Despite the Mario & Luigi moniker that distinguishes AlphaDream’s enjoyable series of handheld RPGs, each game has been defined more by the playable guest stars: the infant Italians who appeared in Partners in Time and Bowser himself in Inside Story. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team also introduces a new hero: Dreamy Luigi, who appears to help his big brother fend off the King of Bats, Antasma, and the corruptive nightmares he’s brought to Pi’illo Island. The game is far from sleepy (there are exciting plot twists, new platforming mechanics, comic interactions, and challenging mini-games at every turn), and as with previous installments, Dream Team takes on the properties of its new hero. It’s a more confident, more attractive, and more powerful RPG.
Unlike a foggy, forgettable dream, this is the cleanest, clearest, and most entertaining installment in the Mario & Luigi series to date. AlphaDream makes the most of the 3DS’s new features while also pulling liberally from Mario’s rich history: You’ve got Shy Guys riding in airships and Lakitus commanding Spiny squadrons, but you’ve also got Blue, Yellow, and Red viruses straight out of Dr. Mario, which you can kill traditionally, or simply hit them to change their colors so that they match three in a row. As a result, the reactive turn-based combat, in which your ability to block, dodge, or deal additional damage is based on how well you time your attacks and read each enemy’s tells, has never felt smoother—especially the new gyroscopic tag-team special attacks. And, in the event that basic combat grows tedious over the course of this 35-hour thrill ride, there are also giant boss fights (with the 3DS held like a book and the stylus used to input commands) in which Dreamy Luigi grows in size in order to throw down with Godzilla-like creatures.
Combat’s not the only thing that’s been polished. Given how much pun-tastic characters like Broque Monsieur, Starlow, and the muscle-obsessed Massif Bros. like to chew the scenery, it seems appropriate that Pi’illo Island is so vibrant, from the artifact-littered shores and deserts of Wakeport and Dozing Sands to the miasmatic and foreboding Somnom Woods and the vertiginous, molten paths of Mount Pajamaja. In fact, each zone carries so much hidden loot that can only be collected after gaining new action skills, like a cyclonic, horizontal leap or a whack-a-mole-style tunneling ability, that a collection menu’s been added to the interface, tracking the number of stat-boosting beans left buried in the ground and the number of still-petrified Pi’illo folk.
Nor is this the only world you’ll be exploring: Each 3D overworld area is connected with a series of 2D-platforming locations in the Dream World (Soul Blazer-lite), many of which revolve around the various sets of new puzzling mechanics. As with Inside Story, where the Bros. could influence Bowser from within, much of the progress through these sections is made by harassing Luigi as he sleeps on the touchscreen, thereby altering the state of his dreams, through which Mario is wading. If you want to reverse gravity, spin the inner tube that he’s sleeping on around; if you want to speed up or slow down time, yank on the left or right of his moustache (which, in the dream world, looks like the minute and hour hands of a clock). Tickle his nose with the stylus and he’ll sneeze objects from the background into the foreground. Abusing Luigi has never been as fun/rewarding.