Can someone page the king of awesome?
With each new entry in a series, the expectation is that the latest game will be better than the last. When Super Mario Sunshine came out, we all hoped it would best Super Mario 64. Sometimes games don’t live up to the high standards of their predecessors, and unfortunately, the fourth entry in Alpha Dream’s Mario & Luigi series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is one of those games.
It’s not the first time that the Mario & Luigi games suffered a setback. The Game Boy Advance debut, Superstar Saga, was so spectacular that even the new two-screen mechanics of the DS sequel Partners in Time paled in comparison. Then, the third entry, Bowser’s Inside Story, raised the bar even higher, elevating the formula to wondrous heights. Dream Team is a fun RPG with some clever, unique gameplay elements and memorable moments; it just doesn’t match the brilliance of Bowser’s Inside Story.
The writing is more dependent on Dragon Quest levels of silly foreign accents than ever before, and since Bowser is relegated to barely-there arch villain for most of the story, his sparkling personality and hysterical writing is buried deep within the 30-hour experience. The two most talkative characters are Prince Dreambert, the legendary prince of the story-important-but-boring Pi’illio people, and the Navi-like Starlow. If you couldn’t tell, they aren’t that charming. Most of the best humor is nestled in talking to townsfolk such as Toads and Yoshis that discuss their blogs and how much they want someone to ride on their back.
Dreambert and Starlow’s stale dialogue, which still does have its moments, wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it wasn’t such a consistent focus. The first several hours are more or less an extended tutorial that rely too heavily on the pair to drive the story and gameplay. It also doesn’t help that Dream Team is about 5-to-10 hours longer than other Mario & Luigi games, which were already long in the tooth. Luckily, the combat and exploration are still fun and inventive, so the extra time isn’t completely laborious.
The combat is virtually unchanged, with the A button representing Mario and the B button signifying Luigi. In the real world, it’s the same jump-and-hammer combo that’s been featured in each game of the series. You’ve still got Bros. Attacks, which are fun mini-games that can, if your timing is right, do massive damage. The enemies have entertaining tells that you can use to counter or avoid their attacks. From battle to battle, the pace is brisk even if the experience does have its drawn-out moments. Moments of Dream Team feel like they take forever, while others can suck away an afternoon in what feels like 20 minutes.
In the side-scrolling dream world segments, you control Mario and Dreamy Luigi, with the dream form of the younger plumber occasionally being used for Luiginary abilities. Performing these abilities is awesome, especially as the abilities evolve. I particularly enjoyed assembling Luiginoids into a giant leaning tower of Luigis. Traversal in the 2D areas is made more amusing with that ability, as it features colorful animation that makes all the Luigis look like they are doing their own thing. However, some of the others dive into grandiose levels of slow gameplay, forcing you to switch between the stylus and the Circle Pad constantly. Switching between each Luiginary ability takes a few seconds, and while the animation is fun to watch initially, those seconds add up as you’re switching between abilities more often in harder puzzles.
Battles in the dream world are more reminiscent of how Bowser battles worked in Bowser’s Inside Story. You only control Mario, but he has the power of Dreamy Luigi surging through him, so he is more powerful, usually attacking hordes of enemies at once. Replacing the Bros. Attacks are Luiginary ones that involve rolling Luigi Katamaris, building huge towers of Luigis, and more. Holding the 3DS like a book during big battles also returns, and there is some clever use of the 3DS’ features, including the gyroscope, to fight giant enemies as an oversized Luigi.
The whole experience is gentle and inviting; if you fail a battle, you can start it over and get a hint of what to do. You can even drop the difficulty down to easy at that time as well. If you’re worried about it being too easy, you can take on the deliberately cruel hard mode that unlocks after you beat the story mode the first time.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a respectable entry in the annals of Mario RPG history, even if it doesn’t quite match up well against Mario’s best RPG adventures. Outside of the new, impressive graphical sheen, Dream Team simply feels like Bowser’s Inside Story Part Two, but with the best part of that game (Bowser) removed from the primary cast and gameplay. What you get is still worth playing, but the slow pace, humorless main characters, and mostly familiar gameplay drop Mario & Luigi: Dream Team just outside of must-have status.