- Editor's Rating
- Intelligently utilizes the 3DS' full control scheme
- Wonderfully odd characters
- New and engaging mechanics
- Focuses on a forgettable narrative
- Pacing is too slow
Quick TakeA muddled story and slow pacing can make Dream Team difficult to get into, but once players invest enough time, they'll find Dream Team to be a unique title that proves this old franchise still has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Luigi’s head gently rests atop an overstuffed pillow. His simple features coalesce to create a calming expression that provides a stark contrast to the actual situation at hand. As our gangly green hero sits there in a peaceful slumber, his confident and more capable brother, Mario, embarks on daring contest deep within the recesses of Luigi’s mind.
There, Mario finds himself in an unusual situation; no longer the lone hero, he must turn to his younger, often overlooked brother for help. Unhindered by the restrictions of physics and logic, Luigi’s inner manifestation of self–affectionately referred to as Dreamy Luigi–conjures forth an army of clones to aid his beloved brother.
Having completed the impossible, a joyous smile slowly creeps across Luigi’s face as his arm inches upwards in an emphatic, albeit silent celebration. Luigi cares not for playing the hero, but he is ecstatic to finally be of use to his long admired older sibling.
It’s a subtle occurrence, one that could easily be overlooked as the player’s attention is drawn towards the top-screen, where most of the game’s action takes place. But there on the bottom screen, in a brief and completely insignificant moment, Luigi perfectly encapsulates what makes this game both a joy to play and a frustrating disappointment.
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a cruel temptress. The game flirts with interesting themes–briefly examining the relationship between the two brothers and Luigi’s role as the second fiddle–but ultimately the game defaults back to the same simple template that has shaped the majority of this franchise. There’s a princess, a villain, a distant utopian kingdom and, of course, our heroes. The location has changed along with a few of the key players, but this is the same story and most of us already know how it ends.
Mario and crew find themselves on Pi’illo (Pillow) Island after receiving an invitation to visit its renowned vacation resort. As expected, the brothers can’t simply enjoy their stay. Soon after landing on the island, Princess Peach–Mario’s long-time boo and perpetual damsel in distress–manages to get herself lost and becomes hostage to Antasma, an ancient evil force lying dormant on the island. Upon facing this evil, the brothers unearth the forgotten indigenous people of Pi’illo Island, a civilization of pillow-like creatures.
To battle Antasma, a being that is able to freely traverse between the dream world and the physical realm, the plumbing duo need to enlist the help of these living pillows and utilize Luigi’s affinity for taking naps. Once Luigi falls asleep upon one of these poor pillow denizens, he’s able to transcend into the dream world and open a portal in which his brother can follow suit.
The premise is fantastically ridiculous, but the game fails to utilize its potential. It would have been great to see Dream Team follow the same vein as beloved platformer Psychonauts, using the dream-verse as means to gain perspective on Luigi and the island’s inhabitants.
But it doesn’t do that. Instead, the dream world simply serves as a means to introduce new mechanics, while allowing Luigi to unleash a few new tricks along the way. While the dream world does give birth to some excellent gameplay moments, it fails to live up to that action or the oddball characters that reside within it. The dream world could have further contextualized the world, helping to provide meaning to the somewhat shallow story, but it ends up just being another level 1-2.
It may seem a bit rough to be so critical of Dream Team for its narrative. The Mario franchise has never been known for its storytelling, and it’s not uncommon for titles within the series to incorporate the same tropes and narrative. However, those games also don’t offer hours of dialogue and narration focused on the story.
The first two to three hours of Dream Team are primarily filled with long-winded blocks of dialogue aimed at developing the world. Dream Team certainly isn’t the only RPG to do this, as many titles to start off slow building the foundation of a world, which will later provide the framework for a larger story to be told. But that larger story never comes in Dream Team. There is no payoff. Antasma has no real impetus for his actions, the world never feels threatened, and our heroes fail to face any real adversity.
While the overarching story is rather dull, the game is not without its charms. Filled with wonderfully stupid puns and over-the-top characters, Dream Team is sure to offer more than a few laughs. Plenty of characters will steal the spotlight away from our heroes; such as the Massif brothers, two alpha males that love lifting weights and talking excessively about beef products, while also looking like pair of cafeteria steak nuggets. The odd display is just as out of place as a piece of low-grade steak in a breaded crust, but unlike the ill-conceived cafeteria contraption, players will want another taste after their run-in with Dream Team’s eccentric inhabitants.
As with most Nintendo titles, Dream Team really shines when focusing on the gameplay. Comprised of one part platformer, one part turn-based RPG, along with a few quick-time events sprinkled into the mix, Dream Team continues to perpetuate the series’ unique take on the traditional role playing game.
Admittedly, Dream Team still falls prey to the cardinal flaw that plagues most RPGs: its learning curve starts at a snail’s pace. The first few hours of Dream Team don’t offer much in the way of strategy or challenge; players only have only a few moves at their disposal and enemies quickly falter after a few hits. The game’s active battle system, in which players complete timed button prompts to avoid enemy attacks and receive bonus attack damage, manages to spice up the game’s slow start.
However, with only a few enemy types populating each area, it doesn’t take long for players to quickly memorize the attack patterns and corresponding button-prompts needed to master combat. Luckily, by then the brothers will have begun amassing special joint attacks, known as “Bros. Attacks” in the real world and “Luiginary Attacks” in the dream world.
Similar to normal attacks, these special attacks require players to complete a button prompt to reach their full potential. However, the prompts for special attacks prove far more demanding, often requiring players to use a unique control scheme (such as the 3DS’ tilt controls) or input a series of button prompts in rapid succession. With each special attack costing BP points (the game’s mana resource), players will have to use these moves sparingly and make sure to succeed on the prompts to be effective in combat.
While the traditional battle system can become quite formulaic, Dream Team quickly deviates from the norm with memorable boss battles and mechanic-oriented puzzles littered its 40-hour long journey. Here the game makes sure to take full advantage of the 3DS’ multiple control schemes. Players will furiously mash buttons, swipe the stylus with careful precision, and even turn the device on its side as a super-sized Dreamy Luigi engages in hand-to-hand combat with a giant mechanized dream robot.
Many of these sequences prove to be a one-time experience, as Dream Team bravely discards them in favor of trying something new. The game is constantly taking risks and offering new detours to keep players enthralled throughout.
But for all the risks that Dream Team is willing to take, it’s unfortunate that the game shies away from actually focusing on Mario and Luigi as characters. The Mario brothers have been featured in so many games, but seldom as characters. Often the pair is seen as simple avatars; they’re there to jump through pipes, spew fire balls from their hands and leap higher than any human has a right to. They are machines devoid of feeling, only driven to find the princess that unfortunately is in another castle.
Interestingly, Dream Team does breaks away from that construct and look at Luigi as an actual character, even if it’s just for a split second. Luigi is the quintessential sidekick, and much like the best friend in a romantic comedy, he’s there to offer comedic relief. Dream Team even falls back on this ideal, as Luigi is often portrayed as clumsy, and the whole idea of him being a hero because he’s prone to snoozing at inopportune times is a joke onto itself. But underneath all that, Dream Team shows a festering vulnerability; Luigi battles with insecurity, questioning his abilities, and his place alongside his brother, a well-established hero.
Unfortunately, this brief introspective is just that: brief. It’s an aside that quickly gets swept under the rug in favor of more fireballs and comedic screw-ups. Perhaps the most damming thing about Dream Team’s quick foray into Luigi’s character is how interesting it is in comparison to rest of the game’s content. While Dream Team’s odd collection of peripheral players are charming, most players care most about Mario and Luigi; that’s why they play these games, that’s who they want to learn about. Regrettably, the likelihood of Nintendo messing around with the identity of one its most iconic characters appears to be slim to none. That may be one risk that proves too great for Nintendo to tackle.
It’s hard to recommend a title that takes more than four hours to become enjoyable, but those who still enjoy the plumbing duo will likely want to give this game a shot. In a market where Mario games are all too prevalent and homogeneous, Dream Team proves to be a unique title that is unafraid to take (some) risks.