Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - Review  

Will Help You Get Your Zs
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Typically entertaining combat
+ Amusing, lively game world
- Takes its sweet time moving
- Forced gyroscope use
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   Strange though it is to ponder given its constant repackaging with newer platforms, the original Mario Brothers is now thirty years old. That makes Luigi older than many of the people who will be controlling him in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. Even if he doesn't get the amount of constant attention via new games that his older brother receives, Nintendo deploys him regularly enough that Luigi is in no danger of being forgotten, though making 2013 a showcase year for the character was a good idea. Dream Team doesn't match what Bowser's Inside Story achieved for this series with such a consistently enjoyable adventure, but even a Mario & Luigi game that fumbles in places is worth experiencing.

   Combat in the Mario & Luigi games has been a blast, and Dream Team continues that enjoyable tradition. Fighting in the real world is very similar to earlier entries in this series, with Mario and Luigi being controlled by the A and B buttons for turn-based encounters with a sizable reliance on player reflexes. They take actions in combat that can be enhanced with well-timed presses of the correct button, and when enemies go on the offensive it is possible for the brothers to dodge or counter everything thrown at them with precise player responses. Doing so all the time is one of the more challenging endeavors players can attempt, but it is a possibility. More powerful abilities team the Mario brothers and demand very good player timing to activate at all without fizzling in some case, but the reward is worth the effort. Dream Team sticks to what made its predecessors work in battle, though enemies attacking from the background offers an intriguing new wrinkle. Counterattacks and dodges now need to be aimed in the right direction instead of just timed properly to avoid damage, but combat is very much in the tradition of what came before, though the varied hordes of antagonists nevertheless provide entertainment from start to finish.

   Changing the proceedings somewhat are battles in the dream realm, where Mario fights by himself against large numbers of adversaries. He isn't truly alone when Dreamy Luigi is there to augment attacks so that they hit far more than one opponent, along with enhancing Mario's statistics. The sight of many Luigis creating a hammer tidal wave and raining down on the neighbors of a jump attack victim is an amusing demonstration of how he works. The opponents tend to attack en masse in dream land also, which means dispatching them does not require a significantly larger time commitment than in the real world since they do not have to be taken down one at a time. Dream battles provide a nice way of varying the process while retaining the kinetic and fun mechanics of the series. Luigi also transforms into a number of things in the dream world that enable very different puzzles than those found while awake, keeping the variety high.

   Regular enemies can hit hard until their patterns are discovered, while bosses possess a wide range of abilities that only increase as they take damage. Dream Team has an Easy mode that removes all challenge should the Game Over screen be seen, however. Upon defeat the player has the option of trying the battle again or doing so via Easy mode, which roughly quadruples the brothers' damage output and defenses for a single battle. It does indeed make winning quite easy, though destroying bosses in only a turn or two isn't very satisfying.

In the next Mario & Luigi, Nintendo hopes to bring Godzilla into the fray for a truly memorable battle. In the next Mario & Luigi, Nintendo hopes to bring Godzilla into the fray for a truly memorable battle.

   When it comes to moving around Dream Team's environments and arriving upon solutions to the numerous puzzles, praise is easy to offer. The player has free reign over when to initiate or try avoiding battle, and doing so is easy. Switching between the various abilities the brothers learn on the way is also quick, and using them poses no problem. The puzzles themselves are rarely taxing enough to frustrate, keeping them enjoyable instead of aggravating. Dream Team's menu design is also quick and effective, which makes trips into it no problem to undertake regularly. An oddity is the presence of save blocks when the game allows saving at any time, but it has no bearing on actual play.

   On the other hand, this game is the victim of considerable handholding in the form of tutorials. These discourses will continue to take place until well past the halfway point, even when they reiterate points the player has already observed. Whether in the real or the dream world, rest assured that anything with the potential to briefly mystify anyone will get addressed at length. At least Nintendo's usual knack for filling the text with amusingly witty dialogue remains, but the seemingly endless explanatory text will test the patience of those who endure it.

   In an effort to utilize part of the 3DS hardware, AlphaDream decided to make several parts of the game dependent upon tilting the system at the right angle. While an interesting choice, forcing the player to use the gyroscope in instances that require quick reaction was cruel. Several of the teamed brothers attacks make use of this feature, and a couple of boss battles close to the end demand quick gyroscopic action. If optional this would be nifty, but the gyroscope is somewhat tricky to depend upon, and getting things to come out right is chancier than it should be.

   The constant chatter is part of the reason, but Dream Team's pace is much slower than the previous Mario & Luigi games. This one doesn't cover more ground than its predecessors, but navigating the environments takes up more time. Pinning the precise cause for this down is difficult, but when this takes more than thirty-five hours to complete without feeling demonstrably grander in scope than any other Mario & Luigi game, Dream Team seems to spin its wheels more.

   Dream Team begins with the Mushroom Kingdom principals accepting an invitation to tour scenic Pi'illo Island. This land was once home to a now-vanished civilization, and it doesn't take long before the Mario brothers uncover that the reason those beings are no longer present is because they wound up trapped in dreams. Luigi reveals an unexpected aptitude for sleeping at the drop of a hat in order to provide the dream setting by which these people can be awakened, and getting them out with the aid of the newly-saved Pi'illo prince Dreambert becomes Mario and Luigi's mission. Saving some of them is mandatory, but the majority can be left napping if desired. The Pi'illo were rendered unconscious by a nefarious being called Antasma, who doesn't take long to show up once again in order to make trouble. To the shock only of those who have never played a video game before, Bowser soon enters the picture with mayhem and the kidnapping of Princess Peach on his mind.

In the early 90s, this would mean Mario & Luigi are lean, green and coming through your screen! In the early 90s, this would mean Mario & Luigi are lean, green and coming through your screen!

   As nefarious nemeses for Mario and Luigi go, Antasma doesn't make much of an impact when he isn't seen very much and just ends up supporting Bowser most of the time. The power these two possess as allies is demonstrated, but then they sit around and apparently do nothing for a very long period until the player is able to infiltrate their stronghold, which is downright inexplicable. Meanwhile Mario and Luigi are wandering around at the behest of others and enduring the uninteresting speeches of Dreambert that often serve as needless tutorials. Much of the dialogue is amusing, but the core tale being told is poorly paced and ineffective.

   AlphaDream certainly didn't skimp on the audio or visual aspects, and Yoko Shimomura turns in another extremely catchy score. Her remixes of real world tunes to fit the dream environments are equally catchy, and the music manages the neat trick of being bouncy and playful in the right way to accentuate Mario and Luigi's world. Certain sound effects are now multiple decades old, but they work just as well now as when Koji Kondo created them in the 80s. The visuals of the series use 3D models instead of 2D sprites now, but the 3DS is capable of displaying them well enough to make the transition seamless. The enemy animations are varied and distinct, each locale is noticeably different from the others, and the bright colors on display make a pleasant impression on the eyes. Even the 3D elements are interesting, with atmospheric effects in the real world and multiple layers of things in the dream world backgrounds to behold.

   Dream Team is certainly not a bad game, and the positives it offers are considerable. It nevertheless feels like a missed opportunity for something even better, and veterans of the series will probably find it getting a little old before the conclusion is reached. Clearly Bowser's Inside Story was still on the minds of its developers, as Luigi gets to grow occasionally for giant battles that ape it, but the right balance of elements is missing this time around. May AlphaDream's next venture with the Mario brothers be another rousing success instead of the inconsistent one this is.

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