|Release: August 11, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Becky Cunningham
Mario and Luigi are incredibly popular worldwide, but let's face it: They're more mascots than they are actual characters. There's the heroic Mario, fearless and respected savior of the mushroom kingdom, and then there's poor Luigi, the clumsy and callow brother who has been the butt of many jokes in recent Nintendo history. Few games go deeper than those caricatures, but Mario & Luigi: Dream Team does. It retains the zany fun of this RPG series but enhances it with a gentle celebration of brotherhood.
Exotic Pi'illo Island, an up-and-coming vacation resort being visited by the Bros. and Princess Peach, is more than it seems. It plays host to a seemingly extinct society of pillow-beings and an ancient, evil bat creature who emerges from the realm of dreams and befriends none other than Mario's nemesis, Bowser. This setup leads to the discovery that Luigi is an epically talented sleeper, and that Mario must enter Luigi's dreams and cooperate with his brother's inner self to save the world from Bowser's new supervillain team.
There's plenty of traditional Mario & Luigi RPG action in Dream Team. While wandering Pi'illo Island, Mario and Luigi have their signature stable of moves that they'll need to use in order to explore and solve puzzles. While moves like hammer pounds and spin jumps are familiar from older games, the designers have created plenty of puzzles and mini-games that require new uses for these old moves.
The popular hybrid turn-based/action combat system from the series returns as well, with all-new special Bros. Attacks that make use of various 3DS features. Attacks are chosen from a turn-based menu but executed using timed button presses. Defending against enemy attacks, a must since enemy moves can be deadly, requires timing, good reflexes, and a keen sense of observation. As always, the combat system is easy to learn but challenging to master, and new twists have been added, such as enemies that appear in the background to make life even more difficult for our heroes.
When Mario ventures into Luigi's dreams, the world changes from 3D to 2D. Mario is accompanied by an idealized version of his brother, Dreamy Luigi. Dreamy Luigi has the ability to possess objects in the Dream World, which can then be manipulated by using the stylus on Luigi's sleeping body on the touch screen. This can involve simple actions such as tickling Luigi's nose to make him sneeze, which blows background objects to the foreground, or more complex puzzle-solving such as rotating a beach floatie on which Luigi is sleeping in order to alter the gravity in the Dream World. Mario will even manage to ride atop a giant stack of multiple Luigis, and then he’ll learn to change the stack's shape for even more puzzle-solving fun.
Mario and Dreamy Luigi fuse into one during Dream World battles, and several Luigis will pop out of Mario to follow up on attacks. This means Mario is pitted against large groups of enemies in the Dream World, and the player will need to stay sharp while defending since Luigi isn't around to pick Mario up if he's hit with a status abnormality.
Boss battles can be particularly deadly in the Dream World if Mario is tripped, dizzy, or burning, because bosses can get several attacks in while he's helpless. Get knocked out during a battle and you'll be presented with the option to repeat it in Easy Mode, which is quite tempting for a few bosses that are hit-point sponges. Easy Mode pumps up Mario and Luigi's strength to a ridiculous degree, though, so you'll probably feel cheap for taking advantage of the offer.
The Dream World also contains several Giant Battles in which Dreamy Luigi grows to an epic height in order to save his brother from an angry, giant boss monster. The player must turn the 3DS sideways and use stylus movements to control Luigi. Giant Battles are over-the-top, stompy fun (who can argue with Luigi slap-chopping a volcano monster?) and though rare, they're a great addition to the game.
Both in the real world and Dream World, there's a constant stream of new and interesting things to do, such as mini-games, new moves to learn, different types of puzzles, and brand-new enemies. Most of these are balanced quite well so that they offer a challenge without throwing up a huge roadblock in front of the player. Some, particularly in the realm of mini-games and Bros. Attacks, will feel too gimmicky for certain players, especially those who dislike stylus-based or gyroscope gameplay. I personally enjoyed the different gameplay varieties, though I found many of the Bros. Attacks to be too unforgiving to be worth the attempt. There's a demo mode in which the player can practice Bros. Attacks, but the slightest error in pulling one off lowers the attack's damage so much that it's safer to stick to regular attacks, which are much easier to perform perfectly.
Although it often takes a back seat to the gameplay, the writing in Dream Team is quite well done. I criticized the extreme wordiness I encountered in Dream Team's playable demo, but the final game has been properly edited. Most tutorials can be skipped if needed, most scenes don't go on too long, and there are some great characters with hilarious personalities to encounter. I was a particular fan of the Massif Bros., who are Nintendo's answer to Saturday Night Live's classic Hans and Franz. Bowser, who is wonderfully written in this series, has some great scenes as well.