It’s been almost a month but I finally finished Mario & Luigi – Dream Team for the 3DS. 41 hours of game play including the main quest and the bulk of the side quests. Has it been worth it? Dunno; I’m still not over the annoyance factor of the final boss fight.

Right, this is the fourth game in the Mario and Luigi saga – there was the original on the GBA, two on the DS and this instalment on the 3DS. The plot involves the usual characters from the Mushroom Kingdom together with guest appearances from those who have featured in other games in the M&L saga. The heroes have been invited to vacation on Pi’llo island, reknowned for its luxury and ability to make dreams come true. This happens to be relevant because the original inhabitants were known to exist in and out of the dream world, where the rules of physics don’t always apply and where all sorts of crazy things happen.

So a villain shows up, then Bowser shows up. Usual stuff goes down, Peach goes missing – Mario and Luigi bish bosh their way through several areas looking for the villains and allies to aid them in their quest.

The Mario and Luigi games are a mixture of RPG and some crude 2½D platforming. The characters begin fairly weak but as the game progresses, they gain all sorts of new abilities, items and gear to help them in their quest. Pi’llo Island is divided into several zones, all of which are found in TVTropes (the forest level, the desert level, the beach level…) and there’s a fair amount of schlepping between the zones.

What this game brings to the saga is the dream world; whilst the regular game plays in 2½D, the dream world plays in 2D, just like New Super Mario Bros though the battles take place in the usual turn-based arena. Luigi takes more of a starring role in this game as the man who can access the dream world because of an ability to perceive sleep more or less asynchronous with the islands original inhabitants. Whilst asleep, Luigi can interact with the dream world in different ways enabling Mario to find his way around. Also during combat, Luigi and Mario fight as a single entity rather than two separate beings allowing for more combat options rather than hundreds of identical battles.

Graphically, the game broadly resembles Yoshi’s Story and similar – the backgrounds and foregrounds look as if they’ve been cut out from paper (rather than looking like the cartoon version of the Paper Mario games) and this helps them stand out when 3D is enabled on the 3DS. There’s a lot more happening in the game with far more characters running around and to interact with. The enhanced power of the 3DS also permits more enemies in the combat phase, particularly in the dream world battles where Mario and Luigi will face blocks of enemies rather than small groups.

Audio – nothing particularly noteworthy here, the usual upbeat and lively tunes, familiar sound effects and the main characters squarking the odd word.

Gameplay – As I said before, it took me 41 hours to finish and I think I have finished around 85% of the game. I could go back to sweep up the challenges but with several other games demanding my attention – that’s doubtful. But it is one hell of an investment in time and you do feel like you’ve accomplished something. Old farts will enjoy the game as it has a pretty good balance between the old and the new whilst n00bz might take a while to get to grips with the features but the challenges and Boo Biscuits (don’t ask) allow for practice. There are also some decent in-game tutorials for special moves.

The game does take a while to start up and there isn’t much of a “sandbox” to play in as the game is reasonably familiar. You can’t really get lost in the sidequests for long which I dare say is a blessing but I believe the odd distraction is welcome. Sometimes though, you want to ignore the bloody combat and stick to the main mission – if only there was the equivalent of the Paper Mario “Jump Badge”. However, if you’re prepared to put in the time, I think there’s enough to be rewarded by.

One interesting feature of the game are the Hiking Boots – they allow you to gain attack strength for the wearer based on the number of footsteps recorded by the 3DS’ pedometer. So if you’re like me and you can walk ten miles a day – you might want to play in the evening because Mario is just a one-man killing machine with the amount of power his boots can rack up. And if you’re a hoarder, there are similar items based on the number of coins held by Mario encouraging participation in the side-quests as that is where the money is to be made.

All in all, it’s a worth addition to the saga and a worth-while single player purchase. It’s a light RPG but with enough elements for the hard core to enjoy. The diversity of the characters is interesting and the combat is fairly intuitive. Worth checking out – it’s something you might well want to come back to in the future rather than play once and forget.

Coming up next – New Super Mario Bros 2 and then Epic Mickey 2.