The Mario & Luigi RPG series got its start back on the Super NES with Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. A sequel was supposed to be made, but was ultimately turned into Paper Mario on the N64, which eventually would go on to spawn several sequels of its own with the latest being Paper Mario: Sticker Star
which I reviewed a while back. However, in 2003 Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was released on the Nintendo DS which became a series of its own, and in my opinion could be looked at as a true successor to Super Mario RPG. Ten years later we have the fourth game in the series and the first on the 3DS: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
The story begins with Princess Peach receiving an invitation to take a vacation on Pi’illo Island…and for the record, this is the first of many sleeping-related puns in this game. As the escort ship takes off, a mysterious purple figure comes aboard and attacks the party, resulting in a cable snapping on the ship and it begins to plummet out of the sky…and then Luigi wakes up. I’m not even joking, that’s how the game starts, though you really did make the trip to the island, it’s just the part with the purple figure and the ship falling was all in Luigi’s head. After making your way to the castle, the fun begins.
After doing some minor sightseeing you’ll be shown a video from Professor Snoozemore about the history of Pi’illo Island and the mystery as to what happened to it. He also mentions a treasure deep within the castle that people have been searching for. As Peach steps onto a platform to examine further, it automatically takes off and transports her deep in the castle’s ancient hidden area. Mario and Luigi set off for the Ancient Hidden Area in search of Peach. After finding Peach and the “treasure”, this is where the meat of the game begins.
If you’ve played past games in the Mario & Luigi series then you’ll be familiar with most of the game’s basic mechanics. Battles are done in a traditional turn-based style, you can use either jump or hammer attacks (once you have access to a hammer), you can use Bros. Attacks which are special attacks performed by both Mario and Luigi at the same time, and you can jump and use your hammer to dodge or avoid enemy attacks. Ranks and badges make their return here as well. At certain experience levels you’ll gain a rank. You begin at Mushroom rank and can eventually go all the way to Rainbow rank. Each time you level up you’ll get a small bonus to each stat except for Stache and you can apply a random bonus amount to any one stat. However, when you rank up you can pick from a permanent bonus that can’t be changed. You begin with seven choices, but higher ranks give you more options. These can range from increasing how much a stat goes up when you level up to giving more experience when you win a battle to even giving you an extra armor slot to equip an accessory. However, you can only rank up four times for each brother so choose wisely.
As for badges, they work similar to how they did in past games. As each brother attacks, a gauge on the touch screen will start to fill up. Once both badge icons meet you’ll get a badge effect stored in a badge slot. You start the game with two badge slots and the effect all depends on which badges you have equipped. When you first get access to badges the effect they can give will let you regain thirty percent of each bros. max HP. Given the fact that using a badge effect doesn’t waste your turn, that’s incredibly useful at the start of the game. Add in that one of the rank up bonuses you can give each brother is the ability to add one badge slot and it gets even more useful. Different badges have different effects, so it’s all about what kind of effects you want to use.
Now you might be reading this and wonder to yourself “why is this called Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
”. Well, remember how at the start that Luigi was dreaming when the ship crashed onto Pi’illo Island? Believe it or not, Luigi dreaming is a major mechanic of the game. At many points in the game you’ll be able to enter Dream Portals where you’ll basically see what goes on in Luigi’s head when he sleeps. However, you won’t be alone as you’ll be accompanied by Dreamy Luigi, Luigi’s…um…dream counterpart for lack of better term. It’s hard to fathom how this goes with the story without completely spoiling it, but as you get to the end of the Ancient Hidden Area in Pi’illo Castle at the start of the game it’ll become much clearer, but this is where Luigi really shines.
While in the dream world you’ll occasionally see different background objects that suspiciously look like Luigi. These are called Luigianary Works and allow Dreamy Luigi to transform into various things. This can be anything from making a stack of multiple Luigis that can hover across large gaps to turning into a tree that will help Mario reach new heights, or even change gravity. There are many ways that Luigi can help Mario in the dream world, even growing huge on occasion for a giant battle. You’ll be using many different Luigianary Works throughout the dream worlds, and they’re actually pretty fun to use since some of them involve interaction with the touch screen, such as scratching Luigi’s nose to make him sneeze and cause background objects to move into the foreground, or even rotating him on an inner-tube to change gravity and get to different areas. The battles themselves work a bit differently here. You won’t be able to attack directly with Luigi, but when Mario makes an attack either by jumping or with the hammer, multiple Dreamy Luigis pop out to add on some extra damage, and you can also learn new team attacks that can only be used in the Dream World.
While there is a lot to like about Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, there are a few things that leave me scratching my head. The first of these are the save blocks. It’s been a while since I’ve played any of the past Mario & Luigi games, but I know that at least in Super Mario RPG you had save blocks in various places that allowed you to save your game. There are also RPGs that allow you to save just about anywhere, or at the very least on a world map. Dream Team pretty much allows you to save anywhere by touching the Save icon on the touch screen. However, there is also the occasional save block floating around. Maybe I’m missing something here, but if you have the ability to literally save anywhere (except battles obviously), then why would you need to use the save blocks? I’m not sure if maybe you can unlock a harder difficulty or something that removes the option to save anywhere or something like that, but it just seems really unnecessary to have both the save blocks and the ability to save anywhere.
Another thing that kind of got to me, though it’s just a minor nitpick, is a similar complaint I have about several games in the Mario series as of late, and that’s the ability to make the game easier if you fail. I will say this much, at least it waits until you fail to activate an easier option (and I never used it so I have no clue what it does), but it gets better. When you die in a normal RPG you go back to the last time you saved. In Dream Team however, if you die in a battle you’ll restart from that same battle, seemingly regardless of whether you saved or not. I get that they want to tailor the game to a younger audience, but at the same time it would have been nice to have a difficulty selection of sorts (I know, not really the norm for an RPG). Maybe a normal difficulty that only gives you save blocks and returning you to the blocks when you die in battle, and then an easier difficulty that restarts you from the battle and lets you save everywhere.
Beyond that though, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is a very solid game. A while back when I reviewed Paper Mario: Sticker Star, I believe I mentioned that it was probably my least favorite game in the series (though I haven’t played Thousand Year Door yet), mainly because they changed how battles work and that if you don’t have enough stickers to get you through a battle, you’re basically screwed. With Dream Team, they kept the same formula from past Mario & Luigi games and it works. While some people may think it’s more of the same, I think of it as “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. Would I say it’s one of the best 3DS games to date? It’s definitely up there. I do feel it’s a tad on the easy side, but then again the target audience for Dream Team is probably a bit younger than that of Fire Emblem: Awakening. However, if you enjoyed the past Mario & Luigi games, you’ll likely enjoy this one. It can definitely take a while to get through despite how easy it can be for the most part, but it’s an enjoyable ride.