Title: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
System: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: August 11, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Nintendo (AlphaDream)
Nintendo has dubbed 2013 The Year of Luigi. He has been the star two games this year and will get even more attention as 2013 wraps up. When I came into Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, I expected the brothers to either equally share the spotlight, or once again look to Mario to be the hero. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Despite the sequential order of his name in the title, Luigi is the star of this game in many ways. However, the cooperative nature of Mario and Luigi’s handheld adventures still plays a major role in the gameplay.
A Sleepy Kingdom
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team‘s story is pretty standard fare. The brothers, along with many residents of the mushroom kingdom, voluntarily take a trip to a place called Pi’llo Island after they receive a direct invitation. While there, they find themselves in the middle of re-emerging battle between the Pi’llo folk and and a bat king named Atasma. At some point in the past, the Pi’llo fought to imprison Atasma in a place called the Dreamworld. However, as a final act of evilness, Atasma shattered an artifact known as the Dark Stone moments before he was imprisoned. The shards of the Darkstone effectively turned the Pi’llo into stone pillows. Once Mario and Luigi learn of the situation and Atasma’s escape, they have no choice but to stop him (and Bowser that shows up out of nowhere) from taking over the real world. All things considered, it’s a pretty basic plot. I didn’t find the the story to be all that memorable. You can go hours without hearing a peep from Bowser or Atasma. Their presence seemed like a means to an end more than anything else.
As you may have noticed, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team alludes to sleeping a lot. That’s because sleeping is the element that binds the plot together. You’ll be splitting your time moving between the real world and the dream world. This is when Luigi’s stardom shines through. Luigi serves as the catalyst to the Dreamworld thanks to his uncanny ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. While in the Dreamworld, Mario and Luigi usually find themselves finding Darkstone fragments and shattering them to save the Pi’llo folk trapped inside.
Luigi’s Inside Story
You may be wondering how Luigi can be in the real and Dreamworld at the same time. Well technically, there are two different Luigi’s in the game. There’s regular Luigi and Dreamy Luigi. Dreamy Luigi exclusively resides in the Dreamworld. He’s still as bumbling as he is in real life, but he possesses exceptional abilities that he can use in the dream world. This introduces what I think is the best gameplay feature in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
Throughout the Dreamworld, you’ll run across objects called Luiginary Works. Luiginary Works grant Luigi specific special abilities that are used to solve puzzles and get through areas in general. Some of them also work in conjunction with the 3DS touchscreen. For example, there’s one Luiginary Work that lets Luigi change the climate of the Dreamworld from hot to cold (and vice-versa). In order to do this, you have to interact with the real sleeping Luigi in the real world by making him hot or cold. There’s another Luiginary Work that lets Luigi blow objects from the background into the foreground. You can make him do this by making the real Luigi sneeze by rubbing his nose. Not all Luiginary Works require touch interaction, but most of them are. The non-touchscreen Luiginary Works can create a horde of Luigi’s that can stack on top of each other. Mario can control these “Luiginoids” to make them jump higher, ground pound and twirl through the air. Dreamy Luigi also behaves differently in combat, but more on that a little later.
Back in the real world, we’re given access to many of the same abilities we’ve seen from other Mario & Luigi RPGs such as Bowser’s Inside Story, Partners in Time and Superstar Saga. Mario and Luigi can be controlled at the same time with the analog stick, but they jump independently. We also see the return of the hammers, the gap-twirling air twirl and the drill move. These mechanics work as well as they always have, but they’ve gotten pretty standard and boring at this point. I just wish more new and interactive features were introduced in the real world to make it more on par with the Dreamworld. On the plus side, the real world is fairly large. You’re free to roam around the different areas at will, only stopping when a story-dependent road block presents itself. There are plenty of characters to talk to, attack puzzle pieces to find and some mini-quests to take on. It’s an uplifting and colorful world which I think contrasts nicely to the somewhat flat nature of the Dreamworld. So basically, I think the Dreamworld is flat but provides more interesting gameplay, and the real world is vivid with bland gameplay.
Hammer, Dodge, Jump, Jump
Combat is handled differently in both worlds. In the real world, everything works like the previous Mario & Luigi games. The “A” button controls everything Mario does, and the “B” button is reserved for Luigi. You still have to time your attacks just right in order to inflict more damage by double jumping and landing a powerful hammer smash. While on the defensive, you have to learn the enemies tells and time your dodges or counterattacks accordingly. Some enemies are easier to figure out than others, and you may never dodge perfectly every time. This could have resulted in some pretty frustrating encounters, but the game provides a hint block after you’re defeated that tells you what to look for.
In the Dreamworld, Mario and Luigi become one. Luigi literally enters Mario’s body and boosts his stats accordingly. At this point, you don’t need to worry about controlling Luigi at all. That also means you lose access to special attacks that the pair usually perform together in the real world. The Luiginoids make up for that with their own specialized attacks. As you can see from the image on the right, one of these attacks involves Mario controlling a ball of Luiginoids. The object is to tilt the 3DS to acquire more Luiginoids before ultimately smashing them against the enemy. Out of all the special attacks, I liked this one the least. Something was off about the the way the 3DS registered tilts. I could never find a good balance as I went from one extreme to the other. I didn’t have any issues with the other attacks.
Super Strategy Bros.
Defeating enemies gets you experience points that increases your level. In addition to basic stat increases, you can also choose to boost and additional skill. When you go up enough levels, you’ll unlock perks that are mostly specific to Mario or Luigi. These perks include gaining experience from eating mushrooms, drastically increasing attack power and adding a new slot for equipment. I like this because you can really maximize Mario and Luigi’s potential when working with each other.
There’s also a badge system that works quite well. Each badge has different effects that can be maximized when combined with another badge type. The skills from the badges can only be used once their meter is filled from combat. There are a lot of different badge combinations to discover. They can heal you instantly without taking a turn, deal a large amount of damage and poison enemies.
A Long Pleasant Dream
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a very long game considering its platform. I was still learning basic abilities when I was 14 hours in. There is a lot to do as far as getting the best gear, completing all the combat challenges and finding the attack puzzle pieces. You don’t need to do those things, but it’s there if you need it. The most enjoyment I got out of this game is the Dreamworld and Luigi’s involvement in it. Without the interactive features between worlds, I think this game would have gotten boring after a handful of hours. The amount of potential the Dreamworld has is enough to make up a new game. I’d love to explore the recesses of Luigi’s mind and thoughts in the future.