The moustachioed heroes return to their own bizarre world away from all that platforming; in the process they remind us all that irreverence and silliness still have a role to play.
The Mario & Luigi RPG series is perhaps a bit of an oddity, onto its fourth entry with this 3DS debut but not necessarily the most well-known or revered of franchises. Mario & Luigi Dream Team Bros. is unlikely to get the same push as a title like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, but it's a well-crafted experience that arguably deserves that attention, as AlphaDream once again blends its brand of craziness with solid gameplay.
As this is a franchise that's settling into an extended run, there are constants from its predecessors that underlie the core of Dream Team. Mario and Luigi are controlled together, sharing movement with set moves assigned to A and B respectively, so mastering the thumb mash of both is vital when platforming with both brothers. It's a dynamic that allows for enjoyable tactics in the overworld, such as forming a ball to bounce above high obstacles, yet it's the battles that shine.
As expected, enemy encounters spin off to a turn-based battle arena, and core attack, dodge and defence moves are executed with standard controls. It's the Bros. Attacks that have helped to define the series, as each sibling has unique moves discovered throughout the campaign. They're entertaining to watch, with the two heroes combining in amusing ways to pummel enemies; while some are executed with a good-old timed button press, others incorporate subtle motion controls. It's a first for the series - thanks to the 3DS' capabilities - and surprisingly it works well; the option to switch the 3D off temporarily for these moves is both welcome and recommended.
You Snooze, You Lose
It's the jump into the Dream World that represents the most notable new idea here, replacing the adventuring inside Bowser's body in its DS predecessor. With a setting called Pi'illo Island and age-old creatures shaped like pillows - of course - requiring rescue, Luigi's propensity for regular snoozes serves him well. The 'other' brother is truly the star in this title, as the most intriguing ideas and sequences revolve around him.
After the relatively sensible overworld environments, the Dream World stages represent that vital change of pace. Environmental puzzles abound in the form of Luiginary Works, of which there are plenty, that are activated and typically controlled by manipulating the dozing Luigi on the touch screen. I never tired of tickling his nose to prompt a sneeze, but more creativity resides in changing gravity, initiating powerful fans and more. When the Green One celebrates a new Luiginary form with a smile and raised arm on the bottom screen, while still asleep, it's a moment of unremitting charm.
Better still are Luigi's battle skills in this alternate reality. The Dreamy Luigi that follows Mario in these areas is a confident, go forward self-representation, rather charmingly indicative of how he wishes to be, and in battles he morphs into Mario to boost his standard attacks. Luiginary Attacks are, like the overworld Bros. Attacks, a greater highlight, as dozens of Luiginoids combine to produce a giant hammer, ball and more. It's pleasing to accumulate a sufficient character level and tally of Bros. Points to deal almost exclusively in these special attacks, as they bring visual flair and unabashed fun to any tussle.
The same applies to the giant battles, in which the 3DS is held sideways - either way depending on your preferred stylus hand - and moves are controlled with a combination of touch screen swipe gestures and gyroscope-based motion. These drop the charming pixel-art of the main game in favour of polygon visuals with an attractive sheen; unlike previous entries, the engine allows dynamic, dramatic face-offs that are a highlight of the experience.
When you combine the core mechanics and new ideas, this is a title that consistently delivers, with a setting and storyline that refuses any hints of earnest seriousness, but which nevertheless coaxed me along. Part of the charm is interacting with neurotic personifications of the likes of Bowser, who's always a standout, while new villain Antasma has suitably slapstick characteristics.
Concessions to support newcomers, such as an Easy option after failing a battle, are welcome but undermined by the hints of over-indulgence by AlphaDream. With the campaign clocking at roughly 40 hours, its momentum is top notch for a decent proportion of the whole, but some drawn out scenarios may disengage those without patience, which is a pity. Never has a game so successfully duped me as this did at the finale, meanwhile, teasing me with "one more battle" at least half a dozen times. Even with some unnecessary padding, however, the time playing this game mostly passes in a blink, as if dreaming the hours away.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team successfully picks up on the improvements of Bowser's Inside Story and adds its own twist with the Dream World. Effortlessly humorous and endearing, with tight mechanics and lovingly crafted visuals, it delivers a lengthy and light-hearted adventure for 3DS owners to savour.
- Hefty story mode that lasts around 35 hours
- Variety of Luiginary Attacks and Luiginoids
- Charming visuals which bring the world to life
- Some drawn-out scenarios
- Not the best use of 3D
- The overworld stages are quite dull compared to the Dream World