The title of the latest Mario Brothers RPG game, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, is a play on words. Sure, the two brothers are pretty much the dream team when it comes to rescuing princesses and stomping turtles, but this time out they literally team up to enter the world of dreams ... which is the latest place that Princess Peach has managed to get herself kidnapped to.
The trouble begins when Princess Peach and her court win a free trip to the resort isle Pi'illo Island (pronounced 'pillow', get it?). After a brief but odd journey to the castle that serves as the island's hotel, poor Peach is absconded into the dream world by a mysterious nightmare creature. All is not lost, though, because it turns out that Luigi's talent for nap-taking combined with magical stone pillows allows him to open portals to the dream world. And since it's Luigi doing the dreaming, his dream version has all kinds of special powers; the kind of special powers that the real-world Luigi can only dream about.
When you're in the 'real' world, the game is played from an overhead 3D perspective view. Mario and Luigi move together as a pair, but each has his own jump/action button - the A button for Mario and the B button for Luigi. Since the pair move as if they're joined by a rope tied around their waists, you'll need to get used to pressing both jump buttons in unison or in rapid succession in order to get them onto higher ground. This mechanism is worked into a lot of the game's puzzles as well; sometimes you'll need to alternate jumping between the pair, activate specific Mario and Luigi blocks with the appropriate Bro., or alternate actions between the two as some examples. There are also various enemies roaming around, and touching them will send you to the game's battle screen.
The game's battles play out in the same turn-based RPG/platformer hybrid manner that other RPG style Mario games have in the past, so if you've played any of the previous games you'll be right at home here. In each round of the battle, Mario, Luigi, and whatever enemies you face will each get the chance to perform an action, with the order of play determined by everyone's initiative rating. When it's Mario or Luigi's turn to go, you can select an attack or to use a special item such as a mushroom to heal or revive one of the brothers. The attacks all take a form that are familiar to Mario game fans, such as stomping on the heads of enemies or applying a hammer blow to their noggins. The platforming aspect comes into play in that you can hit the action button during the attack. Time it right and you'll hit for more damage and even get the chance for a follow-up strike. Mistime it and the attack will do minimal damage or fail altogether. When you're on the defensive you'll have the opportunity to dodge an enemy's attack or even counter with a well-timed jump on their head.
Survive the battle and you'll earn experience points for both Mario and Luigi, and when enough points are accumulated they'll level-up RPG style. Their stats such as defense, attack power, and health will increase and you'll have the opportunity to select one stat and add a random number of bonus points to it.
Another RPG aspect that comes into play in the game is that you can equip Mario and Luigi with gear, and since this is a Mario game that gear includes things like boots and overalls. Different gear will provide different stat boosts, so you can customize Mario and Luigi a bit to your liking. The loot and gear system is pretty low key here, though, so it's a nice little aspect to the game but nothing that has even a remote chance of giving a game like Diablo III a run for its money.
Things are basically the same when you're in the dream world, but different. The view changes from the 3D look of the 'real' world to a 2D side-scrolling view that would fit nicely into a classic Mario game. There's also a greater emphasis on puzzle-solving in the dream world, and the fact that Luigi has great powers in his dreams plays a big role in those puzzles. In the dream world Luigi has the ability to possess certain special things and make use of their unique abilities. For example, he can possess a cloud and create wind that blows things around or a tree to use its branches to give Mario a boost to a higher platform. While the dream world action is taking place on the top screen, Luigi will be snoozing away on the touch screen. When the dream version of Luigi possesses something you'll need to mess around with the slumbering Luigi to use and direct its abilities. In the aforementioned cases, to create wind from the cloud you need to tickle Luigi's nose and the branches of the tree are manipulated by tugging on his mustache. It's a clever mechanic that adds an element of mischief to solving the puzzles in the dream world.
Luigi's dream self is also quite the scrapper and so battles in the dream world are a little different than in the real world. When you move to the battle screen you'll see Mario facing off against the enemies by himself, but he's far from alone. Waves of Luigis can appear to sweep across enemies in follow-ups on Mario's attacks or they can coalesce into a ball and roll down the entire enemy mob.
A big part of the fun in the game comes from the dream world levels, and that's due in large to the anticipation of seeing what Luigi will be able to do next, both in and out of the battles.
Conversely, there are a couple of things in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team that prevent the game from being as fun as it could have been. While it tries in many ways to be an RPG, the game doesn't give you any of the freedom you come to expect with modern RPGs. It is as strictly linear as the platform games of old.
More annoying than disappointing is the game's incessant hand-holding. It insists on explaining every aspect of the game in slow and excruciating detail, taking the time to explain things like how to jump to you in much the slow and methodical way you would try to teach a two year old how to wash his hands after dinner. And since the game offers up a number of new play mechanics as you make your way through the game, you're subjected to these lessons even hours into it.
These complaints are relatively minor when weighed against the overall fun and creativity of the game, though, and it's pretty easy to recommend this game to just about every 3DS owner.
Final Rating: 90%. Dream Team could easily have you staying up past your bedtime.