Review - Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
The Mario & Luigi line of RPGs share some common threads: controlling the plumbers simultaneously, wacky characters and humor, and heavy use of hammers in battle are all things to expect. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team doesn't stray from this formula, but with the ability to enter Luigi's dreams, it manages to not be a total snore-fest. Any and all sleep-related puns from here on out will come from the game itself, I promise.
When Peach and the brothers Mario receive an invitation to Pi'illo Island (GET IT? LIKE A PILLOW?), obviously, the princess couldn't possibly get kidnapped again… but, of course, she does. This time, the royal in pink is held hostage by a new villain, Antasma, who steals her away to the Dream World, with the only way to aid her being for Luigi to fall asleep on ancient stone pillows, have Mario jump through the portal that forms over his resting head, and chase after the princess thief. Even for a Mario game, the premise is nothing short of preposterous.
But it serves to justify some clever dream-related mechanics. The real world is an island shown from a top-down perspective, filled with side quests, loot and puzzles to progress, but the Dream World is more of a two-dimensional platform affair.
Being inside his own dreams means Luigi is less of a second character and more like a super-powered assist. By yanking on real-world Luigi's mustache, turning his nose, or messing with him in other ways like some kind of sleepover prank, the Luigi in the dream can affect his environment and get Mario to otherwise unreachable areas. Other times, Luigi can multiply himself to the point where an entire tower of Luigis can stampede, butt stomp, and spring through the levels. Between the different uses for the Luigi tower and seeing how clumsy the individual Luigis are, it doesn't stop being amusing. Even though a couple of the dream sequences are insanely short and straightforward, they're the most creative part of the game and the segments I anticipated the most.
Being inside Luigi's mind is Dream Team's "gimmick," but the crux of the game is still mostly rooted in top-down exploration and puzzles, plus, of course, the battles. Fights will feel familiar to those with a history with past Mario & Luigi or Paper Mario games; your party members and enemies take turns dealing damage to each other with extra damage allotted for timing your button presses correctly. Each enemy has a totally unique pattern of attack to them and you'll have to learn to avoid everything they can throw at you. For the most part, you can catch on to their tricks after a couple tries, although I've found a small handful of patterns I still can't seem to predict. Even then, I greatly appreciate how involved the player must be to both deal the maximum damage and to take as little as possible.
Inside the Dream World, battles mostly carry out the same way… except that Luigi makes them better. He'll act as a follow-up to Mario's attacks, causing insane amounts of damage and sometimes wiping out a large wave of enemies at once. Whereas in the real world, the duo has access to special "Bros. Attacks" based on their cooperation together, the Dream World special attacks are more along the lines of, oh, rolling a katamari ball of Luigis to crush all in its wake. I have no idea exactly what it is, but something about hundreds of weaponized Luigis is just funny to me.
As far as controls go, there's nothing to really complain about other than the X and Y buttons being essentially wasted since they do the same actions as A and B. These two buttons each correspond to one of the brothers and the action they do can be changed by tapping R. I don't see what the point of this is when assigning those actions to X and Y would have saved some pointless hassle.
Dream Team follows Nintendo's ongoing streak of games that can be difficult, but constantly tempt you with ways to make it easier. There are no Super Guides to be found here, but the hand-holding comes in the form of long-winded explanations of things you've already learned how to do, a readily-accessible "slow mode" option to make button presses easier to time correctly, and even the option to retry a battle in Easy Mode should you lose all your HP. This one in particular is almost comical; you restart the battle with all of your health filled up and your attacks now deal so much damage that the enemies, no matter how powerful, will be lucky to survive to the third round of attacks. The big drawback here is that you, deservedly, receive zero XP for your lack of effort, but all the same, you practically get a free pass if you die even one time. Still, if you feel like using such features is a "dishonest" way of completing the game, ignoring them shouldn't be a problem for you.
Like other RPGs bearing the Mario name, Dream Team has its moments of humor, though I didn't actually laugh until I was well into the adventure (when you go on a hunt to find a character named Big Massif, you know you're at one of the game's funnier bits). Some characters have phonetically-written accents that, while not comedic on their own, at least give more personality to the many, many NPCs.
But if there's one character I wish I could have gotten to know better, it's Luigi himself. I know it's a Mario game made for the most general of general audiences, but the idea of spending a significant amount of time literally inside Luigi's psychosis is an underhand-pitched opportunity to get to know a beloved character in a totally new way. There is one level in which you get to see traces of this idea, but it felt like an undercooked version of what could have been. Imagine levels based around Luigi's fears, his hopes and dreams, how he feels about living under Mario's shadow for all these years… it was the perfect excuse to really develop him as a character and it didn't exactly deliver in the way I would have hoped.
But as a game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team still works on its own merits. I still really liked pulling Luigi's mustache to fling Mario around, the moments of genuine comedy, and the odd curveball thrown in to boot (Godzilla-style fight, anyone?) Plus, as an RPG, it's by nature a fairly lengthy game, giving Dream Team a decent enough money spent/play time ratio. I've currently clocked more than 13 hours and I'm still going, though I have to admit that I'm feeling a bit of the grind. If you really must celebrate the "Year of Luigi," I'd recommend Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon first.