Developer: Alpha Dream
If you’re hoping for something that’s going to surpass the excellent Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story from the DS, then you’ll be a little disappointed with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. That’s not to say that Dream Team is bad, but it has a tough time measuring up favorably to its excellent predecessor.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that Dream Team rarely lets you take the training wheels off. While I’m no stranger to video games that force feed you tutorials, Dream Team really pushes this to an extreme at times. The beginning portion of the game is really sluggish because of this, taking what I’d assume is an effort to make this an approachable title for everyone, and having the opposite effect of that.
This is, after all, the fourth title in the series, which began back on the Game Boy Advance with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. And while I’m sure there are new players drawn to the series with each subsequent release, by and large you’re dealing with a player base that understands the basics of combat, exploration, item use and so on. And while Dream Team does employ some new systems that certainly need to be explained at their introduction, this is an experience that would severely benefit from letting you choose an upfront option that says “Yes, I know how to play video games.”
That slow start really does a disservice to an otherwise excellent entry in the series. While split screen mechanics were first introduced with Partners in Time on the DS, I feel like Dream Team manages to squeeze even more out of the use of dual screen action than the last two titles. And the 3D element gets some use here too, specifically with special Bros. Attacks, essentially super moves that combine Mario and Luigi’s abilities like we’ve seen in previous games, but with a lot of foreground/background elements to make the 3D effect pop.
The giant battles carry over here from Bowser’s Inside Story, using Luigi’s dream world to stretch reality a bit making that mechanic possible with the Mario Bros. as the sole protagonists this time out. A lot of the touch screen use comes from the dream world, which contains the majority of the 2D gameplay elements, where you’ll manipulate sleeping Luigi to give the exploring Mario some aid in a variety of unique and smart ways. There’s some great design and puzzle solving in these sequences that feels really natural and well implemented, making extended tutorials feel even less necessary than they already are.
Other positive elements include the trademark witty and oftentimes hilarious dialogue, making it worth your while to interact with as many NPC’s as possible. There’s some decent side quest activity to participate in that’s completely optional, but it takes a little time (about 6 to 8 hours) for that particular element to really open up. Also worth mentioning is that Dream Team is a lengthy adventure, which is certainly padded a bit by all the hand holding, but feels substantially larger than the last three entries for me.
I also really enjoyed the setting, both in the real world and within Luigi’s oddly charming dreamscape. The plot revolves around a new location called Pi’illo Island, a resort destination that Mario and company are invited to visit, which quickly gives way to a quest to revive the sleeping inhabitants forced to slumber there long ago. There are a lot of new characters introduced here, but a few throwbacks from previous entries pop up too, making this feel like a standard sequel instead of some oddball spin-off. Nintendo hasn’t skimped on the story or production values one bit, and there’s a lot of pretty looking scenery on the display throughout the game, even if I’m not the biggest fan of the character models here.
So basically, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is worth picking up, but you’ll definitely need some patience to muster through its early hours. I think it compares favorably to early entries in the series, but doesn’t stand up as well against Bowser’s Inside Story if you’d like a direct comparison. There’s a lot to love, mostly from the characters, dialogue, and exploration, but next time I hope to see some consideration given to those that’d prefer a little less guidance right out of the gate.