The latest in a series that spans 4 games, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a great game that refines the gameplay elements of the previous three while adding a bit more content of its own. If you have not checked out the Mario & Luigi series before, it’s the spiritual successor to the fabled Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. The gameplay is in the classic turn-based RPG style with some Mario-esque platforming and puzzle solving thrown in. This review was written after having played the game for about 10 hours.
Dream Team | Story
*Warning: The following contains very terrible sleep-related puns. I apologize in advance. Also spoilers*
Dream Team starts off the same as many Mario games do–Mario, Luigi, Peach, and a bunch of Toads are going to do some recreational thing. This time the gang is invited to check out the hot new tourism spot called Pi’illo Island by one Dr. Snoozemore. Dr. Snoozemore is the leading researcher into the ancient Pi’illo Kingdom, which suddenly vanished one day. He’s in charge of excavating ancient ruins and recovering ancient artifacts in order to find out what happened. After arriving, you are shown around, participate in some mini-games, and then are forced to rescue a lost Princess Peach who found her way into some unexplored ruins at the rear of the castle. Upon finding Peach and the ‘super ancient and valuable treasure’, you make your way back to a museum of sorts where all of the excavated artifacts are displayed. Luigi decides to rest on an ancient bed belonging to the late Prince Dreambert using the ‘super ancient and valuable treasure’ as a pillow.
This is when the game’s plot makes itself known and upon falling asleep, Luigi opens a portal into his own dreams. Princess Peach is sucked in and Mario jumps in after her. A dark mist escapes with the Princess, but Mario unknowingly frees Princess Dreambert from his imprisonment in the stone pillow I mean ‘super ancient and valuable treasure’. Dreambert explains that he and his subjects were trapped in the dream world when an ancient evil known as Antasma shattered the Dark Stone and scattered it’s shards across Pi’illo Island. Mario and Luigi decide embark on an adventure to find Princess Peach and, at the behest of Prince Dreambert, rescue as many of the Pi’illo folk as they can along the way. Peach is eventually rescued, but Antasma reveals himself and teams up with Bowser to obtain the Dream Stone, which can grant wishes. Peach is safe but the brothers must now stop Bowser and Antasma from using the Dream Stone to obtain whatever they desire.
Dream Team | Gameplay
At the forefront, Dream Team is a turn-based RPG. If you’ve played SMRPG or the Paper Mario series, you know what to expect. What sets it apart from other RPGs are its action elements within combat. When attacking, you have to time button presses to deal additional damage, much like Paper Mario’s action commands but with a more restrictive timing. When on defense, you can do the same but doing so allows you to completely dodge attacks or even counterattack your foes. My favorite part about this is the emphasis on player skill. The timing for each enemy attack is different and each has several different attacks so identification and memorization of the enemy’s tells are important, but quick reflexes can also get you there. In the overworld, traversing the map is exactly what you’d expect. Both brothers have to jump and hammer their way through, over, and around obstacles in order to continue the game.
The controls are simple but effective. Whether you’re in combat or on the overworld, all of Mario’s actions are controlled by the A button and Luigi’s are always controlled by the B button. Once you have access to more than jumping you can cycle through the different actions by pressing R. Probably the biggest fault of this game are the number of tutorials the game has. They are all skippable, but they really ruin the flow of the intro. There are dozens of them and while going through them takes only a minute or two, it easily adds up. Luckily, the responsive controls are the best in the series. Earlier games had a problem with small delays while cycling actions or too many niche actions like in Partners in Time (Baby Mario and Luigi were controlled with X and Y and had their own actions in addition to the normal brothers).
Each game in the Mario & Luigi series has its own unique gimmick to set itself apart from the rest. Partners in Time had time travel and Baby Mario/Luigi and Bowser’s Inside Story had you wrecking things as Bowser for part of the game. Dream Team’s gimmick is definitely the most fun. It starts with this dichotomy between the real world and the dream world. The real world functions exactly like any other Mario & Luigi game, but the game really shines when you’re in the dream world. Mario is joined by Dreamy Luigi, who is crazy powerful. In the overworld he can control background objects to solve puzzles. In combat Luigi merges with Mario, granting him a percentage of his stats and augments his attacks. Correctly timing a hammer attack causes Mario to slam the ground only for a dozen Luigis to fly out with hammers to unleash a shockwave that damages all grounded foes. Jumping causes a ton of Luigis to fall from the sky to deal additional damage to surrounding enemies. Dream world combat is so much fun that it actually detracts from real world combat. I found myself wanting to be in the dream world the whole time so I could unleash my fury and decimate everything that stands in my way. Normal combat felt a little boring by comparison.
Dream Team | Character Customization
Like any RPG, Mario and Luigi can gain experience points and level up. Some stats are allotted for you, but you can choose one additional stat to increase via a slot that can award 1-5 bonus points to it. The more you min/max a stat, you lower the odds of higher bonuses appearing. So, you’ll have more overall stat points if you spread them out. Grinding one stat still has its advantages. If you find Defense and HP to be useless because you’re a reflex all-star you can just pump points into POW and luck (affectionately called ‘Stache). At certain level plateaus the brothers also go up in rank, allowing you to select one of several permanent bonuses such as automatically gaining one additional POW each level or being able to equip more accessories.
The other means of customization is with equipment. You initially start with only two slots, but you can increase it via story (you gain a slot once you find the hammers) or by increasing your rank and making that your bonus. Equipment frequently offers a passive buff and stats boost to increase the number of viable strategies. One such way is to equip items that refresh your BP upon killing enemies, which allow you to spam special attacks. Each Mario & Luigi game also features badges in some form or another. In earlier games they gave your characters passive abilities that you could equip, but this was replaced with accessories so badges could serve another purpose. In Dream Team, you can equip one badge per brother and this combination yields a special skill you can activate by filling a meter that increases as you correctly time attacks. Each badge combination yields a different special ability so you can mix and match to find one that works best for your build. I prefer Virus + Master, which lowers the DEF of all enemies for a few turns.
Dream Team | Break Down
- Combat rewards skill.
- In-game Achievements with In-game rewards.
- Save Anywhere.
- Pretty good Music.
- Too many (skippable) tutorials.
- Couple of game-ending bugs (later patched).
- On the easy side after skill floor is reached.
- Hard mode only playable after completing the game.
A big winner for this game is portability. You can pick it up and put it down whenever you want, anywhere you want. Dream Team doesn’t suffer the problems that some games (like Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days) have where it simply would have been better on a more powerful console. If you purchase Dream Team, I suggest you go to the e-shop and download the v1.1 update to fix some game-ending bugs.
Dream Team | Rating
Easily the best in the series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team kept my attention and made me want to keep playing. I intend to finish this game and possibly work on post-game content. The number of tutorial segments wane as the game goes on but even without the tutorials, veteran gamers will find a decent challenge that tapers off as your characters get more powerful. A highly focused character build ruins some of the difficulty of this game.