for Mario & Luigi. It’s around this time you’ll find Prince Dreambert, one of the long lost Pi’illo folk that once ruled over the fallen kingdom. Dreambert will be your companion throughout Dream Team, helping with tutorials and directions as you explore the large island.
There are many lovable characters introduced in Dream Team, even recurring ones from previous Mario & Luigi games. Popple, one of my favorites from Superstar Saga, returns as the shadow thief on the hunt of treasure. Kylie Koopa, one of the few characters I liked from Partners in Time, returns as a photographer and sits in her house hosting a picture decrypting minigame.
Bowser never gets his way in Mario & Luigi games...
Then there’s Starlow, the previous companion from Bowser’s Inside Story. She is once again caught up in an adventure with Mario & Luigi, and along with Prince Dreambert, helps along the way. However, I found it difficult to like Starlow in Dream Team. She constantly ruined what immersion there was when she spoke directly, repeating multiple times where to go and even telling me when to save. This has the upside that you will never be lost, but it also makes the game feel more linear.
Still, Starlow is a minor scuff on an otherwise polished game. The attention to detail when it comes to graphics is amazing, with some areas in the dream world reminding me of a very meticulous Fez. I was, however, disappointed with the almost nonexistent 3D effect and the less-than-sharp character sprites. While within a battle everything looked crisp and clear, I noticed little difference between having the 3D slider on or off when exploring the overworld.
Playing Dream Team, players will run into enemies and enter an instanced turn-based fight similar to many turn-based RPGs. The battles afford many choices. Will you hammer the enemy with spikes on his head, jump on the flying Koopa, use a powerful Bros. Move, or run away and fight another day? As Starlow suggests, however, it’s best not to retreat, as the extra experience for defeating enemies is needed to level Mario & Luigi. If you defeat every enemy, you will have a much easier time with bosses and other encounters, but if you’re looking for a challenge, skipping as many as you can will give that to you. You can also beat the game and replay on Hard Mode, which has item restrictions and tougher enemies.
That’s not to say Dream Team is particularly challenging anyway. The combat is entirely based around timing. If you can’t time the exact moment to dodge the fireball or hammer back the chain chomp, you’ll take a lot of damage and eventually die. The phrase “practice makes perfect” definitely applies, and as long as you keep working at it any of the encounters will eventually become extremely easy. It’s just a matter of learning the moves.
Use Luigi's mustache to fling Mario across the screen!
A large portion of your time will be spent inside Luigi’s dreams. Well, not specifically Luigi’s, but inside the dream world accessed by having Luigi sleep on certain dream points located throughout Pi’illo Island. Using Prince Dreambert as a pillow, Mario jumps in the dream portal with Dreamy Luigi appearing as his companion. During battles, Dreamy Luigi will combine with Mario to increase his hit points and power, useful for encounters that have many more enemies as opposed to the overworld. These fights were my favorite in my playthrough of Dream Team, but near the end of the game they became extremely tedious, the battles growing longer and the enemies more clever. Luigi can also directly interact with different objects, like tossing Mario around as a tree or even cancelling gravity to let Mario freely float around.
AlphaDream has managed to include many puzzles that impede your progress to Antasma, too. None of the puzzles stumped me, so I believe they could have been harder, but there were a few times I had to wander around for a couple of minutes figuring out what to do next. At least Dream Team generally makes it obvious what you’re supposed to do, with the camera being set on key points, or Dreambert or Starlow, once again, pointing out the obvious.
During the puzzles, you’ll find many collectibles on Pi’illo Island. Stat beans, which raise the stats of a character of your choice; petrified Pi’illo folk, solidified after Antasma’s attack long ago; encrypted pictures of the surrounding area; and even a few side quests. All these bonuses provide numerous distractions on your quest to save the world. Avoiding them will cut down on the time required to beat the game, but the extra experience and rewards are usually more than worth it if there’s a difficult boss you just can’t seem to beat.
One of the multiple giant bosses you will fight in Dream Team.
Speaking of bosses, the gigantic battles from Bowser’s Inside Story return, this time with you playing as Luigi rather than Bowser. These confrontations have you rotate your 3DS so the screens are vertical instead of horizontal, allowing enough room to see goliath Luigi fight other colossal bosses. This made for some of the most stunning boss fights I had ever experienced in a Mario game, and will live in memory for months to come.
Of course, what is a Mario game without humor? Dream Team contains quite a bit, with back-handed cracks at Luigi or just outright hilarious lines. It’s still not without its fair share of serious scenes, though, which really create a fun sort of story you would expect in a Mario title, and making details more complicated than Mario saves Peach. There were even a couple of plot twists thrown in, but if you played the previous Mario & Luigi games, that is to be expected.
My biggest peeve with Dream Team was the music. There are a couple good songs, but when you spend four or five hours in one area, listening to the same ten notes over and over starts to become annoying. I found myself muting the audio more than I usually do with 3DS games, and there is one song in particular on Pajama Mountain that I dislike with every fiber of my being. The audio does fit the psychedelic style of Dream Team, at least.
If you’re a fan of Mario and RPGs but haven’t picked up one of his “rehashed” games in a while, then Dream Team may be the one for you. AlphaDream does a great job combining the basics of a turn-based RPG with Nintendo’s plumber to create a new and interesting world. Epic fights, lovable characters, and hilarious lines unify to make Mario & Luigi: Dream Team a must-play for any Nintendo 3DS owner, and one of my favorite games in a long time, period.
Release Date: August 11, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed)