A sweet dream or a snooze?
Review written by
August 25th, 2013
When Super Mario RPG came out to critical and commercial success, Nintendo had a problem. Because its relationship with co-developer Squaresoft was strained for sticking with cartridges during the days of the N64, a sequel of sorts would be difficult to make. However, the split resulted in two new Mario RPG series'. Paper Mario was the first, and was fun but was a little too conservative when it came to game mechanics. The second was Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga and was in fact developed by many ex-Squaresoft developers who had worked on the first Mario RPG. Ten years after the release of the first Mario & Luigi, both series' have four respective entries. Paper Mario is waning due to questionable design choices in Sticker Star, but how does the dynamic duo of Mario and his bro Luigi fare in Dream Team?
While the last Mario & Luigi title (Bowser's Inside Story) had a rather outlandish story, Dream Team is a more traditional tale. Mario and Luigi, along with Peach and her retinue decide to head for nearby Pi'llo Island for a vacation. As we know from Super Mario Sunshine though, Peach can't take a vacation without getting kidnapped, and soon our dynamic duo is tasked with saving both her and the entire island from a new villain known as Antasma. The only way to do both is to go between the various areas of the island and the land of dreams with the help of a narcoleptic Luigi.
Truthfully, the story in Dream Team is somewhat disappointing compared to the more interesting situations found in both Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story, and it isn't nearly as funny either. One would think that seeing things in Luigi's dreams would be hilarious, but there's not really anything of interest. The one thing that Dream Team does have going for it is that Luigi actually gets a good deal of time in the spotlight, and eventually manages to gain even Bowser's respect!
In terms of gameplay, Dream Team is nearly identical to other entries in the series, but there are some important changes. Half of its gameplay involves the duo exploring areas in both the real and dream worlds, collecting treasure, solving puzzles and eventually getting to a final boss. In a way it feels similar to Metroid as certain areas require different abilities to access, but things never quite escalate to the level of Super Metroid. The dream world makes things a little more interesting. As Luigi is sleeping while Mario and his dream-self explore, puzzles require that Luigi's 'real' self be manipulated. Early puzzles involve tweaking Luigi's mustache to launch Mario from a 'dream' shrub, to later changing the world from winter to summer by adjusting a grill that Luigi is lying down on. In theory these 'Luiginary works' as the game calls them could be interesting, but only one manipulation is allowed per area. More complex puzzles aren't included, and as such, the game grows slightly monotonous in exploration sections. For those who enjoyed the giant Bowser Battles from the previous game, Luigi too turns giant in a series of epic dream world battles that don't fail to disappoint. The finale of these serves as a great tribute to Super Mario 64 and should not be missed.
The combat is also mostly the same as it was in previous incarnations, though that isn't really a bad thing. Combat is a mix of a traditional JRPG and an action game. The player and enemy take turns, but instead of simply waiting out actions, the player can not only succeed at attacking, but can dodge and counterattack enemy attacks. Dream Team gets rid of X and Y commands featured in the previous installments, but also adds enemies that attack from all sides and the background, adding a new element to the game's combat. Dream world combat is also slightly different; as Luigi's dream self only helps Mario, the player is only given one turn at a time but at the benefit of slightly more powerful attacks. Bros Attacks also return to the game, but require players to search for puzzle blocks in the surrounding area and encourage exploration. For some this might be a turn off, but exploration ultimately benefits the player.
The graphics are a mixed bag. On the one hand, the colorful environments and expressive characters of the previous Mario & Luigi games remain intact. However, the game has a slightly more rendered look, resulting in something that looks similar to the Golden Sun titles on GBA and DS. These graphics aren't terrible, but they are also not as well illustrated as the sprite graphics from previous games.
The sound is largely nothing special. Nearly all of the sound effects are taken from previous Mario & Luigi titles, including the humorous Italian gibberish that is used whenever the two Mario Bros. 'talk' to people. The music is surprisingly good, but it doesn't fit a game that is meant to be as lighthearted as this. The music feels like something one would see in a more traditional JRPG, but is nonetheless good and in some cases feels appropriate to the dream environments.
Dream Team will last players a surprisingly long time, averaging about 25 to 30 hours per player. Unfortunately, this is not really because there's a lot to do. Instead, the game feels padded, with areas that seem to be nothing more than filler, so it would be a good idea to play the game from time to time, rather than continuously. The only real 'extras' to be found are a puzzle piece minigame about halfway through and a boss rush mode complete with a secret final opponent.
Ultimately, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team isn't quite the sequel to Bowser's Inside Story that many had hoped for, but in no way does that make it a bad game. If players enjoy the atypical combat and want a long RPG adventure for the 3DS less traditional than Shin Megami Tensei IV, they could certainly do much worse than this dynamic dreaming duo.
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