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Mario & Luigi: Dream Team review

AT A GLANCE
  • Excellent production values
  • Surreal dream moments
  • Witty scripting and animations
  • Poor signposting in places
  • Forgetting to jump with Mario AND Luigi
  • Surprisingly linear progression

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the fourth entry in the Mario & Luigi handheld RPG saga, which started on GBA all the way back in 2003. You’d think that Nintendo would be running out of ideas by now--a worry exacerbated by Princess Peach getting kidnapped again a few minutes into this game. But, incredibly, Dream Team turns out to be one of the most imagination-rich RPGs around. 

Much like Mario Sunshine, the game takes place on an island resort, here named Pi’illo Island. If that sounds like the word ‘pillow’, it’s with good reason. The game is all about sleep, or, to be more specific, Luigi’s ability to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. When he falls asleep on a special stone pillow, a warp opens allowing Mario to enter his brother’s dreams. Game time is split between the ‘real’ world’ and the ‘dream world’. While ‘real world’ exploration is the usual top-down RPG style of the series (only now with rather lovely 3D environments), the dream sections are mostly 2D side-scrolling affairs. These look beautiful with the 3D switched on. 

But don’t expect New Super Mario Bros-style goomba-stomping. The action here is much more workmanlike and geared towards puzzle-solving over twitch platforming. Some of these puzzles involve Luigi’s face. While in the dream realm, you can always see Luigi’s dozing mug on the touch screen. As you progress, different interactions become available, allowing you to tickle his nose to make him sneeze, or pull his moustache, for example. It’s a cute novelty, especially as it harks back to Mario 64’s famous 3D Mario head intro sequence, but it also impacts the gameplay by affecting the events on the top screen. Tickle Luigi’s nose and he sneezes, creating gusts of wind in the dream realm. Pull his moustache, and you can twang Mario to higher ground, for example. It feels silly to use Luigi’s moustache as a catapult, but it’s more endearing than simply using a ladder.

"Dream Team turns out to be one of the most imagination-rich RPGs around."

This gentle sense of humour is prevalent throughout the game, whether in the enjoyable dialogue scripting or the faux-Italian nonsense the brothers occasionally spout during cut-scenes. In fact, there's generally a laid-back vibe throughout the game, despite the occasional moment of high drama. The colourful, sunny visual style complements the gameplay perfectly, as does the superb soundtrack that gives the production a big-budget feel.

The game world is impressively large, although it’s disappointing to find that the castle you visit at the start of the game becomes inaccessible for the next ten hours of gameplay, even though it looks like it was always intended to be a base for your adventure, full of support options. Furthermore, the game is surprisingly linear, giving the impression of freedom while only really offering one logical course of action at any one time.

As in previous entries (and Paper Mario), the battle system allows you to press the jump button in real-time to add extra power to stomp attacks. The jump button can also be used to make evasive manoeuvres, which--when timed correctly--can even be turned into effective counter-attacks. However, battles inside and outside the dream realm play out very differently.

"The colourful, sunny visual style complements the gameplay."

While dreaming, Luigi isn’t restricted to one self. Sometimes there are so many of him, Mario can roll him, katamari-style, picking up more and more Luigis until he is a massive ball of green and blue, perfect for smashing into groups of enemies. Scenes like this play out in 3D and make use of the 3DS’ tilt function for steering, which makes a welcome break from simply tapping the jump button at the correct time.

This multiple-Luigi mechanic also becomes useful in the 2D dream sections, allowing Mario to stand on top of a pillar of Luigis which can lean off ledges to push switches and stomp through some rocks. More Luigi abilities are drip-fed as you progress, each one more outlandish than the last, which means you’re always keen to see what the next one will be.

The game may be predictable for the most part, but boy, does it know how to crank up the dial when it wants to. At one point, you’re asked to turn the 3DS on its side, whereupon a massively detailed 3D battle plays out via both the 3DS’ screens. It’s full of stand-out moments.

"This is a highly polished product that is charming and entertaining in equal measures."

Dream Team has its flaws, of course. You’re almost always controlling both Mario and Luigi, which can get frustrating, especially as each one has his own jump button. That means tricky platforming sections have to be simultaneously navigated with both characters, which can be a bit much to get your head around. It’s hard to accept you’ve failed when Mario’s standing triumphantly on the other side of a gap, disappointingly sans-sibling.

The other main point of consternation is the way that some of the 2D levels in particular feel like filler. After a cleverly designed stage that makes full use of the touch screen mechanic and interesting platform puzzling, a by-numbers platforming level can bring the experience back to earth. It’s also not uncommon to fight the same enemy type with the same moves three or four times in a row, which can start to grate.

Despite occasionally falling victim to its own scale, this is a highly polished product that is charming and entertaining in equal measures. The dream-based plot gives Nintendo license to be as creative and insane as they like, which adds up to one of the most inviting game worlds on 3DS so far. And it has endeared us still further to Luigi in his showcase year. Who would have thought the inside of his head would be so interesting?

 

More Info

Release date: Jul 11 2013 - 3DS (US)
Jul 12 2013 - 3DS (UK)
Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Action
Published by: Nintendo
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Mild Cartoon Violence

26 comments

  • universaltofu - August 19, 2013 9:22 p.m.

    I'm really liking the music in this one, which always goes a long way with me.
  • handymanlondon - August 12, 2013 1:05 a.m.

    I see that game in windows store. It brings back the old days.
  • n00b - August 8, 2013 2:01 p.m.

    These look beautiful with the 3D switched on huh?
  • Pruman - August 8, 2013 1:25 p.m.

    Got this preordered from Amazon. It's on deck after I finish Dragon Quest V and Bowser's Inside Story. Anyone notice how little copies of most new Nintendo games are in stores now? Think it has anything to do with them pushing digital sales?
  • FlyinMachine - August 7, 2013 8:48 p.m.

    If I see this game in stores, I'll probably have to get it, then. I only just recently got a 3DS and I haven't even beaten a game for it, yet, come to think of it. All of them are just really close lol.
  • BackwaterRifle - August 7, 2013 5:21 p.m.

    Is fawful back? cause if he is imma have to get this.
  • shawksta - August 8, 2013 6:44 a.m.

    The stories different, and it has a new villain but there is nods to the past game but i dont think Fawful was one of them. But you should still get the game.
  • shawksta - August 7, 2013 12:36 p.m.

    Pulling it out just in time for the US release? Awesome
  • Redeater - August 7, 2013 11:11 a.m.

    Another great game to add to my ever growing collection of 3DS games I probably won't ever finish. Such an amazing console/handheld.
  • Nikku7 - July 13, 2013 10:03 p.m.

    Nice review btw..
  • Nikku7 - July 13, 2013 10:03 p.m.

    This is one of my favorite game series(I usually enjoy these a little more than the Paper Mario series) and I gotta say, I love Bowser, and I love Bowser's Inside Story, but I still to this day think that I enjoy Superstar Saga just a little bit more. Could be nostalgia at this point I suppose, but I definitely got more laughs out of it. Luigi becoming a makeshift surfboard? And dressing up as Princess Peach? Fawful's dialogue was funnier to me in that one even. I don't know. Maybe it's just me who thinks this, but "YOUR LIVES WHICH I SPIT UPON ARE BUT A CARICATURE OF A CARTOON DRAWN BY A KID WHO IS STUPID!!"
  • Fireninjastar - July 13, 2013 10:54 a.m.

    Great review, but the negatives are a little out of place. Having to control Mario AND Luigi during a jump is usually instinct, and the linearity is acceptable, in a way (hey, it's Mario. why not)
  • will-goble - July 12, 2013 12:14 p.m.

    doesnt come out in the us till next month :(
  • shawksta - July 12, 2013 10:32 a.m.

    Great review Justin, I like how you constantly mentioned the game is of high production, especially the music which I heavily agree to, the site had a couple of them and DAMN they sounded good, especially the Boss Theme being by far the best of the series. The game is as great as it always is it seems, they buffed what Bowser's Inside Story started and the dream concept and focus on Luigi is great. You say the game had its drama moments? Im assuming the plot has its serious tone back? As awesome as Bowser's inside story was and how hilarious Fawful was, the plot was just too silly compared to how much of a threat the shroobs and Cackletta were, this game's seems to have both, which im okay with.
  • slimjim441 - July 12, 2013 9:50 a.m.

    ...Can someone tell me... HOW THE HELL I HAD NO IDEA THAT THIS GAME WAS RELEASED THIS WEEK?!?!
  • el_kazzanova - July 12, 2013 8:57 a.m.

    Justin good review over all, but seriously man the whole "It’s not a perfect experience. You’re almost always controlling both Mario and Luigi, which can get frustrating" that's doesn't sound bad at all, it almost sound like you are trying to make it sound bad. Also do you really think that pressing A for Mario and B for luigi to jump is that bad? I mean it is a core gameplay mechanic and I remember it being one of the coolest things in these games.
  • BladedFalcon - July 12, 2013 8:43 a.m.

    Not a bad review... But the negatives posted here don't really make sense if you're already familiar with the Mario & Luigi series. Linearity? why exactly is this wrong or new? every single Mario & Luigi game has been super Linear in the past aside from coming back to some stages to get one or two secret items. And the thing about umping with each brother is pretty much the main tenet of the franchise, complaining about it on the 4th entry makes no sense to me. All in all, the review seems fair, and I can't wait to play this. But both this and the IGN reviews befuddle me when their criticisms seem to focus on what already exists and has always been a part, or even beloved as a franchise. This can't be the first Mario & Luigi game Justin has played, has it?
  • shawksta - July 12, 2013 10:35 a.m.

    As said before its pretty much a nitpick just for the sake of having 3 negatives. Though ign has the same problem. Its probably a case for people who hasn't played before but as you said they were otherwise beloved. Also I can't help but feel Bowser's Inside Story was loved more by the fact that you controlled Bowser and how he was characterized than the actual game. While this game went back to Mario and Luigi
  • BladedFalcon - July 12, 2013 11:20 a.m.

    That's probably it really, I liked Bowser's Inside Story, but I've never understood why is it so much more generally loved than the other two, even though I felt it pretty much on par in terms of quality, and at times I felt it dragged on even more than usual. Not to mention that while playing as bowser was cool, he was ridiculously overpowered, which made the game be hardly a challenge.
  • shawksta - July 12, 2013 12:25 p.m.

    Yeah Bowser was OP, there is an item that boosts enemies by 1.5x but nobody would know getting A rank in the shell minigame would get it for you. "on par on terms of quality" Pretty much, which is why this series is so great, it keeps then same quality but a different concept with the game built around but isn't watered down or stripped and keeps then same quality that made it great (unlike Paper Mario Sticker Star)

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

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