Review: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team for Nintendo 3DS

The Mario Bros.’ newest RPG adventure is the stuff dreams are made of.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star continued the tradition of Mario-based role playing games. And, to be perfectly honest, I found it underwhelming compared to its predecessors. Now, less than a year later, we have another RPG from the Mario & Luigi series, but how does it compare to what came before?

When I played Sticker Star, I found myself disappointed. While it was far from a bad game, and I particularly liked the new map and the sticker-based battle system, it still felt like a bit of a step backward for the series as a whole. Or rather, a leap back: So much of what made previous titles– the first two of the series, in particular– so endearing had basically been stripped out. What remained felt sort of like a game which should have come out before all the rest, like a long-lost prototype brought to light. It was good, but more in the same sort of way Super Mario Bros. is still good after playing Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World.

The Mario & Luigi series, on the other hand, has continued to grow and evolve since its first release, and Dream Team feels like the greatest culmination to date of that growth. With each installment, the developers at AlphaDream have been able to look at what did and did not work with each previous game, and continue moving forward. For some, Partners in Time was a bit of a stumble after Superstar Saga, though I found moving around less tedious and Bros. Items easier to use than Bros. Moves. Bowser’s Inside Story, in my opinion, was able to surpass both to become the best in the series to date.

That brings us to the newest, Dream Team. It would seem that AlphaDream figures they got the formula in Bowser’s Inside Story right, and stuck with it to create their next opus. That isn’t to say that the two are identical or anything, but one can easily find the roots for much of what works well in Dream Team from Bowser’s Inside Story. Put simply: If you enjoyed that game, then there is a good chance you should enjoy this one.

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While some of the core gameplay fundamentals are indeed similar, it’s the premise, the story, and everything which springs forth from such elements which drives the differences. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and the rest of her entourage are invited to Pi’illo Island, a land of beauty and a mysterious history. Tying things to the previous chapter are the return of some familiar characters, such as Broque Monsieur, who is in charge of things around here, and Starlow, who was also invited as a guest. Some others show up a little later on– and you can probably guess who– but I won’t tell–okay, it’s Bowser and his minions (the screens were going to give it away, anyway).

While touring the grounds, Peach gets swept up in the usual high jinks, and the group discovers that the stone pillows found throughout the island contain a number of trapped Pi’illo citizens. The key to helping them, and Peach, is for Luigi (who is the only one capable of properly synching with the pillows) to go to sleep and open a portal to the dream world. There, Mario teams up with “Dreamy Luigi,” an idealized version of the younger brother who appears to help the hero out in ways he only wishes he could in the real world.

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The dream worlds are basically this game’s equivalent of traversing Bowser’s inner-workings in the previous title. Consisting of a flat left-to-right side view, you move around these areas, fighting enemies and solving puzzles in order to proceed. Rather than tickling Bowser’s innards, Dreamy Luigi can instead harness his dream power to merge with certain parts of the environment (controlled by manipulating Luigi’s face on the bottom touchscreen), or call upon an army of Dreamy Luigi Clones to help get through certain areas.

Combat works a little differently here than in the regular world, however, as Dreamy Luigi combines his power with Mario– the plumber equivalent of Omega Prime, you might say, as Mario becomes stronger and his attacks now employ a veritable army of Dreamy Luigis to clobber their foes. In this combat state, you only have to worry about controlling Mario, and this opens things up a bit as well. Now, in some instances, Mario can move up and down to dodge enemies and attacks. Plus, with only one brother controllable in the fray, dodging or countering regular attacks is a little easier as well, as you don’t have to work out who the enemies are going to attack.

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Another welcome throwback to Bowser’s Inside Story are the giant kaiju-styled battles. Instead of manipulating Bowser, it’s Luigi’s turn to get giant, with Mario assisting from atop his brother’s cap. Just as before, you hold the Nintendo 3DS on its side, but now you have the option of using either orientation, depending on your left- or right-handed preference.

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In both the dream and real world battles, you’ll find that the developers have worked to take advantage of the Nintendo 3DS’s signature feature. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself running towards the screen as you’re being chased by the enemy, dodging their attacks all the while. Conversely, you’ll find yourself running towards the screen when you’re on the offensive, specifically when using Bros. Items in the real world or Luiginary Attacks in the dreamscape.

One downside is when some of the attacks require that you use the built-in gyroscope to perform the attacks; not being able to do so can weaken the attack, or even foil it, in some instances. While it’s fun and works well, the simple fact is that using gyroscopic controls to perform precise actions is not always ideal– when riding a bus or subway, or even lying in bed, for instance– and having an alternative in these instances would have been more than welcome. The system is meant to be portable, after all.

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Another rather irksome detail I came across while playing is that you cannot pause at points during battles. This became an issue when I knocked something over while starting a Luiginary Attack. It wouldn’t allow me to pause the game, so I finished the attack, then quickly picked up what I had knocked over– but not quickly enough. When I looked back, I’d been killed on the next turn. Granted, part of that was on me for not paying more attention, and the Home button might have done the trick, but it’s not something I habitually reach for when pausing the game. Consider it a word of warning, if nothing else.

Still, despite these niggling potential flaws, the battles in Dream Team are as fun as ever. They might even be a little easier than before, too, as it almost seems as though the Marios and their foes don’t move quite as quickly as before, allowing you a modest but not too-generous margin of error for timing your dodges and attacks.

Furthermore, if you find yourself having trouble during a battle, you can opt to play it again on an easier difficulty, or even just get some hints about how to handle those particular foes. Saving is even handier now, too, as you now not only have periodic save blocks as before, but you can also save just about anywhere you wish, meaning less backtracking if you should indeed fall in battle– just so long as you remembered to save.

One other issue which must be addressed is that of the tutorials. These come primarily during the earlier parts of the game, and they are technically optional. However, if you do choose to listen to them, they can be quite lengthy to endure. If you don’t, you’ll still find yourself faced with something of a prelude to the tutorial. These, unfortunately, cannot be skipped, and kind of drag things out a bit. Your mileage may vary, but I didn’t found they ruined the experience so much as elicited a groan whenever they appeared.

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All of that said, I personally found them worth dealing with to the benefit of experiencing the rest of the game. While it isn’t perfect, so much of it just feels so right. The art is gorgeous, and my favorite in the series to date, presenting us with prerendered sprites which work wonderfully with the unique art style of this particular branch of the Mario franchise. Everything right down to the Bros.’ expressions is animated well, and the backdrops and characters across both the real and dream worlds are all so bright, imaginative, and vivid.

The sound is also as good as ever, with fun sound effects, and the sound bytes we’ve come to expect to personify Mario and his friends. The tunes are also catchy and fun to listen to, adding a nice atmosphere as you play. This is accented further by the music played upon entering the dream world being reflective of the current real world music, but with a heavier percussion.

The story and new setting is tons of fun, and while it feels like there was a missed opportunity to tie the Pi’illo setting and characters to the similar land of Subcon and its crew (which is beginning to feel like a recurring event), it still expands the Mario world in the best of ways, introducing new characters and places while still offering some familiar faces to keep things from feeling too detached from what came before.

The characterization is a lot of fun as well. Though some might argue that the dialogue is not as witty as in previous games, it is still quite humorous and plenty of fun to go through. You might even discover a new favorite character among this cast of crazies (I personally like the Bronx-accented Boss Brickle), even though none may quite match up to the brilliance of series fan-favorite Fawful, who unfortunately misses his first installment here. (Sorry to spoil, but it seemed only fair to warn his fans.)

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Originally, Paper Mario was my favorite of the two Mario role playing game series. At first, I thought it would remain that way for all time, even with the slight stumble that was Super Paper Mario, which I still enjoyed, albeit not as much as The Thousand Year Door. But when Mario & Luigi got its third game in Bowser’s Inside Story, the writing was clearly on the wall.

Now, as we look at the fourth games in each series, Sticker Star versus Dream Team, it’s clear to me who the winner is, and which series I’ll be looking forward to the fifth installment of more. I’ll always hold out hope in my heart that the folks at Intelligent Systems can return to the same form that made their first two Paper Mario titles so great, but as much as it hurts to admit it, Dream Team has cemented which series is now my overall favorite.

As noted before, Dream Team looks at what came before and what did and did not work, and builds on it from there. You may not get to play as Bowser and Fawful may not be here to mangle the English language as only he (enjoyably) can, but everything else still builds from a solid foundation set before it, and continues to expand on the wonderful world AlphaDream has assembled, rather than contract.

If you haven’t played a Mario & Luigi game yet, this is also a great place to start. It’s not so continuity heavy as to need to know what came before, but there are enough recurring characters and themes that you can still appreciate them should you decide to continue on to the preceding games.

3DS_Mario&L4_pkg01Mario & Luigi: Dream Team was released for the Nintendo 3DS on August 11th, 2013 at a price of $39.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.