Mario doesn’t have just one RPG franchise up his sleeve, in fact he has three of them, but only one has stayed exclusive to Nintendo’s handheld platforms. AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was one of the most celebrated RPGs on the Gameboy Advance, while both Partner’s In Time and Bowser’s Inside Story were also highly praised in general. From messing around with the space-time continuum to spelunking in Bowser’s… insides, this RPG franchise has always had a taste for the weird and wonderful. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. takes the trademark wackiness to another level by exploring the dreams of Mario’s younger brother. But are sweet dreams made of this, and should you be the one to disagree?
When Princess Peach’s entourage receive an invitation to take a holiday to Pi’illo Island, they are met with a rather unorthodox welcoming party which culminates in finding treasure hidden deep within the island’s castle. As they wonder what this item is, Luigi decides to take the pillow-like treasure and take a nap, which opens a portal to his dream world. Unfortunately for Peach, she gets kidnapped by a malevolent force called Antasma, who was previously sealed away by the ancient Pi’illo folk. While the game keeps momentum right from the get-go, character interactions rarely stray from their stereotypical nature, apart from Luigi who certainly feels like the star of the show. Even Antasma feels like an undercooked two-dimensional villain when compared to Bowser, who plays to his stereotype more in this than previous titles of the series. In fact, the entire narrative points out just what made Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story so compelling: Bowser being made the star of the show and up against an equally captivating villain in Fawful – who makes no appearance in this game!
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. excels in the audio/visual department by having a clean and vivid style that feels refreshingly familiar. Sure, Antasma is a bit of a dud, but every other inhabitant is packed with bags of character. In the real world, exploration and battles feel similar to previous instalments down to almost every single detail. Both Mario and Luigi’s entire move set are bound to specific buttons, meaning that you will always know what button to press for whichever brother you are controlling. In battle, knowing when to time your attack is essential, but knowing when to dodge and counter is critical. Some enemy tells are blatantly obvious, but working out the more complex ones and responding to them is hugely rewarding. Boss battles too require a great amount of perception, even requiring you to look beyond your opponent for clues about their attack. When you level up, you can allocate a random boost to one of your stats in addition to the normal gains; while every so often you’ll be able to choose a perk that allows for a bit of personality for each of the brothers.
But in the fantastical world of dreams, things get rather interesting. While Luigi is sleeping, Mario is accompanied in his reverie by Dreamy Luigi – a more dashing version of himself. He’s also greatly enhanced as he is able to interact with Luiginary Works that can make him create a stack of clones. You can also directly affect his dreaming state by blending him into the background of certain locations, before touching the touch screen to affect his real-life counterpart. Each dream takes on a 2D perspective, similar to how Mario and Luigi got around Bowser’s body, but battles introduce brand new effects. Dreamy Luigi combines with Mario to power up his attacks with Luigi clones, but also with brand new Luiginary Attacks that utilise the 3DS’ gyro controls and button combinations, making these battles unique. Giant battles return, with brand new moves that fit the Dream World theme. Out of all the new features introduced, the dream world itself is the highlight of the entire game.
But aside from one or two tells from enemies, the game rarely feels taxing. Part of this is due to how quickly you can get rich from simply battling everything you see, while the actual quests feature an embarrassing amount of hand-holding. The number of times when the game feels it has to explain a new move in the open world is astounding! The amount of collectables is also pretty extreme, ranging from excavating beans to assembling puzzle pieces for brand new Bros/Luiginary moves. Confusingly, one of the more interesting collectables is a mini-game piece to allow you to construct pictures for rewards. Badges on the other hand are able to be bought for cash that grant stackable uses of a special perk. However these are just a tad too powerful, making most battles just a mere stepping stone. At least you have Expert Challenges, which range entirely from not getting hit a number of times in one area, getting Excellent Hits a certain number of times in one area, landing Excellent hits with a Bros/Luiginary attack and not getting hit in a battle against a type of enemy. This makes grinding – training that is usually dull and tedious – rather fun, as you have a goal besides “get to level X”. This is a long RPG as well, clocking in at well over 25 hours, rivalling the likes of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for duration, but it just doesn’t have the legs to maintain enthrallment for the entire period.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is a solid, long RPG that comes with a bit of awkward hand-holding. Its level of quality is slightly inconsistent because of the dullness of the real world exploration portions of the game and with the overarching narrative not having decent characterisation, but there is more than enough for you to look forward to. Entering the dream world and exploring it is a blast, with all manners of Luiginary-based inputs to use. But compare it to the masterpiece that was Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, it just doesn’t hold up as well. While it unfortunately isn’t the highest point in AlphaDream’s Mario RPG franchise, it isn’t worth losing sleep over.