Review by MTLH

"A solid if unspectacular instalment."

Despite him having appeared in almost every genre under the sun, expect perhaps first person shooters and agricultural simulators, Mario will always be associated with platformers. There are sound reasons for that of course as that is simply what he excels at. Even so, Mario has also shown an affinity for other genres such as role playing games for instance. This began with 1996's Super Mario RPG for the SNES before branching out into two distinct series: Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. The latter has to date appeared exclusively for Nintendo's handhelds beginning with Superstar Saga for the Game Boy Advance before making the transition to the DS with Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story. The fourth entry, Dream Team Bros., was released on the 3DS in 2013. I adored the first entry, was disappointed with the second one and thought the third game was brilliant. How will the fourth game fare?

Although the style has changed somewhat, the visuals are still lovely. The thoroughly cartoony look of the predecessors has been toned down considerably, probably in order to make the 3D effect work better. The characters on the other hand remain the same colourful sprites found in the earlier Mario & Luigi games. They are detailed and animated very well and look very lively. The two styles don't clash as much as you'd might think and do form a good looking whole, albeit a bit less cheery this time.

Special mention should be made of how the 3D effect has been implemented. When travelling through the game's world itself, the effect isn't especially noticeable. The exception being those instances where the brothers stand on higher ground and there is more distance in the backdrops. When entering the Dream World however the effect really adds something to the visuals. These areas are in general quite busy with a lot of swirling and moving items in the background and the added depth really makes this shine. Battles are also fought on a plain that stretches into the distance which, again, is enhanced by the machines 3D capabilities.

The soundtrack is a delight to listen to. It offers a mix of familiar and new tunes that really suit the game. One of the highlights is how the tunes playing in the Dream World are distorted versions of the music playing in the accompanying normal world, creating a peculiar effect that adds to their otherworldly charm. The sound effects are spot on, lending a lot of power to the sibling's actions. There is also some minor voice acting which mostly consists of short statements. It isn't very substantial but remains a nice touch nonetheless.

Dream Team Bros. starts out with Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and some of her entourage being flown to a holiday resort located on Pi'illo Island. Before long an ancient evil is unleashed, the island original inhabitants are reawakened, a mysterious artefact must be recovered and Bowser shows up to wreak his usual havoc.

The Mario & Luigi games usually tend to fly from the starting block, putting the brothers in the thick of whatever is happening. Dream Team Bros. on the other hand starts out on a more sedate pace, calmly introducing the game's world while gradually reacquainting the player with the series' mechanisms. This wouldn't be so bad in itself but unfortunately the way this is done renders the pacing in these first few hours a tad sluggish. Eventually the game does pick up steam and the narrative gradually gains some momentum but the plot never becomes as energetic as those of it's forebears. Not helping is that the narrative also has a tendency to drag a little, with certain sequences going on just a bit too long.

It's sense of humour also plays a part in this as it just doesn't sparkle as much as it could have. The Pi'illo are a boring bunch while most of the extended cast aren't nearly as funny as the developer thought they where. There is furthermore a missed opportunity here. Bowser's Inside Story gave a fascinating peak into the psyche of the Koopa King. His complete obliviousness to what was happening around him explained a lot about Bowser while also providing a lot of that game's laughs. Dream Team Bros. had the opportunity to do the same with Luigi, letting us see more of his thoughts as he and Mario delve deeper into the Dream World. As it turns out, Dreamy Luigi unfortunately isn't all that different from the standard version.

Dream Team Bros. features all the role playing game tropes you'd expect. Battles are turn based, statistics need to be monitored and a there is good deal of gear and items to collect. Defeating enemies will yield points which will raise the brother's levels, improving their statistics. Exploration also forms an integral part of the experience as does having the occasional conversation and solving a puzzle here and there.

Despite being turn based, these fights are quite interactive. Although attacks are selected from a menu, executing them requires a bit more input than just doing that. Timing and precision also play an important part. With the simpler attacks, dodges and counter-attacks this entails pressing the correct button at the appropriate time in order to inflict more damage or to avoid harm. This becomes even more crucial in the case of the special attacks, usually requiring more thought and care to execute. For instance, having both brothers throwing fire bolts while paying attention that they don't either burn themselves or having them kick shells at their foes in tandem.

Dream Team Bros. offers a lot of areas to explore and the way it gradually opens up is, as always in these games, a real pleasure. It's just very enjoyable returning after the brothers have gained a new ability to discover that once insurmountable chasms can now be crossed and ledges that where previously to high can now be reached. This expanding nature is handled quite organically, giving the player the time and room to return to already visited areas without necessitating too much backtracking. One issue that does crop up is that, as with the narrative, some areas can drag on for too long. Offering a lot of content is in itself not a bad thing of course, but some of these areas contain just a few screens, or an obligatory mini-game for that matter, too many, hampering the pacing in he process.

In Bowser's Inside Story, the brothers where shrunk and placed inside their foe's body with these sections playing like a 2D side scrolling platformer. Dream Team Bros. has a similar mechanism whenever Mario enters the Dream World. As in the main world, both him and Luigi's dreamy manifestation are controlled simultaneously with each having their own jump button. These areas are quite puzzle-like in nature with most of these puzzles revolving around the so-called Luiginary Works. At certain predescribed points Dreamy Luigi can turn into one of these Works, creating a pillar of Luigis for example or turning him into a pinwheel. Some of these require some manipulation of Luigi himself who is sleeping on the bottom screen. For example, one Works can change gravity with the direction depending on the way Luigi himself is turned. These Luiginary Works are an entertaining addition to the game while also fleshing out the platformer sections a bit more.

The turn based battles play out a little differently in the Dream World. Mario must fight these alone with Dreamy Luigi acting more like an enhancement. Using the hammer for instance may see Mario swing it but it's the dozen Luigis that follow that do the real damage. The same goes for jumping on an enemies' head where afterwards a group of Luigis drop from the sky for added damage. The interesting thing about these fights is that they revolve more around crowd management, seeing that Mario is usually confronted by a larger group than found in the normal world. This changed dynamic does add some more strategy to the fights.

Something that is borrowed from the predecessor are the one on one battles between two huge combatants with an enlarged Dreamy Luigi replacing Bowser. The 3DS must be turned on it's side while Luigi's moves are all controlled through the touch screen. Strategy doesn't play such an enormous part here, with timing and memorisation being more important. Compared to Bowser's Inside Story it's a relief that the controls are much more responsive, doing away with the frustration that could blight these battles in that game.

Dream Team Bros. isn't the most challenging of games. Some foes will test your patience but on the whole most battles can be won by sheer determination and routine. It helps that items and gear are handed out quite generously. The bosses require more effort of course, they do form a difficulty spike of sorts, but even then most can be defeated on the first attempt. Furthermore, the puzzles tend to be rather uncomplicated, forming only minor bumps on the route to the game's ending. It isn't that Dream Team Bros. is an overtly easy game but rather that most player will be able to simply plough through it. There are a few diversions here and there, such as a fun one where you must reassemble some photographs, and the game's world is quite large. I finished it in about forty-five hours but, then again, I certainly took my time and went on the occasional detour. Your mileage may vary but Dream Team Bros. wont be finished in a hurry either way.

At it's core Dream Team Bros. offers pretty much what you'd expect from a Mario & Luigi game. The turn based battles are still more interactive than is usual, there are more than enough areas to explore and plenty of distractions to entertain yourself with, the presentation is charming and the overall mood remains very pleasant. The game also makes good use of the handheld's 3D capabilities without resorting to the kind of diorama effect that is usually used. There is even the option to temporarily turn it off whenever it can potentially interfere with one of the special attacks.

Where the game falls somewhat short is with it's sense of humour. Dream Team Bros. isn't nearly as funny as it could have been. It's telling that the funniest scenes are those with Bowser and it's a shame that he doesn't show up more. It's furthermore also unfortunate that despite his prominent role as the custodian of Mario's Dream World, Luigi's character isn't really examined to the same hilarious extent as Bowser's was in the series' third entry. Dream Team Bros. biggest failing however is that the game can sometimes feel a little dragged out with scenes and areas that go one just a little bit too long for their own good.

These issues may prevent Dream Team Bros. from scaling the same heights as Superstar Saga and Bowser's Inside Story but don't prevent the game from being an otherwise solid instalment. It offers a very entertaining experience albeit one that doesn't sparkle and shine as much as expected.

OVERALL: an 8,3.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/06/13

Game Release: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. (EU, 07/12/13)

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