Since deciding to review video games on this blog, I’ve covered a lot of violent ones. I’ve played titles in the Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil series: games featuring guns, explosions, zombies, guns, death, nuclear weapons, and guns. Heck, I’ve played more violent video games in the past year alone than in all the years that came before.
It’s high time for something quirky and colorful. After so many gritty games, it’s time for a title that’s a little more… dreamy.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team for the Nintendo 3DS the latest in a series of offbeat RPGs (role-playing games) starring a pair of portly plumbers. Mario’s RPGs are generally something special, and I hoped Dream Team would be no exception.
Does it play like a dream? Is is a nightmarish mess?
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team may not be the greatest Mario RPG ever made, but it’s superb… and strange. It’s very, very strange.
When Mario and Luigi fly to Pi’illo Island for a restful visit, their vacation is disturbed by Antasma, a creature who haunts the world of dreams. Led by the prince of the ancient Pi’illo people, the Mario bros must rescue Pi’illo Island. They have one advantage: Luigi’s ability to nap anywhere allows him to open portals to the dream world, where things get weird.
Mario games are always a bit strange, but Dream Team is absolutely ridiculous. This is a game in which pillows talk, bizarre monsters roam freely, and Russian-accented bodybuilders obsess over beef—and all this in the “real” world. When the Mario bros dive into the dream world, it gets positively trippy. It’s a place in which timeless spirits talk on cell phones and geek out over superheroes.
The Mario RPGs have an unfair share of charm, and Dream Team is absolutely no exception. The setting is colorful, the characters are whimsical, and the dialogue is endearingly goofy. Dream Team is bright, absurd, and occasionally heartwarming.
Sadly, for all its strengths, the game doesn’t have much of a story. RPGs are often defined by strong narratives, and Dream Team doesn’t really have one. It’s a game whose story consists mostly of a series of objectives to be completed. I also lamented the lack of Fawful from previous Mario & Luigi games. His overenthusiastic villainy and mangled English were delightful, and his absence makes Dream Team a tiny bit less special.
Two’s a Crowd
Like the games before it, Dream Team gives the player separate, simultaneous control of both Mario bros. It takes a little practice, but controlling two characters allows for some engaging puzzles and battles.
The battle system is probably the game’s greatest strength. RPGs are built around strategy-based fights. Dream Team continues the Mario tradition of adding rhythm and timing to strategy. Instead of merely punching in commands and watching the battle unfold, the player must use timely button presses to attack and dodge. Battles, which so often become a chore in RPGs, are consistently fun.
I say consistently, not constantly, fun; a few of the tougher fights are frustrating. Casual players may appreciate the option for an “Easy” mode for boss battles. Without it, a couple of fights (especially the very last one) are unfairly tough.
Dream Team also features “giant battles” in which Luigi grows to colossal size in his dreams to take on huge foes. These battles look cool and use the Nintendo 3DS in innovative ways… but also take way too long, demand perfect timing, and allow practically no margin for error. It was hard to appreciate the giant battles when they made me want to smash my younger brother’s Nintendo 3DS against the wall.
The “real” world in Dream Team is built as an isometrically-viewed RPG. The dream world, however, is viewed horizontally like a traditional Mario side scroller. Switching perspectives is refreshing. Even battles function differently in the dream world. As Mario dives into Luigi’s dreams, the slumbering Luigi is replaced by dream versions of himself. “Dreamy Luigi” can multiply himself to do all sorts of trippy things, from stacking up to rolling around in a ball. It’s surreal, and kinda awesome.
Although it can be frustrating at times, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is upbeat, engaging, and fun—and bizarre in the most wonderful ways.
After so many grim games with guns, it was nice to enjoy something lighter, brighter, and altogether more cheerful. I expected charm and whimsy. I wasn’t disappointed. What I didn’t expect was talking pillows and beef-obsessed bodybuilders, but that’s just icing on a very sweet cake.