Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is like trying to fall asleep while sharing a bed with somebody who won’t stop asking, “Hey, are you asleep yet?”
Considering how much I loved the original Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and 2010’s incredible Bowser’s Inside Story (the less said about Partners in Time the better), Dream Team should’ve been a surefire hit. Instead thanks to pacing akin to sleepwalking, a length that overstays its welcome, and near-endless dialogue, the game is closer to a nightmare than a blissful dream.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team opens with the Bros, Princess Peach, and her entourage heading to Pi’illo Island for vacation, home to the soft and pillow-shaped Pi’illo people. Of course, once the Bros and company arrive, Antasma, a sealed-away evil, awakens and attacks the island. Once again, it falls to Mario and Luigi to save the day. It’s a sparse plot and definitely one that didn’t need to be stretched to cover more than 30 hours.
Despite all the flaws previously listed, Dream Team isn’t a terrible game. Mechanically, it’s a sound entry in the franchise. Battles are still turn-based with timed button presses that make Mario and Luigi do extra damage, block, or even reflect attacks. At its best, it’s rhythmic and clever. As soon as you learn the enemies’ tells, you’ll find yourself jumping over fireballs and the like with ease.
In fact, players that come into Dream Team looking for a challenge might find the game too easy. By the end of the game—with no grinding required—I had gear and badges that let me recover over 50 HP per turn. If I wanted a greater challenge, I could’ve changed my equipment—that option’s always there—but by that time I wanted the game to be over, so I stuck with it so I could power through the last few areas.
Like in previous games, Mario and Luigi are also able to team up to perform special Bros Attacks. Some of them, especially those used in the Dream World, really show off the design team’s creativity. Whether you’re rolling a Katamari-esque ball made up entirely of Luigi clones at enemies or using a giant slingshot, these attacks add extra dazzle and excitement to the already fun battles.
If battles are where Dream Team shines, the time spent in the Dream World comes in close second. Inside the world of Luigi’s dreams, the game shifts to a sidescrolling perspective made up of kooky distorted landscapes all displayed through a soft filter. It’s a nice representation of the mutable nature of dreams.
In the Dream World, puzzle solving takes over the driver’s seat. By using the 3DS’ touch screen, you interact with the dozing Luigi and change the landscape of the dream. For example, Dreamy Luigi can manifest as palm trees to fling Mario to out-of-reach platforms or fans that blow Mario across the screen. It’s whimsical and dreamlike, however none of the puzzles ever present much of a challenge.
Every time you enter a new area, or sometimes even a new room, you have a variety of NPCs talking your ear off and telling you exactly what to do. Even after 15 hours in, the game continued to remind me how to activate basic mechanics. It’s like the developers never wanted players to be stumped, even for a tiny, tiny bit. It’s handholding to an extreme degree and repetitious in a way that makes Skyward Sword appear streamlined.
This hurts the game by removing all sense of freedom and exploration. You don’t have to try to find solutions to puzzles. The game signposts them front and center. And in case you missed it, more often than not, the characters will tell you. Even if you didn’t, they’ll still tell you.
NPCs talking and talking and talking. That’s Dream Team’s other glaring problem. Having to sit through seemingly endless bits of dialogue kills the pacing and makes the game overstay its welcome by at least half. By the 10 to 15 hour mark you’re feeling fatigued. Then the game tells you to backtrack to all the places you’ve previously been. Another 18 hours or so later you stumble to the finish line rather than striding triumphantly across it.
Oh, and a side note to developers, withholding a fast-travel mechanic for 15 hours and then having a character comment “how useful” it would’ve been to have since the beginning of the game is a cardinal sin. Don’t do it.
Repeat and reiterate are the words all the characters other than Mario and Luigi live by. It’s all part of the game’s desire to make sure you’re never lost, never a tiny bit unsure about how to solve a puzzle. Plus, the script is nowhere near as amusing as Bowser’s Inside Story. The parts with the beef-obsessed, muscle-bound Massif Brothers were the high points, but those parts were the only times the game elicited a laugh or two. Instead, most of the characters and plot are paper-thin and boring.
I didn’t mind the barebones story and emphasis on puzzles and combat over plot in Paper Mario: Sticker Star. My issue was that with a lack of leveling system, fighting regular enemies became pointless and just drained your sticker resources.
I have to guess that consumers reacted badly to the sparse nature of Sticker Star, because Dream Team feels like a shift in the opposite direction, an overreaction nowhere close to finding the middle ground. In this game, you have a leveling system with stats, bonuses, stat-enhancing gear, and a collection of special effect-causing badges, but it gets bogged down by the suffocating characters always hovering over your shoulder.
Trying to craft a just as brilliant follow-up to Bowser’s Inside Story might have been asking too much. However, I can’t help but feel that Dream Team is more of a step backwards than simply a serviceable sequel. The game looks great, the battles play great, but the amount of handholding and overly intrusive, repetitive dialogue turn the game into a chore when it should’ve been as refreshing as a good night’s sleep.
This review is based on a digital of the 3DS game Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.