With Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, Nintendo hit on a near perfect formula for making Mario RPGs. Using the A button for Mario and B for Luigi in both the platforming and in the timing based battle system was brilliant. The inventive gameplay would have been enough to carry things, but that game also featured a charming story that made the most of the Mario Universe. The first game received accolades for its story, especially the new villain Fawful, who spouts inspired gibberish as he hassles the Mario brothers throughout the Beanbean Kingdom.
The seeds of the series’ downfall lie in that lauded story. Future games, no longer hampered by the relatively small cartridge space of the GBA, expanded on that charming dialogue, much to the games detriment. The first sequel, Partners in Time, was widely dismissed as an overly talky slog. Bowser’s Inside Story seemed to regain the series luster, but even that game was all kinds of too chatty. It was easier to accept, since much of that chattiness was from the highly amusing Bowser and the returning Fawful. The 3DS entry in the series, Dream Team, is even chattier than the others. It makes playing an outright chore. It is not that the dialogue is bad or that the story isn’t amusing, it is just that there is so much of it. The entire game slows to a crawl anytime you have to talk to anybody.
Also, the characters just don’t have the charm of the first and third games. Bowser is still great, but he doesn’t play that big a role in this game. There is no Fawful and the villainous replacements lack anything like his charm. The new allies similarly fall flat. There are quite a few humorous moments, but a lot of it is just dull. The worst part is, all the excess dialogue is completely unneeded. The biggest part of the humor comes from the excellent animation. Mario and Luigi more with charming grace and since neither of them talk, they do all of their conversing with delightful pantomime. Seeing Luigi tap his head as he tries to think never stops being amusing. Everything else looks similarly great.
Also, the gameplay is largely excellent. Much of it is the same thing that the series has been peddling since the first game. There is still plenty of rudimentary platforming where you have to control both brothers in tandem. It is still fun. The battles are all about timing and using the right attacks; how enjoyable it is largely dependent on how good the player is at avoiding enemy attacks. Then there are the dream segments. Luigi falls asleep and Mario jumps into his head and into the dream world. There, the dream version of Luigi is able to merge with things in the background and through the touch screen affect the world. The game gets to stretch its legs and largely puts the touch screen to good use. There are some uses of 3DS functionality that just don’t work, though, mostly involving using the tilt functions. Tilting the screen around while you play seems like a good idea, but it rarely works out. Dream Team has a lot more hits than misses, making for what should be a fun experience.
It all comes back to the fact that any enjoyment there is to be had in the game is almost completely destroyed by the incessant, pace breaking jabbering. It never lets up and it is never interesting. So many times the game has a cutscene where the characters joke and meander through a plot point for way too long only to stop the player immediately after it ends to recap it all one more time. It is tiresome. It you can get past that, or are able to appreciate the charm through the excess there is a lot to like about this game. I could not.