Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (for Nintendo 3DS) review

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team isn't an epic saga of danger, drama, and siblings finally being torn apart after decades of tension, but it is a fun little role-playing game on the Nintendo 3DS.
Photo of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (for Nintendo 3DS)

Luigi is Mario’s perpetual understudy. While this is ostensibly the “year of Luigi” and he’s gotten his own 3DS game in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon and his own version of New Super Mario Bros. U with the New Super Luigi U DLC, he still plays second fiddle to his brother. That doesn’t change in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, where Luigi’s lack of popularity remains a running gag, but he at least takes a much more proactive stance in this $39.99 (direct) Nintendo 3DS game. Granted, he spends most of his time being useful by sleeping while Mario runs around, but it’s justified in this game.

A Mario RPG
The Mario & Luigi sub-series, like the Paper Mario sub-series, is a spin-off line of Mario-themed RPGs that spiritually follow Squaresoft’s fantastic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. While Paper Mario changes its mechanics in nearly every game, from Paper Mario: The 1000-Year Door to Super Paper Mario to Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Mario & Luigi stays fairly consistent, and even keeps story elements and characters between games. You play as Mario and Luigi as you explore a new land to save the people there from a threat that’s usually Bowser-related.

The story is silly, like every other Mario game’s story tends to be. Mario and Luigi are invited to Pi’illo Island for vacation. An ancient evil that petrified the extinct Pi’illo civilization awakens and joins Mario’s regular archnemesis Bowser to take over the island. Luigi finds he can open portals to dream worlds by slipping on the petrified pillow-shaped bodies of the Pi’illo people, cleansing them of darkness and awakening them to help fight Bowser and the nightmarish Antasma. The story is one to be enjoyed and isn’t nearly as dark as it sounds.

The Mechanics
If you played the first Mario & Luigi game (Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance), you know the basic mechanics of every other Mario & Luigi game. Actually, if you’ve played any Mario and Luigi game, you understand the mechanics of every other Mario & Luigi game. You control Mario and Luigi together, using A to make Mario perform actions and B to make Luigi perform actions. As you play through the game, you unlock new abilities between the two that let you reach places you couldn’t before, like using a hammer to shrink Mario down to fit through a small door or jumping on Luigi’s shoulders and doing a spin jump to get over large gaps. The consistent two-brother controls allow for the different areas to use different and increasingly complicated puzzles that require more and more of Mario and Luigi’s abilities to solve (and to find all of the many secrets, like camera blocks that give you jigsaw puzzles or beans that enhance your different stats).

Combat is also focused on the brothers, with the A button controlling Mario’s menu options and the B button controlling Luigi’s options.  Each brother can attack with a stomp, a hammer, or team up for Bros. Attacks that combine their powers and hit enemies extra hard. The battles are turn-based, but extremely active; you directly control Mario and Luigi as they attack and get attacked. Just selecting Jump and attacking an enemy will do little damage. If you hit A just before Mario hits the enemy, though, he’ll stomp on it extra-hard and then jump on it again. Likewise, when you get attacked you can reduce damage, avoid it completely, or even counter-attack and hurt enemies on their own turn. This mechanic has been around since the original Super Mario RPG, and it’s one of the most engaging aspects of the series besides the characters themselves, because it makes combat a matter of skill and rhythm, not just stats.

Dreamy Luigi
The dream elements of the game stand out against the otherwise satisfying but standard action. When in a dream world, manifested as two-dimensional platforming levels that still keep the same type of enemy encounters as the regular world, Mario joins the dreaming version of Luigi called Dreamy Luigi, who can merge with background elements to influence the world. Depending on the “Luiginary works” in the area, Luigi (and you, by manipulating his sleeping form on the touch screen) can change gravity, launch Mario like a slingshot, change the temperature of the area, and become a crowd of Luigis for Mario to ride on to get past obstacles.

Luigi’s ability to become a horde of green brothers in the dream world also give Mario his special attacks while there; instead of standard Bros. attacks, Mario can work with the crowd of Luigis to form them into a ball to squish enemies, a hammer to smash enemies, or an air hockey puck to smash enemies. Certain boss fights even require the Luigis to merge to become a giant, Godzilla-sized Luigi in his dreams, beating back other giant enemies Mario and the regular dreaming Luigi can’t handle on their own. These giant Luigi boss fights are stylus-based, but the same general strategy and structure remain.

If the bright, colorful, cartoon-like graphic design and silly story don’t remind you, the first hour or two of the game will reiterate that this is a game intended for, among others, children. It holds your hand with tutorials and interruptions to introduce you to game mechanics for far too long, and if you’re older than 12 or have ever played a Mario & Luigi game before you’ll probably find this frustrating. Fortunately, after the first few dungeon areas, the game relaxes its grip on your hand and lets you play without a smiling yellow ball or floating pillow fairy interrupting you to tell you how to dodge attacks.

Conclusion
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a fun little JRPG romp, like every other game in the Mario & Luigi sub-series. It doesn’t have the genuinely unique and fresh feel of Paper Mario’s various games, and it doesn’t bring much new to the table besides the puzzle-solving dream mechanic, but it’s enjoyable and cheerful, and worth a playthrough if you’re a Mario fan and want a nice bit of fluff to play for a few hours.

Specifications
Genre Role-Playing
Platform Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating E for Everybody

Verdict
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team isn't an epic saga of danger, drama, and siblings finally being torn apart after decades of tension, but it is a fun little role-playing game on the Nintendo 3DS.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc