September 10, 2013
Two of the prior Mario & Luigi games already featured the Mushroom Kingdom, so Dream Team moves the location to a new area called Pi’illo Island by the way of Princess Peach getting an invitation to explore the island, bringing along the Mario Bros. in tow. Things aren’t what they seem after Luigi opens up a mysterious dream portal after sleeping on an ancient stone pillow. The Princess then gets captured by a mysterious bat-like creature called Antasma. One things leads to another and the brothers end up having to trek around the island using Luigi’s new dream ability to track down and stop Antasma from taking over the island.
While not quite at the same level as some of the prior games, the Western localization for Dream Team is still very good. The game features a nice mix of serious, silly and downright comedic scenes in equal measure and there’s more eccentric characters present than you could shake a stick at. There are some faults, like Antasma being left feeling one-dimensional as the character and the fact he plays second-fiddle to Bowser later in the game, but returning characters like Broque Monsieur with his hilarious French accent from Bowser’s Inside Story helps to even out the flaws.
As far as gameplay goes, one of the major issues present in Dream Team is the incessant amount of tutorials that occur almost every half-hour until you get past the first third of the game. Nintendo was criticized for the lack of tutorials and explanations that made Paper Mario: Sticker Star a chore to figure out what to do next, but instead of hitting a nice middle ground, Dream Team assumes the player can’t figure anything out and basically gives away the early puzzles by explaining them step-by-step. It feels incredibly patronizing to the player, especially if one played any of the prior games. It’s understandable to include it for newer players, but the option to skip these entirely should have been available.
For those who aren’t already familiar with the series, the Mario & Luigi series is a mix of RPG elements and the platforming aspects the Mario series is known for. Players can either touch the enemy on the map to instigate a battle or attack them for a pre-emptive attack. Initial battles feature the use of jumping and swinging hammers at foes, but as the game progresses various items and special moves are introduced to spice things up.
Probably the most notable and well-received aspect, however, is how players can evade enemy attacks and sometimes even damage them in the process. Each enemy has their own unique tell that cues the player as to what movements they’ll make and which brother they’ll go after (although some attacks are aimed at both brothers, with the difference being which one is attacked first). There’s a slim margin of error to pull this off correctly, but not to the point where it feels unfair. Dream Team occasionally has a case of deja vu when enemies are pallet swapped, but this isn’t too often and the game’s bosses are all unique, the latter sometimes lasting a good 15-20 minutes with multiple “stages” of attacks.
New to Dream Team is the world of dreams which appears when Luigi sleeps on the various stone pillows strewn throughout the island. Similar to Bowser’s Inside Story, these dream areas take place in a 2D perspective similar to the more traditional 2D Mario games. This is where the 3D effects are at their best with multiple layers of details strewn throughout them.
Since Luigi can’t physically enter this world like Mario (instead you see him sleeping on the handheld’s bottom screen), he gets help by the way of “Dreamy Luigi”. Logic doesn’t really hold in the dream world, so Dreamy Luigi has the ability to interact with the environment in some wonderfully wacky ways. By utilizing these “luiginary” abilities, Dream Luigi can take the form of objects in the dream world. Sometimes can take over a palm tree which has players use the stylus to grab and shoot Mario in a direction like a slingshot, while another lets Mario climb up a stack of Luigis to hit high-reaching objects and get rid of small enemies in your way.
Like the “real” world’s tutorials, though, new abilities are spelled out for the player and most areas solely use the newly acquired ability to pass through, which somewhat underutilizes the concept as the mechanics introduced here are exceptionally well done and don’t feel tacked on to showcase the handheld’s features.
In addition, the giant battles featured first in Bowser’s Inside Story appear once again here, but with a giant Dreamy Luigi in place of Bowser. Due to Luigi’s inherent increase in mobility compared to Bowser’s bulkiness, Alphadream is able to do some wackier things in Dream Team. I won’t spoil what happens during the first of these battles, but if you were turned off by the tutorial spam early on, this section should redeem the game quite a bit.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is an excellent follow-up to Bowser’s Inside Story, taking what worked there and expanding on it while including its own unique additions. Some of them work better than others, but none of them tend to drag down the game that much. With some restraint on certain parts and loosening on others it could have been amazing, but what’s here is still worth playing if you enjoyed any of the prior games in the series.