As of a few days ago, Mario & Luigi Dream Team was released in Europe, giving me the chance to play it through to the ending. It had a tough job following up on Bowser’s Inside Story (thanks to its predecessors high quality in general), and some people were skeptical it could. After all, other recent Mario games were a bit disappointing…
But now I’ve played it, I can safely say it is most definitely a worthy follow-up to the previous Mario & Luigi games, with a level of quality and gameplay depth that makes even the best elements of the last few games pale in comparison. So here’s my review of it at last, Mario & Luigi Dream Team (Bros).
The first thing to mention here are the graphics of the game. Yes they’ve got a 3D look to them rather than the cartoony sprite style of the first few games. But damn, they look amazing.
Above: Mario & Luigi Dream Team’s visuals are utterly fantastic, and work really well.
The colours are vibrant, the backgrounds and settings are full of detail, and the characters even have a range of unique sprites for just about every possible scenario. As far as converting the series look to 3D goes, Dream Team succeeds brilliantly.
Musically, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is absolutely amazing. No really, it’s arguably got one of the best soundtracks of any Mario game going, and one which is even better than that from Bowser’s Inside Story.
The boss battle themes? Epic. The normal one is good enough…
But then things like the giant battle theme or a certain villain’s boss theme blow even THAT away:
There’s also the catchy and overly dramatic final boss theme, but obviously I can’t spoil that too much.
Normal music wise, this game is definitely an improvement too. The dream world much is suitably upbeat and catchy with a weird feel that has to be heard to be believed, and each normal area has a memorable theme that fits it perfectly. And the character leitmotifs are catchy too…
All in all, it’s an amazing soundtrack with not a single bad song included. And refreshing too, given how many Mario games with bland, generic music we’ve been given in recent years (New Super Mario Bros, Mario 3D Land, etc). The music here is great.
On to the gameplay now, which I can say is pretty much the best RPG gameplay around.
Of course, on a gameplay level… this isn’t your typical RPG game. Expecting a glacially slow turn based game where enemies stay still while you attack them and any done in return is unavoidable? Or where the most ‘action’ you ever have is walking round an overworld map? Well that’s not this one. In fact, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is arguably the most dynamic, interesting RPG you’ve ever seen.
For one thing, there are two interesting ‘worlds’ to explore here, the real one and the dream one. In the real one, Mario & Luigi have to use special abilities like the spin jump, ball and Mole Mario to access different areas and solve puzzles. Like Superstar Saga or Partners in Time to be honest, to the point it’s arguably more like a platformer outside of combat. It’s also got some rather interesting and original location ideas, like the bizarre muscle based Mount Pajamaja or the creepy and mystical Somnom Woods, the home of the Pi’llo civilisations lost temple and deity.
Above: The forest area is a fantastic place to explore in the ‘real’ world.
But this just pales a bit compared to the dream world, where all rules of logic go out the window and literally anything can happen. The view changes to a side on one, the gameplay changes to that of a 2D puzzle platformer (like Bowser’s insides in the last game) and Luigi suddenly gains mystical powers that can interact with the environment. Like possessing the sun and causing the temperature to change based on what happens in the real world. Or flipping gravity in four directions Super Mario Galaxy style. Heck, at one point, he can even speed up and slow down time to let Mario pass obstacles!
Add how the level design goes absolutely nuts with crazy labyrinth style designs and the presence of monsters fought in large hordes rather than individually, and the dream world part of the game is absolutely fantastic.
Above: This is the most normal Dream World screenshot around.
Combat is where the game truly shines though. Up to now, Mario RPGs were basically just turn based battles mixed with quick time events in the form of action commands. Oh sure, Mario and Luigi could jump or hammer things away and what not, but it was still basically just one very well-timed button press. Not this one. For starters, many normal enemy attacks actually let you move around freely when countering, so you can take into account depth as well as height. But then you see things like enemies that chase you into the screen while firing missiles and laser beams in your general direction, or enemies that you have to hit by firing into the background, and you realise that combat in this game is far closer to that in an action RPG rather than just your typical turn based title. And the final battles of the game are even better, to the point the last Antasma battle makes you sometimes forget what genre you’re playing while in the middle of it.
Above: An example of a dynamic action sequence.
Above: This battle is cool enough you forget you’re even playing an RPG at some points, it’s that dynamic and action packed.
Did I forget Bros attacks/Luiginary abilities? Yeah, these are another interesting part of the combat system. In the real world, Mario & Luigi can team up with special attack items like a helicopter helmet or a rideable star, and then beat what amounts to a quirky mini game using the gyro sensor or the like to do massive damage to an enemy or boss. In the dream world on the other hand, Mario teams up with an ARMY of Luigi clones to do massive damage with some clever dream strategising, leading to things like him riding a ball made of them or using a bunch of them to form a giant sledgehammer to send down on foes. It’s absolutely hilarious, and makes the battles literally ten times more enjoyable as a result.
Above: This is the kind of wackyness that Bros Attacks and Luiginary attacks consist of.
There are also giant Luigi battles, where Luigi has to become a giant via the power of dreams and take down wacky foes that you’d never have expected to see. And wacky is pretty much the best word for these things. A volcano that comes to life and tries to smash you to a pulp? Okay then, time to fight it with the 200 foot tall plumber and sledgehammer! Or how about that battle with the island’s GOD/guardian? That’s sure something to experience, with your foe even opening dimensional rifts and flying through portals in zero gravity while Luigi gives chase. Oh, and if you thought they were a bit… easy/non dynamic in Bowser’s Inside Story… well, you’re in for a surprise here. The giant bosses have about ten different attacks each, multiple new forms and weaknesses that have to be exploited by cleverly using the gyroscope and touch screen to block their attacks and counter. It’s far more strategic, far more action packed and honestly, awesome enough that Nintendo should probably just make a spinoff game based around the mechanic already.
Above: Believe it or not… this is the easiest, most BORING of the giant Luigi battles…
So really, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is by far the most impressive, entertaining Mario RPG ever made on a gameplay level. You literally can’t play it and go back to the older titles without thinking something is seriously missing in them.
Now normally, this isn’t really worth commenting too much about when it comes to the Mario RPGs, they’ve always got a ton of content and replay value anyway. But believe this, Dream Team outdoes every single one for both main single player adventure length and optional content.
For starters, the main quest up to the final boss has got to be at least 35 hours long minimum. That’s pretty much the longest main adventure in Mario game history (not that there’s much competition there, Mario games are usually quite short anyway) and it’s only a best case scenario estimate. Seriously, 35 hours is roughly what you’d take if you plowed through the game non stop, sort of like what I did. And it’s also assuming you don’t mess up or get stuck too often.
Above: I’ve played this game for over 40 hours, and it’s still not 100% done.
Which is probably not true of most people. For one thing, there are quite a few sections in this game that are a tad confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing, so anyone trying to beat it without a guide (such as say, anyone in Europe since IGN and GameExplain seem to be under Nintendo of America embargos) is likely going to spend a good few extra hours running around kind of aimlessly trying to figure out what to do next. This is especially true of Neo Bowser Castle and its random doors…
Additionally, the game is actually damn hard. Indeed, of all the Mario RPGs ever made… this is probably the toughest by far. Thought Paper Mario 2’s battles were hard? God help you here boyo, some of these boss battles make those ones look like a walk in the park (thanks to the complex counters needed to block attacks, huge enemy health and paper-thin defences of the Mario bros). In fact, if you have absolutely any trouble with action gameplay whatsoever (aka happen to be a very traditional JRPG fan), the boss battles here will utterly destroy you. That guardian in the forest? Will basically rip poor players in half if they’re not careful. Those later giant Luigi battles (think the last three or four)? Can easily be a major, major difficulty spike if you’re not good with the touch screen or gyroscope controls. Heck, even Big Mastif in Dreamy Wakeport could ruin someone’s day if they’re not prepared to fight him. Add some mini games and challenges that really do require high precision and the fact Giant Luigi bosses seemingly can’t be skipped and don’t take your stats into account whatsoever, and you’ve got a game that can easily cause hours of difficulty hell past the dream mountain area. In fact, that giant Luigi volcano boss is pretty much the best marker of where the difficulty goes up and generally stays there, so you’d better be prepared to practice and put the effort in. That could add another ten or so hours for a mediocre gamer.
Above: He isn’t kidding either, this boss can be annoying as hell to fight in either the Battle Ring or main adventure.
But even outside the main ‘quest’, there’s a lot to do in this game. You’ve got mini games to perfect, picture puzzles to assemble and solve, Pi’llows to find across the kingdom, items and gear to collect… and some rather nice challenge modes called the Battle Ring and the Mad Skillathon. The former is basically the Gauntlet from Inside Story (complete with a giant Luigi battle boss rush), the latter a bunch of Bros item challenges that put your reflexes to the test. Both are way, way harder than they sound.
And once that’s all done… there’s hard mode. Haven’t tried it yet, but apparently it was brutal enough the game’s producer failed the tutorial. And that enemies do a ton more damage than they already do, with faster/harder to dodge attacks still… That’s gonna add a good few hours even for the best players, especially given how the basic game on normal mode is already one heck of a challenge to beat.
So for length and replay value, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is a fantastic game with plenty of both elements.
Yeah, weird choice of category I know. But hey, the humour in the Mario RPGs is arguably as important as the gameplay (as the backlash against Paper Mario Sticker Star shows), so I thought people ought to know whether this game lives up to its predecessors on a story/writing level.
The answer? Yes it definitely does live up to its predecessors on a story and humour level, even if some people online seem to be skeptical.
For one thing, it has a really neat new villain in the form of Antasma, Known as the Bat King, this mysterious baddie was apparently the reason the ancient kingdom fell and has the power to attack those in the world of dreams as well as reality. He’s got an intriguing design based on all the previous Mario RPG villains in one (someone even said that this is intentional, given his concept as a living nightmare), a way of speaking taken straight from old Dracula movies and a personality which strikes just the right balance between ‘menacing’ and ‘having any character’ (unlike say the Shroobs or Dark Star). So at least it isn’t Bowser as the only villain again.
Above: Antasma is an awesome new villain…
Talking of Bowser, he’s handled pretty well here too. Whereas Paper Mario and the first few Mario & Luigi games made him a complete joke and Sticker Star made him a mindless brute, Bowser in Dream Team manages to both be pretty darn entertaining to listen to AND an actual credible threat at the same time. And while I won’t spoil what happens, he gets at least one moment near the ending which actually shows him as more competent than the new bad guy. That’s nice for someone who tends to get beaten up by whatever villain is new on the block in the other games.
Above: But Bowser is portrayed really well here too!
But even outside of the villains, the story is handled extremely well and the characters are kept interesting. Starlow and Dreambert are given personalities and are generally nowhere near as annoying as you’d expect (especially the former), Bowser’s minions from the last game return and get actual lines and a major plot role, the people on the island all seem to actually care about the main storyline and kind of worry when the world goes to hell and every inch of the script is filled with self referential gags and mocking of RPG cliches (one notable scene has the shop keeper literally charge past the duo right when the final dungeon lands to set up a shop outside)
It’s also filled with great shout outs and nods to the past games, complete with numerous major characters either appearing or being given cameo roles in the form of name dropping or pictures. Popple returns, Kylie Koopa returns, the Beanbean Kingdom people return… heck, you even see pictures of the Shroobs and Queen Bean at one point in the game, as well as Broque Monsieur’s obvious major role. It’s pretty much a Mario & Luigi fan’s dream game character wise.
Above: Characters from past games reappear, like this familiar one here.
So story wise, Dream Team is as good as any of the previous Mario RPGs and actually feels like a successor to Bowser’s Inside Story.
Overall, Mario & Luigi Dream Team is a brilliant game. It’s got great graphics and music, a wonderfully inventive combat system and dual world gameplay and maintains all the great jokes and humour found in the previous three games. Definitely worth a purchase if you’ve even the remotest interest in Mario in general.