|Release: August 11, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Nintendo wasn't kidding when it declared 2013 “The Year of Luigi.” Not only has everybody's favorite man in green stepped into the spotlight by busting ghosts and having his very own version of New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo's next big 3DS offering takes Luigi to the only place where he can one-up his brother: his dreams. We had the opportunity to try out this game at a recent Nintendo event.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the latest entry in the long-running series of Mario & Luigi RPGs, each of which has a particular story and gameplay twist to differentiate it from the rest. In this case, Mario, Luigi, and Peach (why doesn't Luigi ever get a plus one?) are on vacation on Pi'illo Island, where magical pillows allow people to enter each other’s dreams.
Naturally, Luigi's attempt to use one of these pillows results in a malevolent villain entering the world, abducting Peach, and dragging her back to the Dream World for devilish purposes. Rescue Peach Protocol: Engage! This time, the protocol involves Mario entering and exploring Luigi's dreams in order to track down some mystic stones, saving the world and the hapless princess.
Not all the action takes place in the Dream World, however. There's plenty of travel to be done through the normal world, and the gameplay here is quite similar to previous Mario & Luigi games. The Bros. run around the world single file, using various Mario-inspired moves to solve puzzles and defeat foes. These moves range from standard jumps and hammer actions to special team moves such as a spinning hover-glide and underground maneuvers.
Once they've encountered an enemy and entered combat, series veterans will feel like they've gotten right back on the bike. All the elements of the addictive turn-based/action hybrid system are intact. The basic moves of the Bros. are selected from a turn-based menu, but their attacks are greatly enhanced through timed button presses that vary depending on the selected attack. Similarly, the Bros. will take a lot less damage by executing timed defensive moves against their enemies, avoiding attacks or even doing damage in return. The system, as implemented in Dream Team, is fluid and satisfying, the result of many games’ worth of iterations.
Although they weren't featured in the playable demo, we've seen footage of a number of new gameplay sequences that break up the basic gameplay in the normal world. The game changes the player's point of view from time to time for action sequences, during which we've seen Mario and Luigi running away from large enemies or participating in special battles that are seen from a third-person, over-the-shoulder view.
One of the things that struck me while playing through the game's normal-world demo was the quality of the character models. Despite taking only a small amount of screen real estate, Mario and Luigi have been brought to life via expressive sprite work and excellent animation.
Everything changes, though, once Mario steps into Luigi's dreams. Here, all the levels have a 2D side-scrolling design, because that makes it easiest for the player to manipulate objects using the touch screen. Although Mario explores the levels on his own, Luigi is vital to the process. His imagination can possess various objects, allowing the player to solve puzzles by poking and prodding poor Luigi's sleeping face on the touch screen.
In the game's demo, Luigi possessed a tree, causing its branches to resemble his mustache. Pulling the sleeping Luigi's mustache on the touch screen caused the branches to extend in the Dream World, allowing Mario to slingshot up to a higher level on the screen. A nearby company representative mentioned that there are a wide variety of ways to torment Luigi in order to affect the dream world, such as tickling his nose so that he sneezes, bringing items from the background to the foreground.
Things get even quirkier during battle. Mario appears alone on the battle screen, yet he faces hordes of dream enemies. Once he attacks, a small horde of dream Luigis pops out and damages all the enemies. During Dream World boss battles, the player will sometimes turn the 3DS sideways, causing a giant Luigi, or even a huge ball of small Luigis, to face off against the boss. The Dream World gameplay felt like a great way to spice up the series without departing too far from the beloved traditional play found in the normal world.
One series tradition that it would have been nice to see this game break from is the overly wordy dialogue, particularly during gameplay tutorials, that belabors the point past the boundaries of most people's patience. The writers for this series seem to believe that characters who go on and on and on and on are endearingly quirky (or perhaps they're overcompensating for the nearly silent Mario and Luigi), a notion I dearly wish they could be disabused of.
Unfortunately, that verbal diarrhea continues from what I saw of the tutorials in the Dream World. It took far more text balloons than necessary to explain how to use Luigi to manipulate objects in the Dream World. Still, this is a flaw that's worth enduring for the overall experience of playing these games, and there are usually at least a few great moments of dialogue (usually spoken by Bowser in recent games) to be found in the massive stew of words.
The Mario & Luigi RPGs have always been over the top, but the introduction of the Dream World takes that style to all-new levels of insanity. From this demo, it appears that the developers have kept the solid gameplay basics and tossed in a healthy helping of fresh experiences to keep players engaged and amused. Mario fans and all but the most staid RPG aficionados should be looking forward to this game's release in August.
Date: July 16, 2013