Throughout the decades Nintendo's Mario games have mostly revolved around fast paced action where attuned reflexes ensure victory, whether in single player or multi-player modes. But what happens when our favorite Italian gaming character is added into an RPG (role playing game) setting, where gameplay is slowed down, and strategy and statistics become the focus? Mario & Luigi: Dream Team for the Nintendo 3DS answers that question.
Nintendo's regular formula is to throw Mario into various situations and settings: go-karting, painting, attending parties, playing baseball and soccer, and even participating in the London Olympics against his arch-rival. So it's not completely a big surprise to see the mustachioed adventurer set off on a mystical quest to a magical kingdom called Pi'illow Island as a role playing title.
The story starts off in recognizable Mario fashion: Princess Peach is invited to a resort in a kingdom far away, only to be kidnapped by a shadowy entity named Antasma who until recently has lived dormant in the dream world. Turns out the only way to access this dream world is through Luigi, after he has fallen asleep on top of various ancient pillows. Each pillow symbolizes a level or world of its own where Mario must free the spirit within to awaken the imprisoned citizens of Pi'llow, who will in turn aid him in his fight against Antasma.
These dream worlds are what sets Dream Team apart from its Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance predecessors. In the dream world, Luigi plays an omnipotent role where he can (involuntarily) manipulate the scenery to help Mario reach new locations, done amusingly by pulling on his mustache, scratching his nose to make him sneeze, and via the secondary touch screen.
Platformers will also have the opportunity to escapade across the dream world in sequences that feel/play like traditional platforming Mario games. However the controls aren't treated as well as the best Mario platforming titles, as I found it was fairly difficult to navigate Mario with the exacting controls longtime Nintendo fans have grown to expect. Admittedly, Dream Team isn't trying to be like those games nor even belongs in the same genre as those past titles. However when trying to finish these platforming sequences, it's hard not to make the comparison and feel like the developer could have further fine tuned the controls.
Back to the gameplay: throughout the game enemies appear on screen, and hopping onto them transports Mario to a battle screen where the fight continues, switching to an RPG turn-based screen. Each of Mario's attack move varies, from slamming enemies with a hammer to stomping on them; pressing the action button again mid-attack enhances its strength, which makes battle a little more interactive compared to a traditional RPG. Even during an enemy's turn, it's possible to come out without any damage by dodging attacks or even countering, effectively overpowering an enemy completely.
A taste of the interaction between Luigi on-screen, in the real world and the dream world overhead.
I really enjoyed the RPG setting and gameplay. Rather than mashing a button repeatedly, something I'm guilty of doing in other RPG games like the original Final Fantasy, I have to really pay attention and strategize. Each battle is a new strategic problem to solve, reminding me of the mini-games from Mario Party.
In the "real world" (meaning, the non-dream world in the game), Luigi stands by Mario's side in turn based battles, possessing his own move sets. However in the dream world he enhances Mario's attacks to level the playing field with fantastical 'Luiginary' skills. These are deep in their own right, but leaves out the Bros. attacks which uses both Mario brothers to initiate some truly damaging and entertainingly interactive moves.
My overall opinion of Dream Team are truly mixed. Where the game falls flat for me was outside the battles. The storyline is one of the weaker ones; conversation sequences go on for way too long when it's obvious where it's going. That's why I'm left to mostly suggest this game for youngsters as an introduction to the RPG genre, or for die-hard Mario fans. The over world puzzles are either tedious and even occasionally poorly executed, and the graphics are only a slight step up from the previous generation system. There were quite a few times where I was really enjoying the game, followed by many parts where I felt like I was struggling through weaker parts only with the hopes to get back to the good stuff. The chuckle-inducing witty dialogue of Mario RPG didn't seemed to have made a return like it did in the Paper Mario games this time.
Antasma faces against the tandem force of the Mario Bros.
Bottom Line: My "Recommended" rating for Mario and Luigi: Dream Team comes with caveats. The game suffers from an identity crisis. It wants to be a platformer game. It wants to be a mini-game bonanza. It wants to be a puzzle game. It also wants to be an RPG on top of everything else. But juggling all of these genres into a single experience doesn't quite work out, and is instead a convoluted and suffers in quality in some instances throughout the game.
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team's flow is too herky-jerky, stopping and picking up different gameplay mechanics continuously to a point where it jars the player's experience. Despite all this, I believe diehard fans of Nintendo's iconic plumber, or younger players, will probably overlook these deficiencies and still be able to enjoy a game which is equal parts dreamy and nightmarish.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was purchased by the reviewer for game review purposes.
(Images: Nintendo; Jason Rodway)