This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.
You know what I'm finding is that the 3DS makes me really uncomfortable. No, not because it keeps spouting racist opinions, I mean physically. It doesn't seem to matter whether I'm on my bed or chair or nestled in the arms of a hairy prisoner; after a while, my fingers start going numb so I have to put it aside and just listen to it spouting its racist opinions for a while. And when I see how comfortably it fits into things other than human hands such as chargers and a toasted sandwich maker, all I'm seeing is yet another reason to join the Borg! Seriously guys, you get to become part of a consciousness that spans the cosmos and never again have to worry about whether or not you're too formally dressed, sign me the fuck up!
I mention all this because my playthrough of Mario & Luigi: Dream Team finally clocked in at thirty hours. Thirty wonderful hours of moving from bed to chair to hairy prisoner and waiting for the feeling to return to my digits. All I could think is that if I were an on-call heart surgeon and my bleeper had gone off at any point in those thirty hours, Nintendo would have been guilty of spurty murder!
"Is it true that Dream Team hasn't come out in America yet? What a shame!" he said disingenuously. But then in Europe and Australia, it's titled "Dream Team Bros." It's important for us to understand familial relationships between characters because we are all so rampantly incestual, and obviously it takes a very long time to remove one word from the title; everyone's very attached to it.
But anyway, Dream Team Bros. is part of Nintendo's "Year of Luigi" (for want of a better word) thing, which I'm fully in favour of, but I do wonder if it's entirely Nintendo's best interests to highlight the fact that their usual leading man has all the personality of a squeaking bean casserole while Luigi has many personality traits and we can add another one to the list: narcolepsy.
When he and the rest of Princess Peach's entourage of friend-zone nice guys arrive on a mystic island where sleeping in certain areas opens gateways to the dream world in which a race of ancient pillow-shaped people lie trapped and petrified until somebody sleeps on them, Luigi finally discovers his purpose in life. It's like if Hugh Grant were teleported to some mystical land where stammering awkward charm could be used to generate electricity. Oh yeah, and Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser, and usually I'd group that with the unrealistic mushroom physics and the casual racism; hardly worth mentioning.
But is it? Mario RPGs such as the Paper ____ and ____ and Luigi series have historically been permitted to subvert the standard formula of Plumber A rescues Princess B from Fire-breathing Spiny C-turtle. Indeed in the last game, Bowser's Inside Story, you play as Bowser for a lot of it, and I'm just thinking about the very end of that game where Bowser starts squaring off for a fight with Mario and Luigi but then it just cuts to credits as it begins as if to say, "Yeah, fuck it, we know how this turns out, am I right?" So my question would be, if the dull tired out predictable concept of Mario fighting Bowser was a targeted mockery last time around, why in the sequel do we go right back to it with a po-faced lack of self-awareness? The genie won't go back in the bottle, Nintendo! It's like getting a sleeping bag back into its original carrying case.
The whole "Year of Luigi" concept supports the suspicion I have that Nintendo has Mario under a sort of lockdown for fear that they're doing something wrong, and all subversive elements in the canon have been stamped on in case another hundred thousand people fail to buy a Wii U. All matter in the universe eventually moves toward entropy and every Nintendo franchise inevitably devolves into hammering basically the same game out every few years with a new set of bollocks and neatly groomed pubes.
The gameplay of Dream Team Bros. is basically the same as Bowser's Inside Story. It switches between an isometric real world and 2D platforming inner world, Bowser's duodenum in the first case and Luigi's brain in the second, both equally fucked-up in their own special ways. In Irritable Bowser Syndrome, the Mario Brothers can influence the real world by messing around with the inner world, powering Bowser's muscles, inflating his scaly willy into something resembling a gnarled old tree trunk next to a pumpkin patch (unless that was just that dream I had,) whereas in the new one, it's pretty much just a straight reversal; you influence the inner world by fiddling about with the real world, in this case, Luigi's sleeping face, tweaking his moustache and drawing knobs on his forehead and putting his hand in a small bowl of warm water.
Combat retains the usual Mario RPG model; turn-based combat for overcaffeinated players who want to keep smashing buttons when it's not their turn. So the game lets you jump out of the way of enemy attacks, but since we're letting you do that, you will by Christ jump through some hoops to do the special attack, and if you fuck up, they'll have as much impact as the dewy morning fart of a spring lamb, which I like because if I'm to be punished, I'd prefer to know it's because I fucked up and not because my protagonist is politely biting the curb and letting them stomp away.
But another thing copied over from Bowser's Fantastic Voyage is the giant monster fights (or "kaiju" I think is the technical term among complete wankers,) albeit this time with a fully inflated Dreamland Luigi, which coincidentally is the brand name for a sex toy that I'm trying to bring to market; and this I'm finding I don't like so much 'cos this is an RPG, man! I don't deliberately jump on all the monsters 'cos I think the battle music will get better after hearing it another ten thousand sodding times, it's so I can get XP and kick more arse! But what is the bloody point if it culminates in a giant monster fight with entirely different mechanics entirely unrelated to the stats we have built thus far? It's like blowing all your money on restoring your classic car and then picking up your date with a piggy back ride.
The final one of these with Bowser is the most obnoxious 'cos there's little margin for error. All the moves take as long as an episode of Inspector Morse and it climaxes with an air-hockey mini-game that uses wonky tilting controls. And if we must tilt something to control a game, I prefer it not be the thing on which I'm fucking trying to fucking view the fucking ga-fucking-me!
Ultimately, what condemns Dream Team is that I just found it boring, unchallenging and tired. Oh look, it's Mario; oh look, it's the other guy, we forgot his name, ha ha ha, ad infinitum. I'm disappointed by Bowser just being the straight villain again 'cos done well, he can be an interesting character study. There's something intriguing about someone who self-identifies as the bad guy. Society calls him evil, but he wears their label; he reclaims it and that is why they never get him down!
If the options are good or evil, then Bowser will take evil because he has seen what passes for good; an unelected ditz living in obscene decadence and bestowing priviledges on a pair of moustachioed foriers who might both be giving her one. She's basically a gender-swapped Berlusconi!
I close my eyeeeees and I drift awaaaaay: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
All the time you spend looking at Luigi's face in this game made me realize that his moustache kind of looks like a bikini top
I find most of my dates end with piggy back rides