Somewhere in the mid 1990s, some genius at Nintendo decided to capitalize on the booming JRPG genre and throw Mario into his own stat-boosting adventure.
Nintendo also made the brilliant decision to leave the game in the capable hands of Square, and thus Super Mario RPG was born. Fun characters, imaginative sets in a fleshed out universe, and more self referential humor than you can swing a chomp chain at. It was an excellent swan song for the glorious SNES, and its influence can still be seen today in the Mario & Luigi RPG series.
Granted, AlphaDream is not quite in the same league as Square in its heyday, but the Mario & Luigi series has proven to be one of the hottest series Nintendo has on its hands right now. It has found a comfortable little niche that satisfies fans looking for goofy Mario adventures and sadistic abuse towards Luigi.
Simply put, you should already know if Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is right for you. If you love and adore the three previous games in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, as do I, then it is going to be right up your alley.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Most Mario games begin in one or two ways: Princess Peach is kidnapped by some evil doer, most likely Bowser, or she takes Mario, Luigi and an entourage of Toads on a lovely getaway vacation from the stress of being kidnapped over and over again.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team follows the latter’s path and has the heroes whisking away to Pi’llio Island on an invitation by the sleep researching Dr. Snoozemore. Not even one sentence into the plot description, and I already have two silly puns revolving around sleep, the main theme of this game.
It’s the same lowbrow humor that has carried the series since the first game, and it’s still hilarious. Besides the puns, these games have always been more about the relationship between the two famous plumber brothers.
Mario remains restricted to having a lack of personality. His silent reactions work as a classic straight man to Luigi, the poor blundering fool who suffers from being the butt end of many cruel jokes.
Of course, the Princess is captured early during the vacation, and the villain escapes into Luigi’s subconscious. The only way to rescue her is to dive into his brain with the help of the Pi’llios, ancient inhabitants of the island frozen in their pillow forms. Luigi discovers the power to magically fall asleep on these concrete pillows, and doing so opens a portal to his brain for Mario to venture forth within.
Much of the humor resides in Luigi’s suppressed thoughts and the treatment he receives while Mario trounces through his dreams. Puzzles are solved by Luigi taking the form of “Luiginary Objects,” things he can inhabit and manipulate in his own world: palm trees, drills, constellations and hurricanes stand as particularly memorable.
To activate them, their sidekick Starlow from Bowser’s Inside Story causes severe facial injury to the sleeping victim; pulling his moustache to the breaking point, twisting his nose, forcing him to sneeze in his sleeping state and several other painful actions through use of the touch screen.
The game takes an unexpected turn towards the serious when Mario digs a little too deep into forbidden areas of Luigi’s psyche and experiences the feelings of admiration and jealousy towards his brother. It’s a genuinely sad turn of events witnessing Luigi wondering why he is the weaker of the two and nobody ever gives him a chance.
It’s moments like these which are the highpoints of the game, and they add a surprising amount depth for the character, who is really taking huge strides to become the best developed in the Mario universe.
Gameplay expands on the mix-matched formula found in Bower’s Inside Story. When exploring the overworld, it follows the classic isometric viewpoint found in the older games. Battles play out similarly with Jumping, Hammers, Bros. Attacks, and the rest of the traditional arsenal. Timed hits and timed attacks are a must if you want to get anywhere.
If you’ve followed the series up to this point, you’ll know what to expect from these sections of the games. The biggest and best addition to them is the smoother control thanks to the Nintendo 3DS’ analog stick. So comfortable…
The 2D platforming sections also make a comeback in this game, but rather than exploring Bowser’s bowels, the game transports Mario into his younger brother’s dreams. There battles take on another whole new level with Luigi controlling his brain to give Mario super powers he does not have in the real world.
Controlling the hyper powered Mario is fun, but doesn’t push the battle system forward in any way. His timed hits cause Luigi to join the fray and cause even more massive damage, and more often than not, he is forced to take on dozens of enemies at one time.
The true forward thinking of the game comes from the battle screen no longer locked into one view point. AlphaDream takes full advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’ power by making both enemy and Mario’s special attacks come from any direction, giving a new and tricky timing to certain Bros. Attacks and dodges from incoming enemies.
The game is laced with collectibles too that actually provide rewards. Rescuing Pi’llios grants new items. Completing addictive “Expert Challenges” in battle also grants new items. Digging up beans returns and each bean grants an imperative state boost. The game provides lots of incentive to track down its secrets rather than just bragging rights.
Handholding for the Kiddies
As with most Nintendo games, especially RPGs, the biggest issue I have with the game is the handholding that accompanies players throughout the entire experience. You have to remember that kids are going to be playing this game, and they need absolutely everything spelled out for them.
Tutorials appear as far as 10 hours into the game from simple things to controlling the latest Luiginary object to explaining a one time function or puzzle the game has in line for the brothers. Some of these are skippable, but for some reason, others are not. I even ran into a skippable tutorial, and the guy still offhanded explained everything he was going to say anyway!
Tutorials are fine and necessary in RPGs, so there is really no room for me to complain. The lengths the chatty citizens of Pi’llio Island and the ever annoying Starlow go to explaining things, though, is a little heavy and drags the pacing to a standstill at times.
Beyond that, there is little to hate about Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Outside of the genius Luigi stuff, the comedy doesn’t hit the same beats as Superstar Saga and there are no memorable original villains like the loveable Fawful. Even Bowser tones himself down and doesn’t make too huge of a splash.
Most likely, Nintendo downplayed many of the game’s elements to lift up the true star of this game.
This is clearly a game dedicated to “The Year of Luigi.”..
DISCLAIMER: We were provided a copy of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team by Nintendo, and we played through the game to completion before writing this review.
The surface story is cookie cutter forgettable nonsense about nightmares locked in a battle with good dreams, more Kirby’s territory than Mario’s. However, if taken as a subtle character driven story exploring the mind of gaming’s most popular sidekick, it excels on all levels.
I walked away from Mario & Luigi: Dream Team pleased and felt much more empathetic to Luigi despite destroying his face over and over again. His bits highlight what it otherwise an overall pleasant game.
That being said, I was not blown away or do I feel the need to jump back into this game any time soon. If more areas had been more fleshed out, I could call it a classic like Superstar Saga or Bowser’s Inside Story. This is simply the next game in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, and you should already know if you are aboard or not by this point.