"Here we go again" is rarely a phrase belted out with genuine excitement, but when it comes to the Mario & Luigi RPG series, most of us bellow it loud and proud from the rooftops. AlphaDream's quirky platformer/role-playing hybrids have long been the antidote to Nintendo's iterative flagship titles, poking fun at established conventions with merry abandon and utterly enthralling us over the course of several days' worth of solid play. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros isn't the most anarchic and inventive game in the franchise, not by a long shot, but it's still a worthwhile use of fifty-plus hours.
Yes, you read that correctly. Sorry it took so long.
This time around, Mario and Luigi find themselves escorting Princess Peach's entourage to Pi'illo Island, a colourful and surreal new locale populated by anthropomorphic coin blocks and a malevolent evil force slumbering just under the surface. Once this new foe absconds with the Princess, surprising precisely no-one at all, the dynamic duo are thrown into an epic adventure to get her back, save the world and revel in the vibrant silliness of it all. Though the storyline is oddly conservative and takes less creative risks compared to Bowser's Inside Story, as evidenced by the contractually-obliged appearance of the spiky-shelled nemesis who simply goes through the motions with little verve and gusto, it works well as a vehicle for some witty and pithy dialogue that delivers plenty of sly smirks and laugh-out-loud moments.
However, Luigi just can't stay awake for the duration - perhaps exhausted from his exertions in New Super Luigi U - and his narcolepsy adds an interesting new twist to the formula.
Much of the game is spent exploring Pi'ilo Island in isometric platforming style, with players controlling both Mario and Luigi simultaneously. Both heroes have their own jump and interaction buttons, making for an intriguing new experience to wrap your head (and fingers) around. From epic castles to deserts, lush gardens and haunted houses, Dream Team Bros. delights in showering you with thematically distinct and visually gorgeous environments to explore, each of which brims with secrets to find and some light environmental puzzling to enjoy. As you progress, new abilities and backtracking sections turn the disparate levels into a fully-connected world that's an utter joy to simply be in. Big beautiful sprite-work and sharp 3D visuals seal the deal from a graphical standpoint.
Sooner or later, however, you'll need to engage the numerous critters that infest the exploration levels, whisking you into a turn-based battle system that's easily the highlight of the package. Like previous games, attacking is a simple matter of selecting a stomp or hammer move and designating an enemy to brutalise, but pressing each character's respective attack button at the perfect moment amplifies the damage you deal, meaning that you need to actively engage with the experience rather than sitting back and twiddling your thumbs.
Likewise, enemy attacks can be evaded or countered by jumping at the right time, taking advantage of telltale telegraphs to know whether foes are targeting Mario or Luigi, adding an extra level of moment-to-moment exhilaration. Dream Team Bros. goes above and beyond previous iterations by making full use of the 3DS' stereoscopic capability, thanks to enemies that attack from above or below the screen, and numerous special boss abilities that totally changes the camera perspective. Unpredictable, quirky and extraordinarily good fun, the battling simply never gets old.
Enemies can be avoided or evaded at leisure, but defeating them gradually grants both characters experience points that leads to new character levels, abilities and perks. Deep enough to provide meaningfully different builds, while accessible enough to not deter RPG newcomers, the levelling and progression system is another neat hook that keeps you plowing ever onwards.
This is just half of the game, however. Every so often, you'll discover a stone pillow, remnants of the ancient Pi'illo civilization who once inhabited the island. Now that he's stricken with narcolepsy, Luigi can fall asleep on these uncomfortable cushions, opening a portal to his own bizarre subconscious. These trippy psychadelic levels switch to a sidescrolling perspective, with ol' greenhat becoming an idealised subconscious projection inside his own mind. Just, erm, roll with it.
'Dreamy Luigi' is capable of possessing scenery elements, such as tornadoes or mustachioed palm trees, which can then be manipulated by molesting the sleeping real world Luigi with the stylus. Need to activate a tornado to rotate a platform? Tweak his nose and make him sneeze. Have to reach an inaccessible vantage point? Possess a palm tree, then stretch out Luigi's moustache before snapping it back like an Angry Birds catapult. It's an utterly fantastic concept that's ripe with anarchic potential.
Potential that, sadly, is never quite realised. Though each new Luiginary ability is undeniably fun to use, they always occur in predictable linear puzzles that effectively relegate them to on/off switches. If you need to move a platform, for example, there'll be a blindingly obvious Tornado scant feet away. Worse, outrageously lengthy tutorials explain every aspect of using each one, much like playing with a big brother who snatches the controller away from you every time you discover something interesting. The joy of experimenting with the mechanics, of learning about them through gameplay, is almost totally absent. And, not to put too fine a point on it, seeing Luigi playing second fiddle in his own 'Year Of Luigi' game is a little bizarre.
Thankfully the magnificent combat manages to impress once again, and turns our frown upside-down. Dreamy Luigi augments Mario rather than fighting alongside him, turning big bro into a super-character with a monstrous HP bar. Well-timed regular attacks deploy entire armies of 'Luiginoid' clones to stomp your foes into the ground, while Luiginary Attacks use the 3DS' input methods in surprising ways. Whether you're tilting the console to steer an ever-growing ball of Luigi clones into an enemy formation, or summoning a massive Luigi hammer (use your imagination), deploying these nifty abilities is always a major thrill.
Just to put the icing on the cake, Dreamy Luigi swells to monstrous skyscraper-dwarfing sizes to take on the biggest bosses, which is practically worth the price of admission in and of itself.
When all's said and done, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is a very good game, but falls short of becoming a true classic. The story is just a little too trite, and the gimmick not fully fleshed-out enough, to stack up with the very best titles in the series - and then we come to its monstrous length. You'll find at least four dozen hours of playtime here, which proves to be a double-edged sword. Raw value is phenomenal, but pacing is inconsistent and sluggish, making certain sections drag on interminably. A horribly slow start, nasty mid-game fetch quest and the last ten hours feel overly padded and glutted, slowing things down to a crawl. What's more, this sheer staggering enormity of content asks too much of the storyline, which just isn't nuanced or unpredictable enough to support a game of this size.
Thankfully the infinitely enjoyable combat and diverse range of environments prop it up nicely, and will keep most players engaged for the long haul.
- Enormous colourful world to explore with fun environmental puzzles and numerous surprises
- Magnificent combat, varied environments and snappy writing
- Staggeringly long...
- ...but sluggishly-paced and padded in parts
- Vomitously obtrusive and tedious tutorials; predictable storyline
- Luigi dream sections sometimes feel like a wasted opportunity
The Short Version: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is fun and engrossing enough to sustain its colossal campaign, despite the dream world mechanics never being used to their full potential. Superb combat and gorgeous visuals make this a long sleep worth taking.