Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros for Nintendo 3DS is an RPG-platform hybrid adventure, in which the two plumbers have to fight baddies in a mixture of the real world and a surreal dreamscape within Luigi's imagination.
The very idea of a Mario & Luigi RPG is totally absurd.
Not because Mario and role-playing games don't mix well in practice -- as the previous three games in the series have shown. It's just the very idea that the Bros. Super, who have spent 30 years jumping on enemies heads to kill them, have anything left to learn about that singularly basic maneurvre, let alone starting at level one and proceeding through 38 grades of experience based improvements, is totally insane.
That niggling thought aside, there is so much to enjoy in Dream Team. The usual Nintendo polish is there. The sense of humour shines. And the blend of both turn-based battles with timing-based attacks and defensive moves, and 3D and 2D platforming work well in their simplified, but richly rewarding, forms.
The game opens with Princess Peach and her loyal plumbers travelling to the mysterious Pi’illo Island, where the pink lady is captured and pulled into a Dream World only accessible to Mario when Luigi is asleep on a magic pillow. Mario and Luigi must then travel across the 3D island, looking for pillows with which to enter the Dream World and find clues about where Peach has got herself this time.
Once inside the dream world the player can use Luigi to interact in strange ways with the (suddenly 2D) landscape. He can fly into a tree, for instance, enabling you to pull his 'moustache' branches and chuck Mario to new areas, or whip moveable obstacles around when sucked into a whirlpool.
In both worlds, the Bros are faced with constant attacks by enemies, who they have to defeat in turn-based battles that play out similarly to games like Pokemon or Final Fantasy - except the attacks and defensive moves all rely on timing and reactions. Press 'A' just as Mario lands on a goomba's head and earn a second attack. Roll a ball of magical Luigi's using the 3DS movement sensor to pick up 'Luiginary' attack points - and so on.
The result is essentially a classic RPG style game, with neat graphical touches, an amazingly inventive range of ideas and stages and a massive amount of puzzles and enemies. It's a game only Nintendo could make, and in which only Mario and Luigi could star. It's long and involving, retaining the spirit of the platform games but extending the experience into something genuinely deep - if a little all over the place, narratively.
But surely next time Mario won't have to start at level one?