For all the guff Luigi's gotten over the years in Mario role-playing games, it was about time he got shown some love. Sure, all those jibes about Luigi's weight, his inferior jumping skills, or his less-than-handsome moustache are still very much a part of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team--and very funny they are too. But now Luigi gets to be the hero, even if it's only in his dreams. Dream Luigi can be 100ft tall; duplicate himself hundreds of times; stack himself high to crush enemies; manipulate the environment to guide a hapless Mario around; and yes, be far more handsome too.
Luigi's newfound abilities certainly provide the wow factor that draws you into Dream Team, but it's the tight combat and irreverent take on the Mario universe that keeps you coming back for more: this is one seriously enjoyable game. For every puzzle solved, there's a great reward that follows. For every well-timed foot stomp during battle, there's a glorious explosion of colour and sound to accompany it. And for those moments when it all gets a bit too serious, there's a bizarre moustachioed French cube there to lighten the mood.
It's the combat in particular that's great here, mixing, as it does, traditional turn-based commands with the timely button presses of a platformer. While there aren't a terribly broad array of attacks, the absorbing nature of the battle system more than makes up for a few missing fire spells. Time a button press just right during a stomp attack and Mario flies through the air for a second bounce. Do it again and you deal a heap more damage. Do the same for a hammer attack on the apex of the backswing and land a "Fantastic" rating for a super-powerful strike.
Special Bros. attacks call for some deft timing too. Fire a red shell at your opponent and expertly alternate between buttons to land blow after blow as the shell bounces back and forth faster and faster between Mario and Luigi. And if you nail that all-important final kick, you're rewarded with an eye-popping display of colour as your opponent is launched into the air and drops back to terra firma with a mighty thud. Even the defence is all about the timing as you watch for tells that indicate an upcoming attack so you can quickly leap out the way of an incoming projectile, or bat away a pesky punch with your hammer.
So far so familiar then. But like previous games in the series, there's a twist to proceedings. Bowser's Inside Story let you play as the grand villain himself, while Partners In Time gave you two sets of brothers to handle. Here you explore the dreams of the Pi'illo people, a bunch of inordinately cute pillow-shaped people with a penchant for taking naps that have become trapped in a dream world and turned to stone. They're scattered across Pi'illo Island, and--thanks to Luigi's uncanny ability to fall asleep at will--you enter the dream world via Luigi to free them from their stony imprisonment.
Unlike the isometric 3D view assigned to the bright and colorful waking world, the dream world harks back to Mario's roots and takes place on a more subdued but no less pretty 2D plane. There you're paired up with Dreamy Luigi, a handsome, more charming version of himself with a diverse set of powers that are used to solve cleverly designed sets of puzzles. For instance, Luigi can turn into a cloud, and by rubbing his nose on the touch screen while he sleeps, you can cause tornados to blow in the dream world that move out-of-reach platforms.
Or you can have Luigi possess a tree, turning his moustache into a set of hands that can fling Mario high into the air. You can also create multiple Luigis that form into a rather wobbly-looking stack that can topple over gaps to push giant switches, or compress down and spring up to leap high into the air. Later, you can even form a pseudo helicopter with those Luigis and hover around levels by navigating passing air flows, all while avoiding giant stone fists that send you crashing back down to earth. And, while the puzzles aren't especially taxing, the intriguing Luigi powers are lots of fun to use.
Dreamy Luigi also changes up the battle system. Rather than the brothers fighting separately, Luigi's powers are absorbed into Mario's. A simple stomp turns into a shower of damage-inflicting Luigis. A hammer attack pounds the ground with multiple hammers, and is ideal for taking down the larger mobs that populate the dream world. Even cooler are the special attacks, which see you tilting the 3DS to build up a ball of Luigis Katamari-style and then launching them with an explosive kick. The tower stack is back too, only this time you build it up gradually by leaping onto separate groups of Luigis. Timing is crucial here, because each wonky landing causes the tower to become unstable and parts of it to collapse, resulting in a less powerful attack.
Tying the combat together is a story that's suitably charming and cheesy in equal measure; it aims for silly and hits it dead on. For a world as bright and colourful as that of Pi'illo Island, it's an ideal fit, and a far cry from the saccharine melodrama of your typical J-RPG. It helps that the cast of characters that populate the island are just as bizarre as the wisecracking French cube Broque Monsieur, and are all too happy to make fun of poor Luigi--particularly his lacklustre moustache--as you explore the island. And there's little that can prepare you for Big and Little Bro, a pair of macho bean brothers with a muscle obsession and a talent for some wildly inappropriate use of the word "beef".
Such an eclectic set of characters makes exploring the colourful Pi'illo Island a joy. You want to uncover every nook and cranny, and speak to every character, just to hear what wacky joke they'll come out with next. You're often rewarded with a neat trinket or piece of gear for doing so too, or sent on a fetch side quest for even greater rewards. And while fetch quests certainly aren't the most inventive way to bulk out a game, the wacky setups and funny dialogue make them far more entertaining than most.
The main story quests are a more diverse affair. You might have to free an agitated maintenance man trapped in a pipe by ratcheting up the water pressure with a one-armed-bandit, or freeing two giant Pi'illo people from the dream world so they can smash through a gate in the waking world. One particularly neat puzzle sees you smashing rocks along a train line, using Mario and Luigi's hammers to activate a roaming drill on the track at just the right moment.
The classy combat and quirky characters combined with a levelling system, ranking system, gear to upgrade, and collectible badges and puzzle pieces that offer up new powers make Dream Team a rich RPG. It's also laugh-out-loud funny, even more so if you're a fan of Mario games thanks to some wonderfully self-aware jokes. And while the core combat system and feel of the game remain largely unchanged from previous games in the series, the dream sections with their Luigi-based silliness add just enough to keep things feeling fresh. Mario & Luigi Dream Team is more refinement than reinvention, then, but boy is it a lot of fun.'