Review by papery0shi2

"A dream come true"

I cannot begin to tell you how much of a breath of fresh air this lovely little gem is. I've had a Mario RPG itch that has only intensified after Paper Mario: Sticker Star left me disappointed by its lack of critical RPG elements, but finally, this game has delivered all I've waited for these last few years. While it's true that Paper Mario was originally meant to be the spiritual successor to the brillaint SNES gem, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, it has been the zany, hilarious, kooky Mario and Luigi series that has truly continued the tradition of that SNES classic all those years ago. That makes sense, because the M&L games have been made by the very same core team that made Super Mario RPG, from the game director right down to the musical composer, and dare-I-say it, this may be their best Mario and Luigi game yet. What a lovely experience, and a fulfilling RPG in general as well. I'm warning you right now, prepare for a detailed and somewhat lengthy review, there's a lot to cover. Skip this one if you don't like long, detailed reviews.

The game begins with Mario and Luigi accompanying Peach and her royal entorage on a trip to the awe inspiring and mysterious Pi'illo island. The original citizens of this glorious empire have been gone for years, the story of their disappearance a total mystery, but they left behind ruins that reveal a culture with powers to channel the unlimited potential of dreams themselves. While visiting the current tennants of the Pi'illo kingdom, a new villain named Antasma shows up and, say it with me, kidnaps the princess, and absconds into the realm of dreams. As luck would have it, Luigi is a "dreamboat" (it is his year after all) and as such, he can sleep deeply enough to tap into the magic stone pillows all over the place. This allows him to create a portal into the dreamworld that Mario can jump into, and the adventure begins. During their quest to rescue Peach, they just might discover the fate of the true Pi'illo people and even help them. Bowzer may make an appearance or two. It's an engaging ride that you'll enjoy from start to finish. I'll leave it at that to avoid spoilers.

As with any Mario and Luigi game, expect the characters to be lovable, the writing to be as sincerely hilarious and charming as you could imagine, and the localization to be among the best in the biz. The storytelling is simply fantastic. The game is quite wordy, sure, but every word will slap a big, stupid grin on your face for the majority of the time you spend playing. Little touches like Mario and Luigi speaking in super Italian gibberish or the two brothers hugging in a dream and Luigi on the bottom screen let out a big belly laugh while sleeping, is just so absolutely endearing. In many ways, Dream Team feels like Luigi's game. His importance in the story is prominent, as is his character development, and it's awesome. I loved Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, but Dream Team feels like it develops him even more and paints him as a true hero even better than that game did (and LM was an amazing game that did this super well, so this is big praise to Dream Team). The way the game portrays Luigi and Mario's relationship as brothers is also quite endearing.

The art design and graphics in this game merit a special mention. All past Mario and Luigi games have been entirely sprite-based, a very expressive graphical style to be sure, but a 2-D style nonetheless. Well, much to my surprise, much of this game is STILL 2-D sprite-based despite this being a 3DS game, famous for its, you know, 3-D. The ending result is pretty striking. All of the characters are still 2-D sprite-work, juxtaposed into a 3-D world and the results are stunning. The graphics have an almost claymation quality to them, and it's super unique and beautiful. The 3-D is also used to good effect in some battles where you will be facing the enemies from behind the bros., making juggling shells back and forth more dynamic than before. Everything else artistically is very similar to the past M&L games, very colorful with excellent classic animation cartoon styles that channel classic Mario elements in new and refreshing ways. Lots of creativity in this game, to be sure. One of my all-time favorite story elements in fiction is when dream worlds are incorporated, because it allows for so much imagination and creativity, and boy are Luigi's dreams fantastically imaginative in this game. It's like Inception starring Luigi. I love it!

I have to mention the sound design in this game. Of course, all of the sound effects are appropriately nostalgic for Mario fans, and hearing Mario and Luigi speak in super Italian gibberish still turns me into a smiling fool. That's all great, but the soundtrack is the real highlight. It is absolutely breathtaking. Yoko Shimomura has really nailed it with this one (she also composed the brilliant music for all previous M&L games, Super Mario RPG, the Kingdom Hearts series, the masterpiece Radiant Historia, she's simply one of the best in the business). Many songs are fun, zany, and joyous as you'd expect from a Mario title, but some of the songs are surprisingly atmospheric and downright moody. I can't really say it enough: the soundtrack is awesome and the compositions are brilliant.

Every M&L game has a gimmick, and Dream Team's gimmick is right in its title. This one is all about Luigi's dreams. Half the game plays outside of the dream world in very traditional M&L fashion. The core gameplay in Dream Team follows the classic M&L playbook, and I'm very grateful for this after Paper Mario Sticker Star. The turn-based battle system is back, where you can make button inputs to increase effectiveness of your attacks and defense, while controlling both Mario and Luigi simultaneously. I've always loved the dynamic simplicity of this system. Whereas most JRPG battle systems are static and obviously turn based, M&L's battles are frantic, dynamic, and full of kinetic action, feeling very much like a traditional Mario experience. To put it simply, it's incredibly FUN. You gain experience points after battles, you level up, and you can acquire badges that add passive bonuses to your character, and the badge system has had a few overhauls and complexities that makes customization of the brothers a lot deeper than in past M&L games.

The other half takes place inside Luigi's dreams, where traversing the world is a 2-D affair (like it was inside Bowser in the last game) and everything is insane. Mario runs around these dreams in the top screen, while the bottom features Luigi sleeping. When Mario finds some problem impeding his process, try messing with Luigi on the bottom screen. Perhaps you need to yank on real Luigi's Mustache Super Mario 64 opening-screen-style on the touch screen to drag some dream-mustache-vines down to Mario to solve the puzzle. Other places require you to create dozens of Luigi's all stacked up on each other to boost Mario up high, or clump into a giant ball for Mario for run on. These sorts of dream-focused puzzles are so creative and out-of-the-box that it makes the game feel genuinely unique. While in the dream world, Luigi gains some truly epic benefits in battle too. Mario may attack once, but follow up button press attacks may feature dozens of Luigis raining down righteous foot-stomping fury on your enemies. Do you realize how awesome that is? Remember the unspeakably epic Godzilla Bowser boss fights in Bowser's Inside Story? Yeah, those return, but this time it's Weegee that gets to duke it out Godzilla style in his dreams. Trust me, it's awesome.

Really, the only thing I overtly dislike about this game is that it is a little too tutorial-heavy. Some games have tutorial overkill, filled with "yeah, I get it" moments, and Dream Team is definitely one of those games in the beginning. This makes the opening a bit slower and drawn-out than I normally prefer, but oh well. I understand that this makes the game more accessible to younger or less-experienced gamers and I commend that, but in my opinion, it's a bit much here. Still, when your only complaint about a game is that the first two or three hours have a few too many tutorials, that's a sign that the majority of the game is fantastic, and it is here, but I have to find something critical to say, right?

I know this review is long, but seriously, I've barely brushed the surface of this awesome game. In an industry where creativity is stagnant at best, all for the sake of being profitable, a game like Mario and Luigi Dream Team is such a refreshing breath of sweet air. While this may feature characters that have been around for decades, it is just absolutely bursting with imagination and new ideas. As a massive fan of Luigi, I couldn't be happier with how much of a spotlight the younger, less appreciated Mario Bro. gets in this game. He truly is the star of the show, and it's really endearing to see that Mario is genuinely happy to step aside and give him his time in the limelight. You'll see for yourself when you get to play it, and play it you should. I know that games in the JRPG style isn't everybody's cup of tea, but Dream Team really feels like an RPG that everybody, and I really mean *everybody*, can and will enjoy to the fullest. I highly recommend this game to any gamer out there who craves a good adventure with some true gaming icons. Buy it, start counting your sheep, and enjoy a truly memorable adventure you won't forget when you wake up.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 08/13/13

Game Release: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (US, 08/11/13)

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