Mario & Luigi: Dream Team 3DS
If you’ve ever watched an Aaron Sorkin branded TV show (The West Wing, Sports Night, Newsroom), you will know what he creates ends up being very talky in nature. But more notable is the “walk and talk” crux the writer often uses. In his shows, people do not need to talk whilst sitting in just one room, they can walk down a corridor, interact with other people, and end up in a completely different room having the same, or a vastly different conversation, by the time the camera cuts. It is a nice technique – as it makes the people involved seem busy.
Even though Nintendo’s latest effort is a much different beast, like Sorkin’s exploits, Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a very wordy game. Talky would not be the right word here, as other than some babbling pseudo-italian nonsense words, the game is still heavily text based. The key difference here is this is more “Wait and Ponder” than “Walk and Talk”. The brothers may be on a quest to save Peach, and at times the whole kingdom from harm, but they never seem busied by their quest. This laid back, lackadaisical attitude is the games biggest detriment. It always wants to tell you more, and inform the player of the latest goings on in their adventure. But crucially, it rarely finds an interesting way to convey it.
While at its worst, this need to explain everything negatively affects gameplay – due to an annoying little star thing that wants to highlight every new mechanic introduced. It seems to take satisfaction in annoying me like some kind of demented gleeful health and safety officer with a constant worry that I may fall over and kill myself because I’m holding a sponge wrong. Directly affecting gameplay is where these constant interruptions truly become maddening, approaching condescending at times. For me, the insanity reached its peak a few hours in, when the game informed me that I can use my newly acquired hammers to break a rock with a crack in it. Please note that said rock was, at the time, on the same screen as my newly acquired hammers. Now, even if I sometimes lack faith in my own ability, I am sure I could have figured this out myself – although it is easy to doubt one’s own aptitude to make decisions after some solid time with this game. This, always-on, constant handholdy nature results in the game feeling like a 30+ hour tutorial rather then the broad-scoping adventure it should be, and I don’t need anyone to tell me – star shaped or not – that that’s not a good thing.
Okay, maybe I started things off on the wrong foot. The game is not that bad. When I am allowed to actually play Dream Team, it is fun. And when the writing is at its best, it is a joy to read through. There are some great characters on show too, with some clever and humorous remarks speckled throughout the adventure that are well worth a chuckle. The story, as a whole, is pretty clever too, with some twists, as it goes, that turn it into a near sugar-laced (almost Pixar-like) rendition of Inception that is nevertheless still unmistakably Nintendo – for better and for worse. The game has its moments – it’s just a pity that the stars do not line-up with more regularity as the game progresses to make it constantly compelling.
Keeping my newfound optimism going, the turn-based / timing based gameplay the series is known for still works well here. It’s as good as it ever was, and seeing as it was not broke to start with, there was no need for sweeping changes. Once again you start off with the basic jump attack, build up to a hammer attack, get access to fireballs, green/red shells (and more) as you go. You level up, get EXP, then get points to put into attack, defense, HP and MP and other stats. It is very much an RPG – and an uncomplicated one at that – but that damn star thing wants to explain everything. Everything!
Sorry, I digress. Optimism! Like its predecessor – Bowser’s Inside Story – Dream Team is a game split in half. The main quest sees you partake in the normal RPG world-traversing fare, whereas the B-story looks to break things up by offering something different . This time, the tangential gameplay sees you enter Dream World at various points throughout the main adventure – after Luigi sleeps on petrified pillows found in the real world. Entering Dream World brings a host of gameplay changes. Action switches to a 2D perspective for one. You still encounter enemies on this new plane, and go into a turn based battle against them, but Dream World affects combat too. While here, you gain new Luiginary attacks – which are the game’s most hard hitting moves – consisting of multiple Luigis fighting side-by-side with Mario.
Actually, now I think about it. Everything that was great about the previous games of the series is still on show here. There is just a caked on layer of annoyance around it all, trying its best to usurp AlphaDream’s great work at every turn. It is laid on so thick, it is really hard to look past – even with all the optimism in the world. He who shall not be named is there at every turn. Always looking to interfere. Always watching and waiting, ready to pop on screen – like the even more annoying brother of Clippy from MS Word 2004. No! I don’t need help writing a letter, and I don’t need help playing this game. Leave me be!
This is going back a bit. I remember playing Ocarina of Time in 1997. I was 13 years old then, and thought I knew everything – when in reality I knew nothing. Near the start of the game you come across a puzzle that sees Link holding a stick. In the room is a lit lantern, and a cobweb. Thinking back, the solution is quite simple here, and hardly rocket science, but when 13 year old me found I could light the stick from the torch, bring it over to the cobweb and burn it, I was overjoyed. I was never directly told what to do, but Nintendo had given me enough info, and a small enough sandbox to play in, to let me figure the minutia out for myself. Even though 13 year old me was, in hindsight, an idiot, Nintendo treated me with enough respect, thus made me feel like I had achieved something great with that small gaming moment. Over its multi-hour span, not only does Dream Team not once approach anything near this pinnacle – it does not once even get close.
This review certainly ended up being a bit of a downer. When I initially sat down to write it, I did not plan on something so scathing. AlphaDream certainly put their best foot forward trying to make Dream Team a worthy successor to Bowser’s Inside Story – which was always going to be a hell of a task. The end result is okay, but nothing more. Dream Team is not a terrible game. I’ve played more than a few in my time, and this is not one. It just does not feel special. Even if I was let walk the streets of Pi’illo by myself – without constant interruptions and patronising reminders – I still feel something would be missing.
Some may find enough here to enjoy, but most will find the game too pestering to truly love . Which one of those are you? Well, I not here to make that decision for you – I’ve had just about enough of that level of pesky annoyance too last me quite some time.