The game begins with Mario and co traveling to Pi'illo Island, where sleep is the name of the game. And, of course, it's not long before things go awry and the dynamic duo of Mario and Luigi set off to save the world from a new evil. It starts off very similarly to the other games, but it works, especially since the game does such a good job of pulling off the "tourist destination" feeling. Pretty much every major "race" in the Mario mythology is represented here, even the people from the Bean Bean Kingdom of the first game, which is a subtle touch that winks to longtime fans of the series.
The issue with it is that, despite the strong sense of place, the story isn't quite as strong as, say, Bowser's Inside Story. In that game, Fawful, the main villain, was arguably the star of the show; his dialogue was absolutely hysterical, and he was gleefully maniacal in a way that was perfectly suited to the overall tone of a Mario RPG. In this game, we are merely told about the villain and barely see him. The same goes for Bowser; the number of times they each appear in the game can be counted on one hand, and, as a result, the overall story suffers from it. I never got a sense of who the main villain really was. Outside of some lore about an ancient battle, his personality merely comes from his strange accent. Granted, the story is still enjoyably goofy, filled with lots of funny characters, but the lack of a really strong villain character brings it down when compared to the other games in the series.
Thankfully, the game excels in other areas. For one, this is easily the best looking game in the series. It combines the almost Claymation style from the original Super Mario RPG with the cartooniness of previous M and L games into something that is, simply put, dazzling. The animation is also top notch; when Luigi defeats an enemy, he gives a little pump of his fist. Little touches like this give the game a ton of personality. This effect is compounded by the 3D; the game makes great use of this feature. Beating a boss and watching it explode into a fountain of colors is satisfying, but it's downright incredible when these colors are jumping off the screen at you. Add some solid sound effects and great music on top of this, and you have one good looking and sounding game.
The reason that the series has so many fans, though, is that the battle system is a fusion of both old school, turn based games and the skillful timing of ARPGs. Basically, when Mario or Luigi attacks, you need to press their buttons at a certain time for maximum damage. For instance, if you jump as Mario, you need to press the A button right before landing to jump again; pressing it at just the right time again will do even more damage. This simple system of timing your attacks just right works just as well in previous games, if not better. It's a fun, intuitive way to keep the player engaged. That's because, without proper timing, you are not going to do very well in this game. Every single enemy attack can be dodged or countered in some way. The tradeoff is that enemies do more damage per hit than in other RPGs. On one hand, this means that you could theoretically make it through the entire game while avoiding damage. On the other, it constantly keeps you on your toes.
Of course, the Bros Attacks from previous games make a return. These are mini games where you do more damage based on how well you perform. For instance, the first move you learn has Mario and Luigi kicking a Koopa shell, bouncing it off enemies. Your job is to press the right button at the right time so the proper Bro kicks it. Fail to do so, and you will end the attack early. The moves in this game have a good variety to them, and many make great use of the 3DS hardware. One of my favorite moves in the game has you tilting the system back and forth and timing your jump to catch a propeller hat, then aiming the Bros over an enemy and drop kicking them. This adds a layer of depth to the battling, and makes late game encounters much more interesting since you need to be paying constant attention for maximum damage.
At certain points in the game, Mario enters Luigi's dreams. These are side scrolling, much like traversing Bowser's innards in the previous game. When you're in the dream world, combat is much different. Instead of fighting using both Bros, Mario is the only fighter and Luigi supplements his attacks with his doppelgangers. Use the basic hammer attack, and Mario will pound the ground, sending a bunch of Luigis into the air, where they pound the ground and send a shockwave that damages all the enemies. Additionally, enemy encounters are almost always hordes. It's not uncommon to fight twenty enemies or so in a single battle. The dream sequences give combat a lot of variety; fighting in the real world and the one in Luigi's head each have very different feelings to them. Plus, enemies attack differently, which helps keep things fresh.
And, instead of Bros attacks, you can perform Luiginary attacks. Each one uses the numerous Luigis in different, and often amusing ways. With one attack, you'll need to balance a giant hammer made of different Luigis, making sure you don't drop any as more and more pile on. In another, you'll need to guide a giant Luigi ball to hit more Luigis; the bigger the ball at the end, the more damage you do. These are incredibly fun to perform, since they both look awesome and do tons of damage.
There's more to the dream sequences than fighting, though. Each area brings a new kind of platforming challenge. These are where the Luiginary works come into play. Each one does something different, and is used by doing something to the sleeping Luigi on the bottom screen. With one, Dreamy Luigi possesses a windy gale, and you tickle his nose to cause him to sneeze, which brings objects into the background into the foreground. The areas slowly get tougher over the course of the game, although never become too tough, mainly because you always know exactly what you need to do. They are still fun to play around with, but the fact that you never really have a choice as to how you use them is somewhat disappointing.
Occasionally, in the dream world, you'll need to fight a giant boss. Here, Luigi grows to the size of a skyscraper, and you need to interact with the touchscreen in various ways to win. These fights are fun, for the most part, and entirely skill based. Giant Luigi has a set health bar regardless of level; the key to victory is in the timing of your attacks and counters, and how you use the environment to your advantage. The bosses are always visually impressive, although one of them is a complete pain to fight. I won't go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but it requires you to use the 3DS motion sensor again, and it can be a real pain to use. It makes the fight quite frustrating.
The regular boss battles, are, thankfully, consistently fun. Each one always feels appropriately challenging, without feeling too frustrating. They always have a pattern to learn, and mastering it in conjunction with Bros Attacks can make short work of a foe. Often times, the 3D effect is actually beneficial, too. The added depth can help to time the counter of an attack that's coming in from the background.
Outside of battle, you can explore for the various hidden collectibles. The game has quite a few, such as beans that give stat bonuses. Hunting down everything in the game is quite addicting, although it won't take too long thanks to a helpful checklist. There are also a few other side tasks, like a boss re battle mode, or finding all of the hidden pictures around the game world.
There are some flaws, though. Near the beginning of the game, there are tutorials for just about everything. While you can skip some of them, sometimes the game forces you to sit through them. For people who have played other games in the series, it's incredibly tedious to have to be schooled on how to play the game. They become less prevalent as the game continues, but they are still an issue. With every single new power or move, there's a tutorial. None of the game mechanics are terribly complicated, so adding the option to skip every one would have been welcome. Additionally, the pacing suffers a bit near the end when it sends you on an extended fetch quest that spans the entirety of the overworld. Granted, it does take you to new parts of the game you haven't seen, but it still comes off as an excuse to lengthen the game. Finally, I personally felt there could have been more things to do outside the main story. While there are a few side quests, it feels like a wasted opportunity to not work in some side plots like in the Paper Mario games.
Still, the good more than makes up for the bad. The exciting and fun battle system, gorgeous production values and goofy (albeit slightly disappointing) story makes this a game worthy of the Mario and Luigi pedigree. As long as you don't mind taking your RPGs with a dose of un- seriousness, this game is worth checking out for both fans of the series and of the genre. So long and thanks for reading.