The stuff dreams are made of
There’s something about RPGs that don’t take themselves seriously, tonally, that I find utterly delightful. I mean, I’m all for the occasional melodramatic JRPG—provided it’s got the right stuff—as well as Western RPGs laced with political intrigue and the fate of humanity in the balance. But oftentimes, I forget that the genre can lend itself to light-heartedness, and when the right balance of charm, personality, sense of wonder, and relatively uncomplicated combat mechanics comes along, it can really be something special.
Such is the case with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
It’s not that Dream Team gets everything right and is without flaw. The game has plenty of missteps—missteps that’ll bother some more than others. Since it continually introduces new mechanics, like, say, a quirky approach to a boss battle, there’s a seemingly endless series of tutorial moments heaviest at the start of the game, but not altogether absent later on. But, frankly, I can forgive Mario and Luigi’s latest RPG outing for holding on to my pinky finger with one tiny little Italian hand throughout the experience, because most of the time I’m too busy having fun to notice or care.
The story told in Dream Team certainly doesn’t break new ground. In fact, it doesn’t really stray too far from the usual setup in a Mario game. For one, Princess Peach is once again captured. I guess it’s a nice change of pace that her captor is the nightmare creature and primary antagonist Antasma, not Bowser (though don’t count King Koopa out—it wouldn’t be a Mario game if he didn’t worm his way into the story somehow).
I should back up a bit. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toadsworth, and a smattering of Toads are all invited to scenic Pi’illo Island for some fun in the sun. As the name implies, it’s a very sleep-centric land, and upon arrival, the Mario Bros. become embroiled in mystery, intrigue, and the return of ancient evils.
Dream Team is chock-full of the most tried-and-true RPG plot beats that, in many ways, seem weirdly out of place in a game otherwise populated with characters poking fun at the genre itself, its own lore, and the eclectic cast of characters—Luigi especially—buying into that lore wholesale. But, in a way, this makes the sleepy-time adventure all the more humorous. Silly, even stupid at times, but still humorous and comfortably in line with RPG expectations.
Speaking of RPG expectations, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team doesn’t stray too far from the previous entries in the Mario & Luigi RPG series, fundamentally. It does, however, iterate upon them in subtle-yet-effective ways.
At the heart of the game is a conventional RPG, with a top-down perspective, plenty of exploration, and turn-based battles. But complementing this is a splash of classic Mario flavor. Dream Team’s obligatory gimmick revolves around Luigi, who’s thrust into the spotlight by serving as a gateway of sorts into dreamscape dungeons where, in combat, he removes himself from immediate battle and acts as an ethereal power-up for his big bro. Outside of combat, Luigi’s primary function is to serve as an extension of Mario’s exploration toolset.
This is where Mario & Luigi gets downright diabolical. And, I guess, a little Inception–y (just about the last thing you’d ever expect from something with the Mario branding). When Mario enters Luigi’s dreamworld and kicks it with his brother’s residual self-image, things go side-scroller on the 3DS’ top screen. On the bottom screen, Luigi proper—his real-world self—snoozes away. But tormenting the poor guy—pulling on his mustache, twiddling his nose, et cetera—influences Dreamy Luigi. That ledge you need to reach a little too high? Don’t worry, Luigi can transform into a tree and use his tree-stache to fling you further up. And that’s just the first of several odd, otherworldly abilities Luigi gains.
Of course, when awake, Luigi—and Mario—are bound to the rules of reality. The waking world is where the most conventional RPG elements manifest themselves in Dream Team. You have your towns. You have your weapon, item, and equipment upgrades. You have your exploration. And, last but not least: your (mostly) traditional turn-based battles. These aren’t without that classic element that makes the Mario franchise tick, though: a pinch of trademark platforming. Enemy encounters are made easier, and more interactive, by way of attacks that are amplified by timed button presses, evasions executed by hopping out of the way, and counterattacks that call for a keen eye.
Again, it’s not that any one thing about Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is particularly special. It’s not even that all these seemingly disparate components come together in a way we’ve never seen before. It’s all familiar territory. Still, the pieces all fit, and the picture they form is cohesive, well constructed, and offers consistently varied fun that keeps things feeling fresh even after 20 to 30 hours.
|Developer: AlphaDream • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and older • Release Date: 08.11.13|
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a fairly robust take on the classic RPG formula with trace amounts of familiar Mario gameplay. While it’s hardly anything new, it still tells a truly charming tale defined, more than anything, by its terrific cast of characters.
|The Good||Solid turn-based RPG mechanics, spectacular sprites.|
|The Bad||A slow start littered with interruptive tutorials.|
|The Ugly||According to his cohorts, Luigi—at least, in the real world.|
|Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive.|