Review: Mario and Luigi: Dream Team

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Poor Luigi. Despite his lithe physique, vibrant green coveralls and a much better coifed mustache than his genetic counterpart, he was relegated to “little bro” status from the get-go. With Nintendo proclaiming 2013 the “Year of Luigi,” you’d think the guy would finally get a break (well, besides the phenomenal Luigi’s Mansion), but no matter how incredibly fun Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is, it continually serves as a reminder that Luigi’s place is in the background. The game itself is genuine – if somewhat uninspired – fun, but the necessary abusing of the green one is a distracting bummer.

As with nearly all Mario games, M&L: DT begins with a threat to the princess (she gets lost in ancient ruins; I know, I rolled my eyes, too). A rescue attempt ensues, and before long Peach is full-on kidnapped by an over-the-top villain named Antasma, a bat with – seriously? – a Transylvanian accent. Antasma escapes with Peach in to a dream world, accessible to Mario only when Luigi takes a nap on one of many stone pillows hidden throughout the game’s setting of Pi’illo Island. Sometimes in dreams, sometimes while awake, the bros. begin an epic quest to rescue Mario’s bumbling sweetheart. And, yes, in the middle of a royalty rescue mission, Luigi finds it necessary to not only lie his head on a stone pillow, but to actually fall asleep, possibly making him the first narcoleptic video game character.

"Luigi, Why-a you sleep? We gotta save-uh the princess! Again!"

“Luigi, Why-a you sleep? We gotta save-uh the princess! Again!”

The best I can say about M&L:DT is that it’s fun. It’s not amazing or mind-blowing or completely addictive, and often times it’s lazy and vomiting with cliché (let me remind you: A BAT WITH A TRANSYLVANIAN ACCENT), but boy is it fun. Levels are laid out nicely, as is Pi’illo Island. Thankfully, the game has a minimal amount of backtracking, and a nice, progressive feel to it (although you occasionally walk screens deep just to hit a dead end, which is sloppy and frustrating). One level has Mario and Luigi driving a drill on train tracks, which is a weird but quick manner of travel, which I appreciated. The map system is clear and reliable, with obvious pathways between screens. Powers and weapons are revealed at a good pace, although the insistence on practice tutorials slows the game’s momentum. I found it easy to keep track of the different types of attacks and how to interface with them. M&L: DT is a strange and welcome dichotomy of easy playability and deep battle content.

Celebrate the Year of Luigi by beating the shit out of the green one so his brother can complete levels.

Celebrate the Year of Luigi by beating the shit out of the green one so his brother can complete levels.

I’m not a huge fan of turn-based battles, but like other Mario RPGs, this one is charming, and I found the battles quite enjoyable (I was happy to grind away). Mario and Luigi fight side-by-side in the normal world, but in the dream world, Luigi (referred to lazily as “Dreamy Luigi”) is visually missing from battle, although he shows up to enhance Mario’s straightforward hammer and jump attacks. You’re also able to deal severe damage by performing a “Luiginary attack” – an offensive move that involves numerous small “luiginoids” banding together to attack a foe en masse. It’s nice to see Luigi flex his muscle here, but Luiginary attacks have limited use. It’s worth noting that, for some reason, Mario has a head start with XP, which, once again, is distracting and nonsensical. During one of my battles, Mario died, and I realized that Luigi was the sole benefactor of XP from the battle, nearly matching his XP with Mario’s. This was a triumphant moment. I’m a real civil rights pioneer.

Giant balls - one of many things Luigi becomes in his incredibly Freudian dreams.

Giant balls – one of many things Luigi becomes in his incredibly Freudian dreams.

The dream world exists in shorter form, and it’s where the old school platforming comes in. As fun as the levels are, they can start to feel a little rote after awhile. Interestingly, even when Luigi dreams, he casts his famed brother in the lead role. Luigi is accessible in the dream world, but he mainly just follows Mario around, staring at the back of his head. At some points, Luigi interacts with the landscape, and through the player poking and prodding his real-life sleeping self – viewable on the bottom screen – the landscape, in turn, interacts with Mario. This is where the game becomes frustrating; it builds so much good will in its gameplay and design, but takes few risks with its presentation and story. I found it incredibly distracting tugging on Luigi’s mustache and scratching his nose because, a.) it’s a lame gimmick, and b.) its purpose is to involve a glorified tertiary character in gameplay. Why can’t I just play as Luigi? Why do I have to stab him with my stylus and use his facial hair as a launching mechanism?

One thing that first party 3DS games do consistently well is their utilization of 3D. I played around half the game in 3D, and tended to flip to the third dimension when a transition occurred that would look interesting with some depth – cut scenes, boss battles and the motif of Mario getting sucked in to the dream world are particularly cool 3D scenarios. It’s certainly not integral to gameplay, but some defensive moves are easier to pull off in the third dimension. It’s funny that the 3D fad seems to have pretty much died out (3D TVs are going to be a punch-line in a couple of years, right?), but Nintendo continues to quietly utilize this function in a great way.

If only more of the game was as inspired as this sideways-turned kaiju battle.

If only more of the game was as inspired as this sideways-turned kaiju battle.

Because Mario and Luigi don’t really speak (or speak clearly, really), their default method of acknowledgement is to jump in unison, triggering the “boing-y” jump sound prevalent in old 8-bit games. They also speak to each other in exasperated Italian gibberish. The game’s dialogue is unnecessary and you’re missing nothing if you skip through it, but I often times paused for these moments of pure sound because I found them so amusing. For as many words as M&L: DT has, it communicates far better through short bursts of sound effects. The music is kind of obnoxious – sort of like an up-tempo lullaby, despite the direness of the situation.

While it’s not terribly compelling, nor is it destined to end up a classic Mario title, M&L:DT is certainly fun, and packs far more than a fair amount of content for its $40 price tag. It becomes routine and it drags in spots, but the game gets by on charm, cuteness, and tricky battles. Hopefully next time around, Luigi’s dreams are a little more self-centered.

 

Final Rating: 7.0/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Nintendo 3DSXL
Time to completion: N/A – 7 hours logged
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: $37.99
Current Price: $39.99
Recommend Purchase Price: $34.99 seems reasonable. The amount of content is enormous, but for casual gamers can be a turn-off, and end up shoved in to a back log.
Why you should buy it: Level design and battle are a blast; contains a ton of content.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You are overly analytical and see through gimmicks; you want the Year of Luigi to actually give Luigi his due; you are stifled by 20+ hour games.

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About S. Matthew Bauer

Visiting my first seedy video arcade at age four, there was a good chance I would end up a felon. Instead, I became a geek. Maybe the grouchiest writer at the site, I am confused by such modern developments as online multiplayer, achievements and paying money for avatar skins, and am perfectly content playing platformers on my 3DS (although single-player shooter campaigns on my PS3 keep me plenty busy). I’ve written professionally (and unprofessionally) for the past decade, which gives me plenty of time watch just about everything on Netflix Streaming, and cook mediocre meals for my family. I am happily and luckily married to an adorable, brilliant nurse, and we live with our inconspicuously geeky ten-year old daughter and beagle-pug mix in Minneapolis. If you ever meet me and want to see me never stop vomiting, play the theme to Home Improvement or a Rusted Root bootleg.