Platform: 3DS

I’ll be honest that I’m pretty tired of Mario games, now that I’m got older. Not because I’ve grown out of the cute infectious visual style of the game series, but because the gameplay itself hasn’t really evolved much from the first entry in the series. Having said that, I whole heartedly agree that if it ain’t broke you shouldn’t fix it, and there have been some solid modern Mario titles released recently, but the variation is always lacking and it's too almost predictable what to expect from the game’s series overall.

With Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. I expected a straight Mario game with some Luigi thrown into the mix (as the game’s title suggests), however I wasn’t prepared for Nintendo to absolutely blow my cynical expectations away with this fantastic and massive release.

 photo mario-luigi-01_zpsd40ecc75.jpgThe game’s story is relatively interesting compared to other Mario games. Usually I’d expect Princess Peach to be kidnapped by Bowser within the first minute of gameplay, however Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. sees Princess Peach, her Toad advisors and of course Mario & Luigi going off to the tropical Pi’llow Island.

On this island people can enter other people’s dreams by sleeping on special Pillow portals throughout the island. As Luigi tries out one of these special Pillows, a mysterious force pulls Princess Peach into Luigi’s dream world – Mario of course pursues the mysterious force to try and rescue Princess Peach.

The game is a turn-based RPG game. There have been several RPG-styled Mario games before, like the Paper Mario series, however none that have really ‘felt’ like a fully fleshed RPG – Probably due to the fact Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. includes several incredibly entertaining and unique elements into its gameplay.

 photo mario-luigi-02_zpsd2c64e92.jpgYour exploration is displayed with an isometric view with all characters as incredibly detailed semi-rotoscoped 3D sprites. When you are exploring you can jump at any time - Usually Luigi is in tow with Mario so you can make both brothers jump individually or at the same time to explore the island fully. As you encounter enemies, the RPG element of the game comes into play. What makes the RPG combat so unique is that you have total control over your actions. It’s not merely a matter of selecting attacks or chaining commands. For example, when you select to attack an opponent with a jump stomp attack, you literally get to control the amount of damage you will do to your enemy by pressing the jump button as you land.

The combat becomes even more fleshed out as you fight bosses later. Most boss battles will see you being able to control your characters movement in real-time on the combat field to dodge attacks. You can also jump to dodge attacks or even jump and land on the enemy as a counter, again, all in real-time.

 photo mario-luigi-03_zpsae26fa7b.jpgMario and Luigi can also perform ‘Bros. Attacks’ that play out like little mini-games that perform huge amounts of damage to the enemy. For example, the 3D Bros. Shell attack utilizes the Nintendo 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D to test your ability to time your attacks in kicking a green / red shell between the enemy and Mario and Luigi. Whereas another Bros. Attack allows you to use the gyroscopic sensor on the 3DS to collect many Luigis, rolling them into a massive ball and kicking them to the enemies – the game isn't short on variety.

To spice things up, the combat is slightly different when Mario enters Luigi’s dream worlds. In the dream world a Dream Luigi accompanies Mario. When in combat, the Dream Luigi becomes part of Mario’s latent powers as Mario takes on multiple opponents. Many of the opponents in dream worlds come in massive groups, so Luigi’s latent power to duplicate himself in a dream come in handy in taking out all the enemies during combat.

Exploration is also completely different in the dream world, as it takes place in a classic 2D perspective with much more emphasis on puzzle-based gameplay. In the dream world the bottom of the 3DS’s screen shows a close-up of Luigi’s face dozing off. You can interact with the bottom screen to make the sleeping real-world Luigi transform his Dream Luigi-self to aid Mario.

 photo mario-luigi-04_zpsb43f0c59.jpgSome of the things you can do in the dream world with Luigi are really ingenious. For example, you can call upon Luigi’s powers to create a massive stack of cloned Dream Luigis for Mario to travel on. You can utilize a tree like object in the dream world and use its leafs to propel Mario across the screen by pulling on the real-world Luigi’s moustache – what I loved is that every time you did this, the real-world Luigi would react to different things happening in the dream. If you bump the Dream Luigi’s head against an object, the real-world Luigi would twitch as if he felt that bump!

As for the normal isometric exploration area of the game, you will find yourself traversing most of the island and completing puzzles that are on the island itself in the form of unique mini dungeon-like experiences that are unique to each area of the island. This brought an almost Zelda like quality to the gameplay, where puzzles are completed to progress further.

As with all RPGs there is a leveling system. Both Mario and Luigi can level up their stats that range from the usual fare of Strength, HP, Luck and Defense etc. – I enjoyed seeing that Nintendo at least use some humor in changing the names of these stats, seeing ‘POW’ represent Strength and ‘STACHE’ representing Luck (basically the bigger your moustache power the more luck you have!).

What increased the enjoyment factor of the leveling system was that every time you leveled you're able to choose a stat of your and then level it up with a random generator of numbers represented by a slot machine – This way if you land on say a ‘5’ your stat will level up 5 points. This system insured constant randomized and unique gameplay every time.

To make the leveling system even more fun, the game has a added ‘Rank’ system that, when attained after certain levels, allows you to select a ‘Perk’ that will be latent to your character’s powers throughout the game. It very much feels like the Fallout perk system.

Combat is further reinforced with a ‘Badge System’ that allows players to combine different sets of badges that give them unique powers during combat. For example when you hit enemies with perfect timing during combat, you will obtain star powers that fill up your badge meter. When your badge meter is full up, you can activate your badge powers that are determined by the badges you have combined – For example heal 50% of your party’s health or give them extra temporary defense.

Lastly, if you hit your enemies with perfect timing enough times or dodge them perfectly in succession, you will be rewarded with ‘Expert Challenge’ awards that reward you with unique rare items or abilities, thus creating an even more competitive in-game challenge for those who like collecting achievements with an incentive.

It’s worth noting that the game’s difficulty is incredibly balanced and at no point did I feel that there were exploitable means of leveling your character to be overpowered. The game is also incredibly long and will probably see you completing the main story in roughly around 20+ hours or more if you’re speeding through. For everyone else wanting to unlock all the games secrets, expect to play this game much longer.

 photo mario-luigi-05_zpsf8b0d68f.jpgVisually I touched upon the game switching between an isometric and classic 2D mode, however I must emphasize that the use of sprites in this game looks so perfect for this game. It not just harks back to a classic Mario that veteran / older gamers will remember, but it also has a unique and incredibly detailed charm that is exposed in the lush visuals that this game offers.

The games audio department did a top-notch job of including all the classic trademark sounds most Mario fans will be familiar with, however this time around Mario and Luigi ‘talk’ a lot more to people and themselves. Seeing them speak gibberish pretend Italian is incredibly hilarious and brings a whole new depth of soul to these two classic characters – Also seeing Luigi’s admiration of his brother Mario and his dependency on him being a true and great friend is really a heart warming sight to see.

With such a massive game, that's visually delicious and an all round rewarding gameplay experience, I dare say this is the best Mario title I have played in a long time. I find it very interesting that it took Luigi (Who practically takes a starring role in this game) to make this game one of the best Mario titles to be released. If I could rate this game an 11 out of 10, I seriously would, as the game deserves every bit of praise it gets.

Nintendo, with such games as this, are showing that they are still doing what they do best; creating quality experiences that are unique and can prove that old series characters can still show you new things and aren’t stuck to tired old routines.

Regardless of whether you're an RPG fan or not, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. deserves to be in your Nintendo 3DS' collection.