The Mario & Luigi series has arguably been one of the most turbulent in the Mario videogame franchise. Having birthed from the ideal of bringing Paper Mario to handheld, the series commonly known as Mario and Luigi RPG is at one moment offering a progressive and daring design and then with the next instalment questioning it’s own existence. Nintendo are keen to press on however, with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. set to mark the series’ debut on Nintendo 3DS very soon indeed.
The plot of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. appears to be some ludicrously ham-fisted excuse to provide a premise for a new style of gameplay. However, if this kind of thing troubles you than it’s unlikely you’ll have persevered with the series this far. In the build available to Electronic Theatre there were four playable modes, each giving a taste of a different aspect of the gameplay without hinting at any plot development whatsoever. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is a videogame that is primarily concerned with the delivery of gameplay, completely ignorant of it’s power as a story telling tool.
There are two distinct worlds in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros., the real world and the dream world. The former features very active levels as you move around a top-down map not to dissimilar to the 2D The Legend of Zelda videogames. The player can explore this world freely, interacting with objects and finding hidden bonuses, and engaging in combat with the enemies displayed on the map when they choose to do so. The combat is turn-based and the action is removed from this map.
The combat in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is all based around timing. After selecting your attack for either of the two brothers an animated sequence will take place and pressing the corresponding button at the correct moment will have a significant effect on the resulting damage. For example, if a basic hit were to dish out ten damage points then a well timed press might deal twelve, but a perfectly timed one could land twenty. It’s an elegant system that means you’re never simply watching the action unfold.
The dream world features the same combat system in between it’s 2D side-scrolling gameplay, but this time around Luigi is an ethereal being. This allows for a number of eccentric new additions to the manoeuvre repertoire, referred to as ‘Luiginary’ attacks. Two of these were available in the preview build: Stack, which sees you timing jumps in order to build your pile of Luigi’s ever higher before impact, and Ball, for which you tilt the Nintendo 3DS in order to build a large ball of rolling Luigi’s in a fashion not too dissimilar to Katamari.
Another of the areas where the hardware features of the Nintendo 3DS console were shown in use was that if the Giant Boss Battle. A lengthy set-piece in which the console is held sideways (as it was for the Dr. Kawashima: How Old Is Your Brain? series of releases) this fight takes on many different forms with many different mechanics. Swipes to attack and deflect, flicks to jump and dodge, a rhythm action mini-game to restore health and a lucky guess as to which manoeuvre will incur the most damage make for a gameplay mode that is more irritating than it is enjoyable, however Electronic Theatre was informed that this would be the first of such battles in the final build, so the hope remains that the outcome of this training session will be much more enjoyable sequences later on the videogame.
This, however, is the biggest issue with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. a as a whole. While it’s easy to forgive the videogame for lacking any credible context or plot delivery – because, well, it’s simply not necessary – it’s much harder to forgive the shoehorning of mechanics into a template that isn’t fit to accommodate them. Exactly how all of the disparate mechanics seen in this preview build will come together in the final product is a worrying issue; just how Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. manages to cope with a much bigger quota remains to be seen.