15 years ago, you'd go to the store, spend hours laboring over your "new game" decision and tear open the cellophane in the car so you could check out inserts, cartridge art, and The Almighty Instruction Booklet. The developer created the world you were about to enjoy, and his word is law, and it is written in the instruction booklet. That was our ritual growing up. My brother and I would trade the box and the booklet, make note of each button's use and any plot information, and by the time we reached the floor in front of our oversized wood entertainment center, we were well versed in everything we needed to know before playing the game.
Now, developers ensure you don't get lost with detailed and, more importantly, playable tutorial sequence. Press A to jump, yeah-yeah, we know all that crap, but as games get bigger, so do the gameplay systems. It's an natural way to include more people in our favorite hobby. In fact, some tutorials are so well-disguised that you're too engaged by the narrative to notice you're actually learning something. Unfortunately, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team makes the mistake of vastly over explaining its relatable and friendly brand of RPG gameplay ultimately equating to a nap on the ride back from the store.
I have to wonder if the effect is intentional! Mario & Luigi games have appeared on three separate Nintendo handhelds and recently told the inside story of a fire-spitting reptile who normally drives the conflict. On Pi'illo Island, you'll be chasing Princess Peach through a series of dreams… or are they nightmares? The Pi'illo Folk has been trapped in nightmare crystals for centuries thanks to an evil force, and that force kidnapped Peach during one early Dream World jaunt. Now you'll have to dive into Luigi's dreams to free the Pi'illo and rescue Peach. While this sounds like a compelling setup, the execution is excruciatingly slow, with frequent interruptions and copious amounts of funny-accent dialogue creating a clog even the most skilled plumbers would struggle with.
Dream Team's incessant instruction and self-celebratory dialogue feel painful and keep you from enjoying the gameplay more than they enable it. The developers, Alpha Dream, may have been playing too much Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Thankfully they've retained the franchise's signature "active" battles. Once you've engaged an enemy on either 2D or 3D maps (more on that in a second), you enter battle. Mario's evasive and attack-emphasizing is assigned to A, and Luigi to B, even if it is the Year of Luigi.
Timing your inputs is easy to learn, difficult to master, and new enemies will force you to cycle and stay fresh for every new test. You can't stomp your feet on a spiked opponent, right? Mario and Luigi are outfitted in gear named "So-so boots" or "Acceptable overalls" so you'll have to keep that in mind and destroy all manner of Pi'illo wildlife with the appropriate attack. Combat is only one mechanic, and there are several kinds of gameplay within the Dream World.
While the overworld is fully modeled in 3D (with some of the handheld's best glasses-free depth), the Dream World operates in 2D and, as you're actively jumping around in Luigi's brain, Dreamy Luigi stands in for the other brother with a batch of unique platforming abilities. Luigi-trees slingshot Mario with mustache branches, as a gust from the Luigi-vortex waiting in the background pushes question mark boxes forward for Mario. Even better, battles let you multiply Luigi by the hundreds and gather him up for devastating effect.
Rolling up a huge ball of Luigis by tilting the 3DS from side to side and crushing the enemy with an enthusiastic mashing of the A button feels great. You can aid the brothers in battle by activating power badges on the touchscreen too. The first you get lends health in a pinch while others add attack power and more. The Dream World (as weird as it seems to abandon the well-made 3D over world for classic Mario-brand side-scrolling) proves to be inventive and entertaining, once you've cleared the massive tutorial hurdle. Even the cast of Atlus's Persona 4 would think they had had enough of the explaining.
I like using the touchscreen to manipulate Luigi, and any game that lets me flip the DS sideways and interact with just the touchscreen in fun ways scores points with me, but I couldn't stand another second of chattering dialogue. My A button may have fallen off, but digging deep enough, getting lost in Dream Team's topsy-turvy worlds, results in satisfying mechanics as usual.
You'll want Leo to come strutting in and deliver sweet release at some point. Even viewed from Luigi's subconscious lens, which turns a groundskeeper into a rabbit-chasing, lawn-loving fiend early on, many characters drone on without fail. There's a lot more to enjoy in Dream Team than this review might suggest, but you'd have to sit through a lot more exposition than this in-game.
Fans of the series will find more to love than the rest, but Paper Mario 3D allows players of all levels to get to the point a lot faster. Though Dream Team has one of the better 3D effects, in both 2D and 3D gameplay, you're more likely to shut your eyes than cross them. There are hours of entertainment for patient players willing to read and giggle at silly accents, but I'd rather explore Bowser's dreams instead.
Copy provided by publisher. Exclusive to 3DS.