Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Review

The same reliable Mario & Luigi role-playing action, but this time with a dogged refusal to shut up long enough to let you enjoy the game.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Primary Reviewer Jeremy Parish

As a fan of the Mario RPGs -- and role-playing games in general -- I was surprised to find that my feelings toward the latest entry in the series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, border on sincere hatred.

Now, I've played some really terrible games in my time -- be they unimaginative, unpolished, unprofessional, or even unplayable -- and despite it being neither any of these things nor terrible, I rarely dislike a game as much as I do Dream Team. At least with a truly terrible game you have freedom to enjoy it on your own terms, mock its failings, that sort of thing. Dream Team offers no such luxury. It rarely gives you more than five minutes of uninterrupted play time before wresting back control of the action to wave its hands, tell you what to do, and spell out every little detail -- be it minute mechanics or trivial story observation -- at excruciating length. And that's the problem.

The dialogue in Dream Team reminds me of an annoying super-fan, one who loves a game or a movie or a book so much that he never stops talking about it. The guy who makes you listen to his favorite album and spends the whole time talking about the production history and the nuances of the band, so you can barely hear the music. He's the guy who obsesses over a densely plotted movie, then sits next to you as you watch it and talks about each little detail that you should pay attention to, distracting you even as he spoils the plot. He's so determined for you to love his favorite things that he makes it impossible for you to do so.

Per usual, Dream Team combines traditional RPG stylings with side-scrolling action and reflex-centric turn-based combat.

What makes Dream Team particularly maddening is that it makes this overweening voice part of the game itself. Alas, here it's not a sign of passionate enthusiasm but rather of the unrelenting creative timidity of the game's creators. Terrified at the prospect of players becoming the slightest bit lost or being forced to use even an iota of brain power to figure something out, Dream Team's designers (developer Alphadream) fall over themselves to point out every little gameplay detail and every little joke. Then they circle back around a few times to remind you what they said in the previous intrusive dialogue snippet. And then they tell you again, just to draw a line beneath it.

This happens throughout the entire game, not just in the opening hours. Long after you finally make your way into the proper exploration where you should be well clear of tutorials -- which is nearly 10 hours into the game! -- Dream Team continues to remind you how to solve problems, even those whose solutions it's already demonstrated. At no point are you left to your own devices. At no point do you have to be creative or clever. At no point are you treated like a mentally competent human being capable of operating Mario & Luigi -- despite it being the world's kid-friendliest RPG series. "Look," the game constantly reminds you, "I'm worried that you might be too stupid for this. Let's take it slowly."

Something tells me that Dream Team's suffocating condescension is a last-minute addition, a panicked overreaction to reception of last year's Mario RPG, Paper Mario: Sticker Star. That particular adventure operated at the far opposite end of the spectrum, avoiding pop-in dialogue and story events and generally keeping plot to a no-nonsense background hum. It put exploration, puzzle-solving, and combat front and center. In a few places, its puzzles could be maddeningly vague, however, and this drew some flack from lost players. So rather than take the chance that people might ever have the slightest doubt about what to do next, it seems Nintendo hastily shoehorned in a constant, unrelenting onslaught of babbling NPCs.

This may look complex, but don't worry. Dream Team's nagging companion characters will explain it to you. Several times.

The irony is that Sticker Star itself seemed like a reaction to its own predecessor, the excessively talky Super Paper Mario. So we've basically come full circle here, with the idea of a happy medium clearly a foreign concept for this franchise. Anyway, the dialogue hardly seems like the only instance of the team second-guessing its work at the last minute. You'll notice other signs if you pay attention... like the way save boxes appear throughout the game, despite the fact that you can save anywhere, thus making those boxes completely superfluous.

You quite literally cannot enter a new screen of a Dream Team dungeon map -- whether in the top-down RPG mode or the side-scrolling platformer-lite areas -- without some chatty Cathy pausing the action to tell you exactly what you need to do here, or the game seizing control of the camera to make it abundantly clear how to solve each minor puzzle. There's no sense of discovery in this game. You'll never feel the satisfaction of figuring out a tricky mystery. The potentially clever dungeon gimmicks cease to be engaging, reduced to mundane impediments. It's a 30-hour exercise in going through the motions.

What really makes it all so disappointing is that Dream Team feels like a massive step backward from the previous Mario & Luigi -- 2010's brilliant Bowser's Inside Story -- in a number of ways. The quest revolves around Luigi this time instead of Bowser, replacing the bizarre egocentric panache of the Koopa king's action sequences with the other Mario brother's muted, sad-eyed lack of self-esteem. Where Bowser subverted gameplay conventions with his audacious rage and general stompiness, Luigi's dream self just kind of makes the basic action a little flashier. The graphics are prettier, and the elaborate showcase battles are more elaborate than ever, but it feels like more of the same -- or, at times, less of the same.

The wonderful concept art translates fairly accurately into the game, upping the series' standard of visual excellence. It's a lovely game.

Worse, the plot-driving characters, a race of creatures called the Pi'illo, are uninteresting to a fault. Some players seemed really put out that last year's Sticker Star had been designed under the mandate that the creators could add no new characters, but the limitation did wonders for the game: It legitimately felt like a Mario RPG. Dream Team feels like Mario and Luigi wandered into someone else's crummy C-tier RPG. With its host of pointless characters that have nothing of value to say but still won't shut up, I'd say the C-tier RPG in question is Golden Sun.

To their credit, Dream Team's localization staff seemed to realize just what an obnoxious amount of dialogue exists in the game, and they did their best to punch it up. The English script is alternately wry, witty, and quirky. But there's only so much a clever translation can do when the story and characters are so aggressively devoid of substance. The localization transforms the suffocating miasma of interruptions into a haze of funny interruptions, but the English text still has to slot into all the spots that the original Japanese source material occupied, and all the jokes in the world can't keep this constant blather from slowly choking the joy out of your existence.

Still, despite the interminable chatter, Dream Team is hardly irredeemable. Even if its core gimmick seems like an overly lengthy retread of a sweet, simple joke from the original Mario RPG (nebbishy Luigi wistfully longs to be as heroic as his brother) and proves to be much less entertaining than Bowser's id-fueled rampages, Mario & Luigi's fundamental game mechanics remain as engaging as ever. As always, the battle system combines core Mario concepts with reactive, timing-driven controls that go a long way toward livening up the traditionally staid concept of turn-based combat. Familiar Mario world elements appear in forms uniquely twisted to fit the needs of a role-playing game, though these tend to take a backseat to the terminally uninteresting Pi'illo people.

It's a solid game; it's just that everything here has been done better already, and less obtrusively at that. For a Mario & Luigi fan like me, Dream Team should have been a slam dunk. Instead, it ran down the clock with constant pep talks.

Secondary Reviewer John Benyamine

I'm a little late with my second opinion of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, but I've put a good 15 hours into the game and have a slightly different take on things. For additional context, I didn't get a chance to play the previous game in the series, Bowser's Inside Story, but I was a huge fan of Superstar Saga. Also, I am not particularly experienced with RPGs; the last one I played was Ni No Kuni, and before that, I can't say I specifically remember.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jeremy's assessment of the game's biggest fault. The tutorials and dialogue just keep coming, giving you very little chance to get into the game for an extended period of time. One of the reasons I enjoy RPG games is the ebb and flow of the action, where a longer sequence of battles and leveling is bookended by (hopefully) interesting dialogue and story. The problem with Dream Team is it's all bookends!

Saying the dialogue is verbose is an understatement -- these people just won't shut up. I found myself plowing through a lot of the story because it was intertwined with the kind of hand-holding reserved for an increasing amount of Nintendo games, and it quickly became an annoying frustration.

The multi-phase boss battles and giant Luigi battles can feel drawn out and overly gimmicky, but they're still lively. Their occasional unfairness is mitigated by a forgiving save and continue system.

That being said, there are some really good elements in the game. The game's fight sequences, with their mix of traditional turns and button-timed extra hits, are interesting and, the more I think of it, the game's problems are exacerbated by the fact that the core gameplay mechanics are so fun.

The special moves in the form of Bros. and Luiginary attacks are also creative, with dream sequences that give you a nice kinda-side-scrolling break in between your overworld travels. And while I wish there were more puzzles (and more difficulty), I was surprised to find as many as there were.

There are also moments where Dream Team is just plain funny. The game's script has some clever bits to it, and even the slapstick moments are delivered with great comic timing. You know Mario and Luigi crossing that creaky bridge is going to end in disaster. This is a joke that's been told in time immemorial, but it's delivered with such ludicrous Foley effects that you can't help but laugh and appreciate the effort.

Lastly, there is a really interesting sequence relatively early on when you first enter Luigi's thoughts as Mario. Subliminal messages float around the screen, each representing Luigi's deepest thoughts about his big brother. Heroic things, common pleas for help, even a reference to Mario's skill as a sharp dresser (huh).

For whatever reason, I felt there was an inherent sweetness in that sequence touching on a deeper relationship that hasn't yet resurfaced, but I hope it does. It may not be one of the better games in the Mario & Luigi series, but these surprising moments enveloped by a solid gameplay mechanic make it worthwhile. Even if they can't just be quiet for more than a few minutes.

The Details

  • Visuals: Wonderfully detailed sprite work meshes perfectly with the colorful 3D backgrounds. Not a technical tour de force, but undeniably artistic.
  • Audio: Yoko Shimomura's compositions lend the score far more grit than you might expect in an all-audiences RPG based on the Super Mario series. The traditional Mario sound cues help tie it all together.
  • Interface: The usual Mario & Luigi fare, mapping a potentially complex control scheme to a few simple, intuitive buttons. Unfortunately, constant interruptions to convey tips and advice underscore the creators' innate lack of confidence in their own work's fundamental elegance, and the endless nattering makes Nintendo's previous nanny state offender (The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) seem like Dwarf Fortress by comparison.
  • Lasting Appeal: It's a suitably lengthy adventure, but the hideous, choppy pacing means you'll probably never want to replay it. In fact, if you have any degree of experience with video games whatsoever, you may have trouble getting through its didactic jabbering even once.

It's a quality game, but you can actually feel your soul leaving your body the dozenth time that stupid star sprite guy floats out to reiterate some basic point he just made two minutes prior. In the end, we learn the truth behind the game's subtitle: Dream Team wants nothing more in life than to put you to sleep.

3 /5

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Review Jeremy Parish The same reliable Mario & Luigi role-playing action, but this time with a dogged refusal to shut up long enough to let you enjoy the game. 2013-08-08T11:00:00-04:00 3 5

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Comments 27

  • Avatar for .jan #1 .jan 4 years ago
    I am still excited for it. Though I skipped Bowser's Inside Story. Maybe I should give it a go before playing this game.
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  • Avatar for kingaelfric #2 kingaelfric 4 years ago
    What we really need is a Mario & Luigi point and click roguelike with asynchronous gameplay and AR elements. Just a thought.
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  • Avatar for aett #3 aett 4 years ago
    This review confirms my worst fears about the game. Thank you for helping me to steer clear and to not succumb to an impulse eShop purchase!

    What really gets me is that one of the best parts of the original Mario & Luigi is that the game was always adding new gameplay features, even late into the game, that kept both the battles and the overworld fresh (and loosely Metroidvania-like, in that you could access new areas and items with your new moves). Each new ability came with the briefest of introductions and then they let you go with it.

    To constantly stop the game to constantly remind you of every little detail and even how to solve the puzzles? That's unforgivable.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #4 renatocosta90 4 years ago
    Man, this is one of the first instances of reading Jeremy bashing a game so relentlessly. I'll take this advice to heart, finish up SMT IV and save my money for something else on the 3DS backlog this month. Maybe even the Bowser Inside Story.

    Oh, one more thing, how does this one compare to "Partners in Time"? I ignored it halfway through for some reason, and haven't touched Bowser Inside story because of this one.
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #5 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    Its his opinion so I have to respect it, I am just not sure I agree given some other comments I read
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #6 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @aett Dream Team still adds new powers and hooks for re-exploration throughout the adventure, but it doesn't let you figure those elements out for yourself. It always pauses the action so the little sprite can drift away from Mario, pan the camera to a point of interest, and say, "HEY I WONDER IF YOU CAN USE THAT ONE POWER HERE." Throughout the entire game. It feels like they had a focus group play test the game, and any time a single person seemed even slightly confused, they added in a mandatory explanation.
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  • Avatar for Gottahidethenamefors #7 Gottahidethenamefors 4 years ago
    Totally forgot about this game, even though I love the first one and had a good time with the other two. Makes me a bit sad honestly, 'cause I found the figure-it-out-yourself-you-jerk approach Sticker Star took to be really awesome. And the situation's made even worse by the fact that so many people mistook the freedom in SS as obtuse game design, which earned it a lot of hate.
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  • Avatar for pjedavison #8 pjedavison 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Sounds like it could use a "Hard Mode" that turns all that off.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #9 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    @Alexfist Yeah, I REALLY liked Sticker Star. I got stuck a couple of times, but never for long, and never unreasonably.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #10 Kuni-Nino 4 years ago
    Oh dear Jeremy, what have you done?@_@

    You brought out the Sticker Star comparison (basically calling it better) and you dissed Golden Sun. Ack. Things are going to get heated.

    I haven't played the game yet but I can't just can't believe the tutorials are as obtrusive as you make them sound. There has to come a point in the game where the gloves do come off and you're left to your own devices. It's a Nintendo game and who understands game design better than them? I'm sure the opening hours are littered with some form of explanation but, for a person like me who didn't mind Fi in Skyward Sword, am I going to notice? I sincerely doubt it.

    Plus, if the game is as mechanically sound as you say, my mind is going to be preoccupied with the combat instead of any tutorials. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it sounds really petty. You gave Pushmo the same complaint and I didn't even notice I was doing tutorials when I played that game.

    For the record, I'm so happy you went out of your way to draw the Sticker Star comparison. I loved that game to death for all the reasons you stated. It's so unique. I'll never agree with its detractors.
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  • Avatar for Darro #11 Darro 4 years ago
    Bowser's Inside Story came out in 2009 not 2010 so you should change that for starters! I haven't finished the game yet (have put about 15+ hours in so far) but while I do agree it isn't as good as Bowser's Inside Story, I feel you are blowing the ramming dialogue & tutorial down your throat out of proportion! I feel that the amount of dialogue is around the same as previous games and while you do get a tutorial on certain things, I didn't get constantly reminded about how to do this task! I have gone through a good chunk of some areas before I got another slice of dialogue so I don't see this whole "not a screen goes by before..." problem. I haven't played Paper Mario: Sticker Star so can't say whether I prefer it but I know some people wouldn't classify it as a RPG since I believe it has no levelling system amongst other RPG traits!

    Now I agree that the save system thing is completely stupid since you can practically save anywhere in the game.Edited August 2013 by Darro
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #12 Stealth20k 4 years ago
    I HATED sticker star, and he loved it? well goes to show how people like different things lol
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #13 SargeSmash 4 years ago
    Interesting. I loved Sticker Star, and I also loved Bowser's Inside Story. But I also loved Golden Sun, despite the talkiness, so maybe I have developed a tolerance for verbosity? Dunno.

    Looking forward to getting my hands on this.
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  • Avatar for jeremycarrier12 #14 jeremycarrier12 4 years ago
    How long ago have you played Bowser's Inside Story, Parish? Because that game had tutorials and that little star guy telling you things every 10 minutes right up into the final castle.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #15 jeremy.parish 4 years ago
    I haven't played Bowser's Inside Story since I reviewed it, so I concede that it may have been more oppressively chatty than I remember. That just makes Dream Team all the more frustrating!

    Nintendo's so weird about RPGs. It clearly wants to make them, but they always end up being treated as these inscrutable alien life forms from another universe.Edited August 2013 by jeremy.parish
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  • Avatar for whitestreak #16 whitestreak 4 years ago
    I love your work Parish, just as I loved the Superstar Saga (and failed to finish Partners in time and never bought Inside Story, although I plan to...).

    You are probably a much better gamer than me, and you are sometimes a bit strict, but I fear that you may be right on this one.
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  • Avatar for Matt-Liparota #17 Matt-Liparota 4 years ago
    This is disappointing; I've been a huge fan of the Mario & Luigi RPGs since the beginning (even longer if you count the original SNES joint) and have been seriously been looking forward to this for months.
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  • Avatar for Shinta #18 Shinta 4 years ago
    I actually haven't played any games in this series before. I'm still looking forward to this, and I'm going to pick it up when I can. There just seems to be an enormous amount of creativity here, and that's enough for me.
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  • Avatar for Thusian #19 Thusian 4 years ago
    @jeremy.parish what I really like about the review is that you were able to concretely identify what it is that irritated you, so for me, a person who is not that bothered by tutorials (I didn't know it was bad in Skyward Sword until hearing it from reviewers) I can see with certainty why I would enjoy it more than you and still inform my own decision. At the same time I can respect that that's how you feel about it because of well illustrated issues you had with it. Well written
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  • Avatar for Ghopper101 #20 Ghopper101 4 years ago
    Looks like I will be waiting to grab this one on sale. Thanks for the heads up. Did Alphadream have anyone overseeing them when they were making this game? They should know better.
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  • Avatar for Sobtanian #21 Sobtanian 4 years ago
    I agree with the reviewer whole-heartedly. This isn't a game, it's a tutorial with a bit of game.

    For those wondering if the review is over doing it, and may want to pick up the game, let me tell you exactly how the tutorials work, and without any exaggeration.

    I'm 40 hours in, and the game is still introducing new mechanics. EVERYTIME one is introduced, the following happen:
    1\ camera moves to point at something of interest.
    2\ a character pops out to say "hey, look at that"
    3\ another character pops out to confirm said thing
    4\ one of the characters teaches you the new mechanic
    5\ which you then have to demonstrate to the game by performing it
    6\ then, after being told what the mechanic is, what it does, how to do it, and performing it, the game opens a prompt with the controls just to remind you, in case you'd forgetten from steps 4 or 5
    7\ finally, a character will then say "now let's use this new mechanic to get past this thing here", as if you didn't know.
    8\ all the above typically takes 1-2 minutes.

    This also happens if there's any hint of a puzzle by the way.

    Now, if you're happy with this happening extremely frequently and far into the game (as in even after 30 hours play) then by all means you'll enjoy it, because the game itself is solid.

    Otherwise, if the above sounds really irritating, don't bother.

    PS: the game's been out in Europe for a while, hence I'm 40 hours in.Edited August 2013 by Sobtanian
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  • Avatar for Fresh_Paprika #22 Fresh_Paprika 4 years ago
    I can't say I agree with this, though I am not a person that gets overly offended by tutorials. They are overly frequent, no question, but most of the game's puzzles had the player figuring out the solutions, not to mention they're actually puzzles and not just switch searches like in most RPGs. I found the tutorials to mostly be a "this is the ability, here's what you do with it" type of affair. The game keeps adding more and more abilities to Mario & Luigi's arsenal, and keeps adding new things and variations to use them with.

    Even if tutorials insult your very existence, there's still plenty of charm and creativity in the game to make them seem like blemishes and occasional irritations rather than complete stop gaps. The joy of seeing hundreds of Luigis piling up into various shapes is one of the nicest experiences I had all year, or how well it mixes Mario ideals with RPG conventions, which granted, isn't new to the series, but more than ever I felt it true to this one.

    Jeremy, I always felt that you and Bob Mackey (especially you, Bob) tend to exaggerate on this topic. We're all wired differently and some need more help than others. I won't argue there being a better way of going about it, but I also don't believe it ruins the experience in general. Also add the fact that this game has the impossible task of pleasing millions of people in different age groups, something they'll never manage to do, but still always attempt for whatever reason.

    To comment on your comment below, Nintendo's RPGs aren't always filled with excessive tutorials or treated like overcomplicated games. Xenoblade's tutorials were necessary, brief and to the point, especially when compared to a contemporary like Final Fantasy XIII, a game that had much less to explain but still dragged the tutorials on and on. Why? Because it had to appeal to a much larger audience. I'd even argue that Monolith seem FAR more confident in their RPG design ideas after being bought by Nintendo. Strange how Square went from FFXII's open nature and great variety (not to mention a great narrative that even Vaan and a horrible ending didn't kill) into FFXIII's suffocating design, while Monolith went from Xenosaga's corridors and overbearing cut-scenes into Xenoblade's gorgeous massive open world and practically perfect efficiency. Would they have done that without Nintendo? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    Fire Emblem used to get criticized or was completely avoided because of how inaccessible it was, they stuck with it. And you can probably count all the tutorials from all 3 Mother games combined on both hands (that cool strategy guide only made Earthbound a more awesome physical object to have). I really think the use of tutorials are really more up to both Nintendo and the developers and not just Nintendo themselves.

    This isn't the first, second, or 100th time I disagree with you, but I really think you exaggerated with this one. Also, comparing Dream Team Bros. with Golden Sun's constant yapping and unbearable emoticons? That's a mean kick to the balls, man.

    And to anyone who liked any Mario & Luigi or Mario RPG game before, give this game a shot before giving up on it. Some of the comments are a bit on the "doom and gloom" side. Some people really like it and some don't, that's it.Edited August 2013 by Fresh_Paprika
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #23 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    @Fresh_Paprika I'm also one whose not bothered by tutorials in games. In many cases, I'm trying to play too many games at once, and getting a refresher is never a bad thing.
    As to your, and others, comparisons to Golden Sun, I'm not so quick to agree. They was too much "chatty" dialogue, and the "emoticon" response system, and it's connection to any actual difference in conversation progression, was vague at best. However, much like M & L:DT I suspect, I enjoyed the games other mechanics enough that it didn't ruin the entire game for me. I'm far more fed up when, in other games, after battling monsters by using fireballs and massive hammers, I'm thwarted by an ill-placed boulder.
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  • Avatar for lobotomy42 #24 lobotomy42 4 years ago
    This sounds a lot like the same problems that affected Partners in Time.
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  • Avatar for IPA #25 IPA 4 years ago
    @.jan Bowser's Inside Story is VASTLY superior to this title and (in my humble estimation) the best in the series. I would implore you to play it first. And not play this at all.
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  • Avatar for IPA #26 IPA 4 years ago
    @Darro Use less exclamation points. It will make you a better writer and your points will be taken more seriously.
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  • @jeremy.parish Right? It was super clever. Like, I'd be in the shower thinking about a part I was stuck on and go "ahh! Of course I course I can use the goat to eat the crumpled paper!" Name another game that does that.
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