Saturday, 14 September 2013

Review: Mario & Luigi - Dream Team (3DS)

Thoughout Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Luigi's characterization as a lazy, bumbling, incoherent moron that's merely worthy of being a sidekick (barely) to his brother Mario, a glory hog if ever there was one, is insulting if not an outright character assassination.

Even in games that ostensibly star Luigi, like Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, he's a scared and reluctant hero, with only as much bravery as his insecurity will allow to make something of himself in comparison to his fearless brother. In that respect, Luigi's a sad sack of a character, which explains why in his dream state Luigi's the exact opposite.

While some of us dream about flying or besting monsters while towering over a busy metropolis, others dream of teeth falling out; Luigi becomes a bit of a demigod, able to multiply himself and exercise power and dominion over the dreamscape in a way that Mario cannot.

The trouble starts when an uninvited blimp arrives in the Mushroom Kingdom and an offer is extended by a stranger to visit Pi'illo Island. For some inexplicable reason, everyone climbs aboard. Lacking any suspicion that accepting a lift from a stranger to an unknown land -- "Hey, kid! Hop in my van! I'm going to get candy!" -- could lead to danger or being buried alive is a little disconcerting given the past history of Bowser kidnapping the Princess at every opportunity. There's some protest by Toadsworth after getting on the blimp but otherwise everyone goes in blind and hopes for the best.

After crash landing on an Pi'illo Island, a place with a mysterious past, it's quickly discovered that things are not as they seem and suddenly Bowser appears, which surprises a) everyone that hasn't played a Mario game, ever, and b) all the characters in the story.

It would have been a damn shock for Wart to appear, who last appeared in North America in 1988's Super Mario Bros. 2. At least that character was trapped in a dream! It would have made some sense for him to make some kind of appearance but it seems Bowser's contractual obligation to screw things over for the Mario Bros. trumped the reappearance of another villain that has never really been given his due.

Given all that, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team falls into a good rhythm of turned-based battles with some interesting puzzles to solve. As with the previous Mario & Luigi games of this ilk, there's a great progression of earning new abilities, acquiring character bonuses and upgrades, and gradually more complicated puzzles and paths through the environments. The aspect that separates Dream Team from the previous games is the trips into Dream World, where Mario is present physically, while Luigi is unconscious in the real world and projected into the fantasy realm, which allows him access to all sorts of powerful moves and abilities. Early on the player is taught that Luigi can "possess" certain areas. When he's in possession, interacting with Luigi's sleeping face on the lower screen has direct results on the upper screen. Grabbing his moustache, Luigi can fling Mario to higher areas. Scratch Luigi's nose and his Dream World projection sneezes a tornado. During battles it's not uncommon to see Luigi's pour from above onto enemies. It's raining men and they're all Luigis!

Dream Team is a power fantasy for Luigi and that tends to comes across at every turn so much so that when the pair is in the real world, it's less interesting to battle and explore. The Dream World is a more interesting place to be.

Developer Alphadream hasn't done much if anything to modify or change the overall role-playing aspects of the game. Mario and Luigi still collect badges, coins, clothes; buy things; level-up, etc. and the way that comes together feels really comfortable, especially if you've played any of the other Mario & Luigi games.

The battles have changed up a little with the shift to a "baseball" view for kicking turtle shells (and a few other attack/defense options) during battles. With the 3D turned on, it looks really cool, but it's still similar to the same kind of attacks that we've seen from the side in previous games, though I will admit riding a snowball of Luigis toward an enemy target is pretty cool.

The sense of timing and swiftness required to really capitalize on each round of attack (and defense) is still important; the player has to pay attention even if the motions remain very similar to past games.

Even though Luigi plays a central role in Dream Team, I'm remain unconvinced that he'll ever get the respect he deserves. He possesses a very special power -- to open portals to Dream World -- that Mario will never posses, but Luigi still gets short shrift. Even at the end of this lengthy and great adventure, Luigi remains in the shadow of his brother. It's a video game travesty that has gone on far too long and will be repeated time and again, unfortunately.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Great adventure with some great graphics and music
- Some clever writing
- Luigi kicks ass
- Dream World is a fun place to explore
- Being able to save my game anywhere

The Bad:
- Stop trying to explain every little damn thing to me!

Score: 9.0 / 10