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Sleeper hit? Hands-on with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Nintendo's 3DS dream project feels fresh yet familiar

The fourth instalment of the cult Mario & Luigi RPG series is a perfect example of what Nintendo does best with established genres. There's nothing revolutionary here and the game proves there doesn't need to be. By presenting familiar game mechanics in an inventive way, the result is a game that feels fresh yet familiar.

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Dream Team Bros, which is the fourth game in the cult Mario & Luigi series, takes place on Pi'illo Island, a paradise inhabited by residents who until recently had the power to travel in and out of a fantastical alternate dream world.

The story's straightforward enough, though being an RPG there's time and space to fill in all the little details. The thrusting narrative, however, is more deja vu than dream-like: Mario and friends go on holiday to Pi'illo Island but, when they arrive, Peach is kidnapped and cast away to the dream world.

Believe it or not, this is the third time Peach has been kidnapped whilst on holiday. Prior vacations to Dinosaur Land (Super Mario World) and Isle Delfino (Super Mario Sunshine) resulted in the same traumatic twist.

It's up to Mario and Luigi to find Peach, then, but in trying to do so they end up finding themselves in the depths of Pi'illo Castle, where they meet Dreambert - an odd little creature who's part of the Pi'illo Royal Family. Dreambert explains that his Pi'illo people have been imprisoned within nightmare chunks in the dream world. If Mario and Luigi can free the Pi'illo people, they'll be told where to find Peach.

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As their dream states are trapped, the Pi'illo people's real-world bodies lie petrified, transformed into stone pillows. It soon emerges that, when Luigi rests on these pillows he creates a portal into the dream world, which Mario can then enter to try and smash the nightmare chunks and free the Pi'illos there.

Though the narrative may be flabbier than Wario's pot-belly, it allows the game to essentially split into two sections, the real world and the dream world. Much like with the brilliant Bowser's Inside Story on DS, it allows for a combination of top-down RPG sections and side-scrolling 2D sections.

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Brilliantly, when Mario enters the dream world, he partners with 'Dreamy Luigi' - who is essentially Luigi's fantasy of how amazing he could be. He's a bit like a Tyler Durden version of Luigi, if you follow. Dreamy Luigi has numerous special abilities that the real version can't achieve, most of which involve interacting with the dream world environment (or using his 'Luigination', as it's described in the game) to help Mario progress.

An early example takes place in the first dream world stage you visit, where Mario finds himself beneath a tall platform he can't reach. A nearby pillar has a green symbol on it, and we're told that Luigi can control it with his Luigination. By toggling Luigination on with the right shoulder button and hitting B, Luigi possesses the pillar, which sprouts a big Luigi face and a moustache made of leaves. You can then pull the sleeping real-world Luigi's moustache on the bottom screen to move the pillar's moustache on the top screen, grabbing Mario with it and pulling him back then pinging him catapult-style to the higher platform.

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Later on Mario needs to open a door but the switch block to trigger it is in the background and can't be reached. Nearby is a tornado which Luigi can possess with his Luigination, at which point you can tickle the sleeping Luigi's nose to make both him and the tornado sneeze, blowing the switch into the foreground and allowing Mario to hit it to open the door.

This is all nothing more than a quirky reshuffling of a mechanic we've seen in games for decades, of course - the need to use specific skills at different points to progress in a level - but it's all delivered in such a charming way that it doesn't matter.

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