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Review: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Don't sleep through this one, lest thousands of angry Luigi descend upon you.

By Jack Taylor – 16 September 2013
Reviewed on Nintendo 3DS (code provided)

Do you ever wonder what Luigi gets up to while Mario's out dealing with Bowser? Probably nothing, which is why we sort of feel sorry for the poor chap. Mario usually gets to have all the fun, while all Luigi can do is stay at home and pick up the mail; even when he's out and about with Mario, it's usually playing golf or attacking people in karts. It isn't a hard life, but we imagine it can be quite dull, and can more than likely lead to a fair bit of daydreaming. As it turns out, all those days of dreaming have paid off, as in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros., Luigi plays one of his most important roles to date: he has to sleep for a very long time.

At the very beginning of the game, as you would expect, pretty much everything is fine. The gang is taking a little excursion to the mysterious Pi'illo Island on the personal invitation of its administrator, Dr. Snoozemore. It seems like a nice vacation for Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toadsworth with just a dash of royal visit thrown in for good measure. Thankfully for us - though not so much for anybody else - this soon changes as Peach is kidnapped by the evil bat king, Antasma, who has returned to the world after unexpectedly breaking free from imprisonment. Mario and Luigi are tasked with travelling across Pi'illo Island to find out how to locate Antasma, as well as unlocking the secrets behind the mythical Pi'illo folk.

Mario & Luigi is one of the most-loved Mario series, merging well-known Mario characters and settings with classic role-playing aspects and plenty of good humour. Dream Team Bros. is the fourth title in the series and the first for Nintendo 3DS; it launches in the Year of Luigi, a celebration of Luigi's 30th anniversary in which the green-clad chap is getting a fair bit of the spotlight all to himself. It seems fitting that a new Mario & Luigi title should launch now, then; not because Luigi deserves more of the spotlight, but because the series is, in ways, based around Mario and Luigi being equals in battle. The pair share the same attacks, have roughly the same strength, and will cooperate in terms of Bros. Attacks, for which both brothers join together to perform the same unique attack.

Dream Team Bros. takes place in the overworld of Pi'illo Island, a vibrant and varied landscape with lush parks, steep mountains, bright beaches and sandy deserts. That's a lot of different terrain for such a small place, but Mario often finds himself in such places when he's off adventuring in role-playing games (he knows this subconsciously, we're sure of it), and it's fair to say that Pi'illo Island is far larger than the world map would have you believe. Areas are all split into smaller sections, which makes collection easier for anyone who doesn't like leaving an area without picking up everything on offer, and the interactive map on the touch screen is also split into sections as a result. As with previous games in the series, Mario and Luigi will travel around the island's many areas to collect items, battle enemies, find and talk to people, learn new skills, and plenty more besides.

There are plenty of items to collect as well, all of which are kept track of within the menus. You'll often come across various bits of gear - boots, hammers, miscellaneous apparel - to equip to Mario and Luigi, thus boosting their stats in battle. Gear can also be purchased and sold at most shops for a price, though since coins are fairly easy to come by, you won't find yourself strapped for cash all too often. You'll also need to keep hold of more useful items, including battle items and beans, the latter of which will enable you to provide small but permanent stat boosts to the two brothers. There are a finite number of beans to find, and the menu provides a handy list of how many there are in each area, along with how many you've already found.

Each brother has similar movesets in the field and in battle, while the pair will often learn new moves together or one very shortly after the other. Mario is controlled using the A button, while Luigi is controlled using the B button; as the action buttons, these are used to jump, attack with the hammer, and carry out special paired moves in the field including the spin jump. The pair can jump on enemies or attack them with the hammer in battle, though some enemies, such as airborne or spiked enemies, might be unaffected or resistant to certain types of attack. Also available are more powerful Bros. Attacks, which can be difficult to pull off but can result in massive damage.

Battles are a key part of Dream Team Bros., as they are in any role-playing game, because they allow Mario and Luigi to gain experience and level up, strengthening their stats and offering useful extra boosts along the way. By defeating enemies, the pair will gain experience points - different enemies offer different amounts of experience points - and by reaching a certain number of them, their levels will increase by one, improving their stats in hit points, power, speed, and so on. As well as fighting enemies using attacks, Mario and Luigi are also able to use certain items collected throughout the game to deal damage to a single enemy or to multiple enemies at once; other items, such as mushrooms, nuts and syrups can be used to heal the pair's hit points and Bros. Points while in battle.

Bros. Points, often referred to as BP, are required for the brothers to use their special Bros. Attacks in battle. These are far more powerful attacks which deal more significant amounts of damage, though it does come with a limit of sorts, as more powerful Bros. Attacks will need more Bros. Points to work. The first Bros. Attacks you'll learn are the 3D Red Shell (for Mario) and the 3D Green Shell (for Luigi) attacks, in which the pair kick a Koopa shell between them for a while before the colour-coordinated brother finally sends it off into the distance, hopefully embedded in the face of one of your enemies. More powerful attacks will require more Bros. Points but will also be more difficult to pull off, so you'll be pleased to hear the game will let you practise each Bros. Attack as often as you like in the menus. They'll be key in many of the boss battles, so it's important to get a rhythm going to make sure you always have plenty of Bros. Points to hand.

The real world action in Dream Team Bros. is complemented by the Dream World, a significant part of the game and its sleep-based storyline. As we've already touched on, Mario and Luigi will come across the story of the Pi'illo tribe in the game, and this myth plays a large part in how Mario and Luigi access the Dream World. Luigi is somehow able to open a gateway into the Dream World by falling asleep on special pillows, thus enabling Mario to enter and interact with said world. Luigi will obviously be staying in the real world, so Mario will be joined by Dreamy Luigi, a version of Luigi who exists only in his subconscious; Dreamy Luigi is essentially Luigi's self-seen version of himself, only taller with a far more impressive moustache. Mario will almost always set off into the Dream World with a specific task to complete, so once he and Dreamy Luigi have completed that task, Mario will return to the real world.

Unlike the real world, the Dream World is effectively a two-dimensional side-scrolling landscape, though it's not as left-to-right as Mario's usual sidescrollers; though it does still follow a set path from beginning to end, there will be items to collect and enemies to defeat along the way, as well as puzzles you'll need to solve to be able to carry on. This might include a larger gap than can normally be jumped, or a platform that's too high to reach, and this is where the fabulous Luiginations come into the picture. Because the Dream World is the perfect place to practice the impossible, Dreamy Luigi is able to call on his friends - all of whom are also Dreamy Luigi - to help, and where necessary, Mario will be able to send messages back to the real world to get the real Luigi to help along too. This might include Dreamy Luigi merging with a tree, for example, and using the branches to hurtle Mario higher up.

Battles are also slightly different within the Dream World; players will only attack with Mario, whose power is increased with the help of Dreamy Luigi, thus allowing even jump and hammer moves to deal large amounts of damage to multiple enemies at once. Instead of Bros. Attacks, Mario can harness the power of Luiginary Attacks, in which many Dreamy Luigi will come together to form some form of metaphorical battering ram, such as a large ball or tower, to take the offensive to the enemies. Much like regular Bros. Attacks, more powerful Luiginary Attacks will require more Bros. Points to use and will be more difficult to master, but will also be very important when battling more powerful enemies.

You'll also be able to make good use of badges within battle to help provide even greater effects for yourself and your enemies. Each brother holds one badge at a time, and the two will connect to provide varying effects; one pair might let you heal 30 HP to each brother, for example, while changing one of those badges might alter the effect and let you heal 50 HP to either Mario or Luigi. Other badge effects also let you deal damage to enemies, and you're able to store up to two completed effects at any one time. You'll complete an effect by filling a badge meter on the touch screen, which you'll do by getting good, great or excellent hits when attacking enemies in battle. You can even switch badges during battles, letting you make use of multiple effects in the same fight - a very helpful option in a sticky situation.

You'll spend most of your time in the real world, but even so the Dream World will take a fair amount of your time, particularly when you get closer to the business end of the game. Fortunately, movement between the two is pretty seamless, and the general design of the overworld is hugely impressive. Despite being more three-dimensional than previous games in the series, Dream Team Bros. still feels very much like a Mario & Luigi game, something which its designers must be credited for; the visuals are of a stunning quality in 3D, just as they are in 2D, so the whole game is nothing short of a vibrant, visual delight, with an excellent soundtrack to boot.

Staples of the Mario & Luigi series also remain in Dream Team Bros., including its sensational dialogue. Every character you meet has their own unique personality, which really comes across through the script, and the dialogue really is excellent - and often, seemingly, the grand design of someone with a rather dry sense of humour, so it's pointless trying to hold back your laughter, as there'll be plenty of it. Luigi is as goofy as he's always been, which makes for some incredibly funny scenes, as does Mario's apparent astonishment at some of the stranger goings-on around Pi'illo Island. Sure, the game would be fantastic on face value even without the humour, but it's that humour which has made the series a favourite with fans.

We've an admission to make: back in 2010, when Nintendo 3DS was announced alongside a list of more than seventy games in development, we were somewhat concerned to see Paper Mario included in the list. This wasn't because we don't like the series - we do, very much - but because Paper Mario has always seemed to provide Mario role-playing games for Nintendo's home consoles, while Mario & Luigi covered the same departments on the company's handhelds. We were concerned for quite some time that Mario & Luigi may not return in the same form, but when Dream Team Bros. was announced on February 14, 2013, we breathed a sigh of relief.

Not only is it wonderful to see the series make its long-awaited return (it's been nearly four years), but it's an absolute joy so see it return in such fantastic form. Dream Team Bros. provides only the finest quality gameplay, with well-thought-out characters, a storyline that's easy to follow and doesn't intrude where it doesn't need to, and yet another hilarious script. This game looks and sounds beautiful, and it's a huge amount of fun to play. Mario and Luigi are back together in fine form - and, boy, are we glad to see them.

Verdict: Very Good

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team