If you’ve ever done any games reviewing, you’ll know that there’s no better way of sucking the fun out of something you like than churning out copy about it in an online venue, minus some sort of fun-hoover I’ve just thought up. In fact, it’s sometimes so dull it puts me to sleep, wherein I find myself playing the newest Mario RPG: Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros.
The plot of New Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros. Awkward Title 3D is somewhat similar to previous Mario titles in that it involved a princess and the kidnapping thereof. Disregard the fact that this time Mario and his cowardly bro are traversing an odd land of inexplicable block-people and invasive brain surgery via the medium of pillow, and you could almost be forgiven for thinking that you’d stepped into that insipid cat thing they’re bringing out for Wii U later this year.
It certainly doesn’t look like the previous games. For one thing, the brothers Mario now occupy three dimensions, which hasn’t meant their characters have been rounded out. There are also weird side-scrolling bits, during which you enter Luigi’s brain and attempt to break big restrictive crystals to free the residents of Pi’illo Island.
If I were Luigi, I’d be terrified that Mario’s ventures into my brain would uncover my dark fantasies involving Princess Peach and three jars of jam, but instead it seems to be a replay of the innards sections from Bowser’s Inside Story. I don’t mind side scrolling segments, but it seems a bit of a waste when part of the appeal of the Mario RPGs was the explorative freedom the games gave you. Still, at least I get to darkly laugh at the fact that I can’t help but see the black crystals in Luigi’s brain as tumours that Dr. Mario is removing in some unseen operating theatre. It was all the stress of the mansion expeditions that did it.
Speaking of stress, don’t worry about encountering any while battling enemies, because Dream Team is by far the easiest of the Mario and Luigi games for combat. I didn’t find the first game too difficult, but at least I died once or twice. Here I’m unlucky to get even one hit against me with most standard enemies, whose attacks are so signposted that knowing where the A button is will probably be enough to see even the most ham-fisted moron dodge them with ease.
And yet I can’t help but still love the fighting mechanism in the Mario and Luigi series, mainly because it’s at least a slight departure from the ‘jump on the thing’ approach the platformers take. Pulling off effective attacks here takes timing and dexterity, especially if you want any of the more devastating strikes to work. Nintendo RPGs from Mario RPG to Earthbound to Paper Mario have always added mechanics which make their combat more enjoyable than watching sprites knock numbers out of one another, and that spark remains.
Where I’m not so pleased is with the story. There’s a temptation when making a comedic video game to not bother too much with a coherent story with loveable characters on the assumption that the player knows it’s supposed to be funny and will be too busy laughing to care. But the best comedies always have well-developed plots and characters because when we can familiarise ourselves with them, the humour is all the better for it happening to somebody we feel we know. When the developers of a game just throw together everything in the Big Book of Slapstick Comedy, they can execute every pratfall perfectly, but it doesn’t mean a thing if we don’t feel it matters. So while you will chuckle at quite a few moments here, don’t expect anything on the level of the veritable humourfest that was Superstar Saga, with its big world and internal logic. Plus there’s nothing like the masterful Luigi-only quest to save Mario from mushroom poisoning, but now I’m just being nostalgic.
Some of the best moments in the game are the ones using unconventional means to solve puzzles, which are mainly to be found in the Dream World. While sleeping, Luigi has access to several powers which are controlled via the medium of the player squishing up his snoozing face using the touch screen. You can tickle his nose to sneeze blocks into the foreground for Mario to hit, use his moustache as a makeshift slingshot and much more besides. They’re nice uses of the environment to inform gameplay and there are some genuinely very good ideas on show – Alphadream are one of the more creative Nintendo studios and it’s evident here in every quirky puzzle or inventive locale.
While it’s flawed in parts and not always logical in its progression, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is still some of the most fun you’ll have with the 3DS this year. It’s well worth buying, particularly for fans of the series (we’d also recommend picking up Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance). 86%