Mario & Luigi: Dream Team 3DS Review
The 3DS has had its share of good and bad titles over the course of its existence, but the major constant for Nintendo has always been a trio. Namely, the hero of the Zelda series, Link, and the mustachioed siblings Mario and Luigi. Since their introduction to gamers over two decades ago, the latter two have appeared in dozens of titles. It is no surprise, then, that when a new Mario game was released for the 3DS, the star of a 3DS exclusive would have much of the spotlight. The game in question, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, (titled Mario & Luigi RPG 4 in Japan, which is an accurate, if unimaginative, name). The game is, as the Japanese title states, an RPG, and is the fourth game in the Mario & Luigi series. Due to 2013 being the Year of Luigi for Nintendo, the game also focuses on the younger and taller Mario brother, albeit not in a way that would seem obvious. The real question, though, is whether this is a game that’s got some polish, or is it a retreat of previous DS and GameBoy Advance titles?
The story is something that seems fairly simple, and borrows a few cues from the original Luigi’s Mansion. Basically, Princess Peach is invited to Pi’illo Island, a resort area that is also an archaeological gem due to the ruins of the civilization that gave the island its name. Deciding to bring along her whole retinue, Peach invites Mario and Luigi to join her. During the trip, Luigi falls asleep, dreams that Mario has to fight a villain, and wakes up thinking the blimp is about to crash, only to face plant directly on the ground, falling back to sleep. From there, Mario does some exploring, Luigi eventually rejoins them, they run in to Starlow (from Super Mario Galaxy, among other games), and they explore the underground of an ancient castle until they come upon a treasure that looks like a special pillow. When the Brothers then happen upon a bed, Luigi takes the pillow, jumps on the bed, and immediately falls asleep. That causes a portal to the dream world to appear, and one of the two main protagonists of the game, Antasma, kidnaps peach. Mario chases after him, encountering a subconscious version of Luigi, Dreamy Luigi, who helps Mario in his battles in the dream world. They catch up to Antasma, but he digs in to the ground, dragging Peach with him, and seals up the ground behind him. After freeing a Pi’llo, Prince Dreambert, from a nightmare chunk (a floating purple rock with a Pi’llo trapped inside), they exit the dream world and discuss how to get Peach back. Eventually determining that they need to go deeper (oblique Inception reference ahoy!) in to what Dreambert calls the Dream World (hardly innovative, but then again, naming conventions in Mario games rarely are), but need to find the Pi’illo elder, Eldream, to do so. Upon finding and saving Peach from Antasma, everybody’s favorite gigantic spiky tortoise dragon, Bowser, bursts on the scene. He and Antasma create an alliance, and although Mario and Luigi manage to save Peach, Antasma escapes from the Dream World with Bowser as his ally. The rest of the game is spent freeing Pi’llos from the Dream World, fighting monsters, and trying to stop Antasma and Bowser from retrieving a powerful item called the Dreamstone, which has the power to grant any wish.
The combat system in the games is RPG-inspired, with each individual combatant taking a turn to complete an action. However, because of the added muscle of the 3DS compared to that of its predecessors, there is more to it. While there are the typical option to attack or use items, the attacks all have special bonuses for button press timing that lead to a second attack (for the Jump command that, of course, shows up in the game as the first attack available) or a more effective attack (in the case of the Hammer that you get fairly early during game play). In the regular game world, there are also special combinations called Bros. Attacks (because apparently aesthetics are everything) that are entirely based off of player reactions, and involve Mario and Luigi cooperating in order to unleash devastating assaults. While the first two Bros. Attacks are the same for Mario and Luigi, after that, the two diverge in their styles, both in terms of what they do and how they’re performed. In the dream world, Dreamy Luigi combines with Mario to duplicate his powers with multiple Luigis called Luiginoids, provided that the timing controls are used correctly. Also, a system called Luiginary Attacks replaces the Bros. Attack command. These are commands where Mario uses the Luiginoids in various ways to inflict even more damage upon opponents. Of course, the ultimate combat mode, the Big Battle, returns from Bowser’s Inside Story, but since this is the Year of Luigi, and Bowser is a villain this time around, Luigi is the one doing the fighting, and this time, it’s in 3D. Another nifty thing in battles is the Badge Meter, which works sort of like a limit skill, wherein filling the meter with both Mario and Luigi’s attacks allows you to activate special effects or actions that are not counted as a regular move in combat.
The way you explore the real world and the dream world is the biggest reminder of the fact that the two have very separate game play mechanics. The real world is a 3D-rendered environment that allows Mario and Luigi to explore like a typical RPG would, albeit with the ability to jump around, interact with objects that don’t seem like they would normally be active area pieces, and talk to NPCs. Many times, exploration requires that Mario and Luigi’s moves be synchronized. Meanwhile, the Dream World is a side-scrolling platformer experience, similar to classic Mario games. Because you’re technically inside Luigi’s psyche in the Dream World, there are certain parts of the scenery in to which Dreamy Luigi can transform, called Luiginary Works. The player can affect these works by interacting with the image of a sleeping Luigi on the bottom screen, who actually reacts to things that happen in the Dream World, including smiling, acting frightened, or the like. Typically, these works involve moving Luigi’s nose or mustache on the bottom screen to cause a result on the top screen. This will always result in a change in the scenery, allowing Mario to continue exploring in the Dream World. The only thing that is completely the same is that running in to monsters causes a fight to occur.
As far as the actual controls go, the game is relatively intuitive after the tutorials explain things, even for people that are just starting in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, especially since on-screen prompts are with you throughout the game. However, you also have to use the touch screen and the 3DS’ gyroscopic abilities in certain cases, which really emphasizes that they made this game with the 3DS in mind. The graphics, however, do not necessarily always make that seem to be the case. Although everything is modeled with 3D graphics, the attempt to make it still have a Mario RPG feel tends to keep the system from being used to its fullest. Given that other 3DS titles have taken the 3D component of the 24-bit color scheme, or even the 18-bit color scheme from the DS, and made the graphics match the quality of regular consoles (the Kingdom Hearts games 358/2 Days, re:Coded, and 3D: Dream Drop Distance, as well as Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and Mario Kart 7 come to mind) save for certain combat sequences, and the sleeping Luigi graphic on the touch screen, it feels like the designers were underachieving a bit. While many moments from the game make it clear that that is not the case, and game play means graphics complaints are limited, it still seems that after two years, Nintendo still hasn’t quite figured out that they’ve got a really powerful handheld that could do so much more if they so desired.
Ultimately, though, the complaints with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team are minor compared to the level of enjoyment present in this game. It allows you to use classic characters in a new setting, the variation between the real world and the dream world allows players to use different tactics, so that the game only becomes tedious if you play it for too long with the stereoscopic screen active (there’s only so much 3D a person’s eyes can take, especially on a small screen). The pacing could be a little better – you encounter two huge plot points before Bowser comes on the scene, for example – but once you really get in to the plot, that hardly seems to matter. The best part about this game is that it once again changes up the typical Mario formula, making Luigi a big star. Of course, as far as games starring Luigi are concerned, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon had more polish to it, but this game holds its own. The best part of the game, however, is that it’s a family-friendly title, so parents can feel confident that Mario and Luigi are still the lovable and wholesome mustachioed men Nintendo fans have come to love.
It isn’t the best video game ever released for the 3DS, but if you like Mario and want something different, be sure to add this game to your library.