GAME NAME: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros.
RELEASE DATE(S): July 12th, 2013
From Superstar Saga on the GBA to Bowser’s Inside Story on the DS, developers AlphaDream have always found clever ways to imbue their Mario & Luigi RPG series with elements that challenge the status quo of your typical JRPG adventure. No random battles, attacks that rely on precise timed button presses and stories that never take themselves seriously; you won’t find any forced melodramatics or spiky-haired teens decked out in zippered clothing here.
What you will find is lovingly constructed characters, satisfying gameplay mechanics and innovation which seemed to previously culminate in near perfection with Bowser’s Inside Story. So with their latest entry, Mario & Luigi Dream Team Bros., have AlphaDream managed to strike gold once again? We’ll get to that in a bit.
Bowser’s Inside Story had the incredible hook of mostly playing as Bowser, while you’d occasionally switch to controlling the moustachioed brothers traversing his innards. A hard premise to beat to be sure, but if there was any worry that the creative well over at AlphaDream was exhausted, those worries are confidently put to rest as early as the tutorial section. In a section that provides charm, humour and menace in equal measure, the game guides you through the basics of the combat system and sets the tone for one of Mario & Luigi’s most imaginative adventures yet.
The fourth game in the series starts off in the Mushroom Kingdom but soon changes things up when Princess Peach and co. are invited by the mysterious Dr. Snoozemore to visit the equally mysterious Pi’illo island. (Oh, the puns, the puns are glorious!) Toadsworth is rightly concerned about this sudden invitation (from complete strangers, no less) but, for the most part, his fears fall on deaf ears, and they’re soon escorted by blimp to Pi’illo Island. Upon their arrival however, the island’s proprietor, Dr. Snoozemore, is notably absent. Things eventually go south with Princess Peach sucked into a dream world by the bat-king Antasma, a brand new villain in the franchise. To say much more would spoil the many surprises the story holds along the way, although I will say that the narrative progression is decidedly different to what you’d expect from a Peach-kidnapping, and I mean that in a good way.
Filled to the brim with a colourful cast of characters; a script that easily maintains its pointed sense of humour right to the end; and a battle system that manages to constantly surprise you with neat little touches and clever enemy designs. The game starts a salvo of fresh takes on existing ideas that pummel you on an impressively consistent basis. The hook here being the Dream World – a place Luigi is found to be on a similar wavelength with – and you’ll be switching every so often from the real world to the Dream World to collect petrified Pi’illo citizens that often hold the key to advancing the plot.
While the brothers have their own unique set of moves in the real world, the Dream World is where things get interesting. Dreamy Luigi is able to perform Luiginary Works – essentially being able to possess certain structures or items in the Dream World, where Luigi’s sleeping face on the bottom screen can be scratched, pulled or twisted to interact with the dream environment. Pull one end of his moustache for example, and a (decidedly Luigi-looking) bushy branch in the dream world will obey your movements, acting as a catapult for Mario to those hard-to-reach places.
Combat in the Dream World plays out differently too. You’ll be controlling Mario “imbued” with Luigi’s power where Luiginary Attacks instantly follow Mario’s actions, and this provides a slightly different level of strategy than what is required for the real world battles. There are even unique Bros. moves, like throwing a ball of Luigis using the 3DS’ gyroscope into a clump of enemies. It’s refreshing, unique and above all else, tons of fun.
The button presses, again, rely on precise timing in order to deal maximum damage, while much of the strategy relies on which attack to use on which enemy or enemy stance, while also learning each enemy’s tell and how they telegraph their attacks, and who they’re targeting. Boss fights often introduce new ways of spicing things up and the interactivity of the battle system means you’ll always be engaged, and always kept on your toes. Again, discovering every little surprise by yourself is what make these moments all the more memorable, suffice it to say, there will be instances where you’ll say, “Holy crap, that was AWESOME!” These are the sorts of moments that will remind you of why you fell in love with video games in the first place.
Puzzle Pieces also make a return; collect all 10 in a specific area and unlock a unique Bros. combat move. There are stat beans to collect, upgrading your gear, finding hidden stone pillows with additional Pi’illo citizens to rescue, combat challenges that net you powerful gear, photo puzzles to solve, towns to explore, a Boss Rush mode to unlock – the list of things to do and collect goes on and on. It’s a sprawling, diverse journey through multiple locations, featuring a crazy, often hilarious cast of characters in a carefully crafted adventure. It’s also a game where Luigi is given the spotlight (Year of Luigi indeed), and AlphaDream did an amazing job of giving him the screen-time he deserves – Luigi fans are in for a real treat with Dream Team Bros.
So to come back to my initial question, yes, AlphaDream has struck gold once again, only this time, the vein is a little richer, more colourful and contains a wealthier stream of ideas. The 3DS gets another gem in its already substantial library of quality software titles with Mario & Luigi Dream Team Bros. You’ll laugh out loud, whoop when you obliterate a boss, marvel at the creativity at work and ultimately feel disappointed when it has to end. The best RPG on the 3DS to date, Dream Team Bros is fantastic.