Clad in red and green, Mario and Luigi return with a very strange adventure for the Nintendo 3DS in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. The Mario Bros. have been in a slew of bizarre adventures over the past few decades, but this one is another strong contender for the most interesting and imaginative. As if Super Mario games aren’t already very strange as it is, what with plumbers, turtles, fireballs, and mushrooms, the developers left a lot of space to stretch their creativity this time, and it really shows in Dream Team.
The premise of the game essentially revolves around Mario and Luigi on a quest to save Pi’illo Island by jumping into Luigi’s dreams in different areas in order to stop a new villain called Antasma. It’s a simple enough plot, as is often in a Super Mario RPG, but it’s a really big game. The beginning suffers as a very poor introduction as its events border on the ridiculous. In fact, my first impression, based on the first 5 hours of the game, was an awful one.
Personally, I found the beginning of the game to be just downright obnoxious, as it tossed loud jokes, mildly offensive accents, awkward dialogue, and weak music all at once. Luckily, the game doesn’t stay that way for too long, but the entire first level is still rife with tutorials that bog down the pacing to a frustrating standstill. Because it’s the beginning however, you know that the game is going to be much better once you’re given all the freedom you desire.
Once those first few hours are done, Dream Team begins to unleash its potential. Variety plays a huge role in this game as the developers at AlphaDream spared no effort in making each location, enemy, song, and attack as diverse as possible. This is most noticeable in battle, where your standard turn-based role-playing gameplay is employed, but with more action elements that are heavily reliant on the player’s reflexes. For example, if Luigi jumps on an enemy, pressing A at the exact moment does more damage and allows you to double jump to dish out even more pain. The same concept applies when the enemy is attacking. Countering is very important in battle, as it’s an extra chance to either dodge attacks or sneak an extra hit or two in there. It’s actually possible to go the entire game without ever getting hit once; yeah, it’ll be hard as hell, but it’s possible.
To spice things up even more, there is a badge system where two badges can be combined for different abilities, like gaining more experience, dealing damage, raising the chance of dropped items, etc. With dozens of different combinations, this gives the player a lot more choice in how they wish to approach battles and how they prioritizes, whether it’s offense, defense, money, leveling up, etc.
The real magic in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team however, lays within the Dream World segments. Everything changes dramatically as the perspective changes to the original Super Mario sidescrolling format, and Luigi takes on a Dreamy form where he deals damage as a mass of Luigis. The selling point for this area though, and probably the game for some, are the Luiginary Attacks, which sometimes make excellent use of the 3DS gyroscopic capabilities. These super attacks consist of a wild range of scenarios, from Mario rolling a Katamari-like ball of Luigi’s and kicking it at enemies, stacking up a tower of Luigis and then slamming down on poor unsuspecting foes, gathering up tons of Luigis into a giant, deadly hammer, and more. They’re a sight to see and tricky to execute, but they’re very fun and rewarding to pull off.
In addition to regular battles and dreamy battles, there are also Giant Battles in which Dreamy Luigi grows to an immense size to combat an equally huge enemy boss. The first one might be a drag as the entire thing is basically a tutorial, but I suppose the player has to learn somehow. Every one after that though, with the freedom to execute attacks how you want, is much more fun. In these battles, you actually have to turn the 3DS completely sideways and turn off the 3-D effect. Giant battles are fully rendered in 3-D polygons with some really pretty and cinematic animation. It feels like you’re playing through some really colorful and silly Kaiju-monster film.
Even outside the dream world, the real world is pretty nice too, just not as fun to look at without the abstract shapes, colors, and music. Here’s the biggest problem with Dream Team: it’s pretty inconsistent in terms of quality.
The beginning takes a painful time to rev up into a great game only to get bogged down with tons of padding along the way. The pacing takes a few serious hits throughout the journey when it’s evident that the writers just pulled something out of their asses just to make the game a bit longer. Things like: two certain minor characters will just be unnecessarily difficult and annoying, for no reason other than to pressure Mario and Luigi into extending their quest a little bit longer. It’s very similar to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword where you must go on a journey just to get a jug somewhere, and then fly somewhere to fill it with water, and then fly it to another location to place it somewhere to open the door you went on a separate journey to get to in the first place. These moments feel completely unnecessary and are just plain annoying. Fortunately, the game always gets back on track, leaving the conclusion climactic and refreshing.
Still, in spite of it all, the majority of the game is well-written, well-composed, and well-developed. It’s feels like a slice of pizza re-heated in the microwave with a first few bites burning the hell out of your tongue, then the next few being just absolutely delicious, the next ones being cold and drab, then getting back to deliciousness. It doesn’t feel rushed, but it does feel amateur.
Its RPG story elements can be considered derivative and generic, especially in the beginning, but it eventually turns into something much humbler along the way. Oh, and there’s a short scene where I am almost positive Mario and Luigi are tripping on LSD.
But I digress.
By the end of the game, it’s easy to see that this is definitely different from your average RPG, with a very unique and surprisingly profound moral as well. All-in-all though, it’s not a very challenging adventure, which might annoy some, but if players confront every enemy they come across, the game can easily clock in at over 40 hours with plenty more to do and explore on Pi’illo Island.
In the end, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a rocky, but splendid ride. Bursting with creativity, you can assume the developers probably had a blast coming up with the many concepts in this game. From the locales to the battles, there’s a lot of diversity at play here. Battles’ dependence on reflexes keeps you wary of your enemies and the badge system leaves a lot of leg room for customization and strategy. Luiginary Attacks and Giant Battles are a ton of fun to pull off, making great use of the 3DS’ gyroscope. Its pacing may suffer at times, but Dream Team grounds itself whenever it gets too irritating, making it a fairly rewarding experience. As one of the more bizarre 3DS adventures out there at the moment, this could be very refreshing for anyone in need of a delightful and clever journey.
[+Teeming with imagination][+Reflex-heavy turn-based battles keeps you alert][+Occasionally clever moments and dialogue][+Luiginary Attacks are a treat][+Giant battles are intense and a visual feast][+Huge map to explore][+Colorful cast of characters][+Easily a 40+ hour adventure with lots to see and do][-Might not be challenging enough for some][-Too much padding at times][-Inconsistent pacing][-Awful first 5 or so hours, on every aspect]
A free demo for Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is currently available for download on the Nintendo eShop!