The Mario and Luigi RPG series was borne from the ideal to bring Paper Mario, itself a throwover from the ideals of Super NES’s Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, to Nintendo’s handhelds. Progressive and delightfully daring, the series makes its debut on the 3DS with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. After the frankly fantastic Bower’s Inside Story on the DS, developer AlphaDream has a lot to live up to with this sequel.
If you’re new to the series, what you can expect from Mario and Luigi is an expansive, humorous, exploration-heavy RPG with a unique and endlessly entertaining active turn-based combat system, with bits of platforming and puzzle-solving thrown in to keep you enthralled throughout. If you’re new to the series you might also enjoy the lengthy tutorial, but those that have played any of the previous games will find the unskippable lessons rather tedious.
As a nice change (and par for the course for the series, really) the game doesn’t take place within the Mushroom Kingdom, nor does it begin with Bowser having kidnapped Princess Peach for the eleventy billionth time. Instead, our moustachioed heroes and the royal entourage are invited along to a neighbouring resort on the Island of Pi’illo; once home to the Pi’illo folk, but now inhabited by all manner of creatures; block people, Yoshi’s and an assortment of expatriate Beanish.
That’s not to say, of course, that our most distressed damsel doesn’t end up abducted; It’s not too long before the matriarch of the Mushroom Kingdom is whisked away by the evil bat king Antasma and taken to the dream world. Naturally it’s up to our favourite plumbers to save the Princess – but to do that, they’ll have to enter the dream world and free the ancient Pi’illo people trapped crystalline nightmare chunks.
What makes Dream Team so ridiculously fun can hardly be credited to its story though; it all comes own to mechanics. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team dispenses with the time travel and babies from Partners in Time and says goodbye to Bowser and the world within him. Instead, the gimmick here is that we’re able to enter the dreamworld, which opens up an entire new world of fantasy and some particularly inventive ways of getting about.
Moving about and attacking things in the real world is exactly as it’s always been; Mario and Luigi move around in the overworld, each controlled with a different button; the crimson Mario jumps and attacks with the A button, while his more verdant, lankier brother hops and hits with B. Encounter and engage with an enemy on the map, and you’ll kick off an RPG-styled battle.
Mario and Luigi attack using their traditional approaches of jumping on heads, using hammers, kicking shells, and eating mushrooms. They’re essentially normal attacks or combo attacks, or items from your standard RPG menu, but what makes the combat in Mario and Luigi games so engaging is the demand for timing and precision. Enemy attacks can be countered or dodged, friendly attacks can be enhanced for more damage by timing button presses, and special attacks do ludicrous amounts of damage when timed properly.
It’s within the dreamworld, however, where things really begin to get interesting. Because it all takes place deep within Luigi’s dreams, he’s not the timid gangly coward he’s usually shown to be. Instead, he’s an idealised version of himself ; the Luigi he really wants to be – The Mushroom Kingdom’s Tyler Durden. The Luigi within the dream world is uncreatively called the Dreamy Luigi, and he helps Mario in a number of ways. Firstly, battles with creatures within the dreamworld feature only Mario; he’s been imbued with dreamy Luigi power, and whenever Mario lands a jump, an army of Luigis follow suit. Do a Hammer Attack, and a bevy of Luigis join the attack. Instead of the regular Bro attacks, in the Dream world they’re replaced by a new type called “Luiginary attacks” that range from ludicrous, to well, even more ludicrous. One such attack has Mario jumping on a ball of Luigis, that gather momentum by rolling over more incarnations of the fellow. Another has Mario jumping on stacks of Luigis, building a tower of the gangly green fellow. There’s a wealth of this sort of thing, but it would be a sin to spoil most of it.
The dream version of Luigi also helps you traverse the dream world using “Luiginary works,” which has you manipulating Luigi’s sleeping face on the lower half of the 3DS, tugging on his moustache, for example, to hurl Mario in to the distance, or scratching at his nose to make him sneeze, which causes monsoon-like winds in the ethereal realm. With this co-operative style constantly at play Mario and Luigi seldom feels repetitive, despite the trappings of regular RPG grinding fare, like level-ups and stat-buffing gear. It’s entertaining from start to finish, and at around 40 hours long, it a heck of a lot of entertainment.
It’s a wonderful entry to the series for newcomers, but those who’ve played previous Mario and Luigi games will hate the tutorials, and the fact that it all feels perhaps a little too familiar. The dream world is a little dull compared to Bowser’s innards. The music, as expected, is wonderful but the humour is stretched a little thin, relying too much on sleep and Luigi puns. A number of old friends, like Starlow and Popple return as a bit of fan-service, and two particularly beefy HooHoo’s act as some of the only genuinely funny characters.
It might not quite hit the highs of Bowser’s Inside Story, but it’s still essential; yet another must-have title to the 3DS’ ever-increasing library of incredible first party games.