Mario & Luigi Dream Team
Image: Nintendo

The worlds of Mario and Christopher Nolan rarely overlap, and for good reason. Cillian Murphy may make an excellent Oppenheimer, but he’d be a painfully miscast Professor E. Gadd. Yet somehow, ten years ago, that didn’t stand in the way of AlphaDream adding a strong vibe reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio’s dream heist in Inception to Mario & Luigi: Dream Team.

After Bowser’s Inside Story explored the villain’s physical innards, the long-time Mario & Luigi developers celebrated the Year of Luigi by delving deep into the younger Mario bro’s subconscious. Released in Europe on July 12th, 2013, the series’ first 3D entry debuted a new art style along with Pi’illo Island, setting the scene for a bubbly adventure with an unusually surrealist streak.

The Mario Bros. never have peaceful holidays – just ask the residents of Mario Sunshine’s oil-slicked Isle Delfino – and sunny Pi’illo Island is no exception. This time, they came to the aid of both Princess Peach and the dormant Pi’illo people, both trapped in slumbery limbo in a psychedelic Dream World.

Fortunately, it turns out Luigi’s brain frequency, at least when fast asleep, can open a portal for Mario to access the Dream World. In doing so, he enters a side-scrolling dimension in the hunt for Dream Bowser and the sinister bat-king Antasma, navigating a world sporting shimmering pastels that would be overkill on the wildest prog-rock album cover, made even more deliriously woozy thanks to the 3DS’s stereoscopics.

Luigi’s enviable ability to sleep on command to open this world may be impressive, but you’d be right to think it’s hardly the starring role he deserved in the Year of Luigi, a downgrade on his accomplishments that year in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon. But then you get to see Luigi as never before. Usually, he’s his elder brother’s hapless sidekick. But in his dreams, he’s a confident, capable one-man army. Meet Dreamy Luigi, and his horde of Luiginoid clones.

you get to see Luigi as never before... in his dreams, he’s a confident, capable one-man army

It’s Dreamy Luigi that shows the game’s unfettered imagination at its very best. AlphaDream bided its time to exploit the 3DS’s capabilities, and it was worth the wait to see them go utterly buck-wild and pack the screen with Luigis. Having finally found his swagger, Dreamy Luigi marshals an army of dozens of Luigi clones (called Luiginoids) that turn brotherly love into an unstoppable force. Whenever Mario lands a jump attack in Dream World, his boot is followed up by an enthusiastic procession of Luigis, all dropping from the sky to carpet-bomb survivors into oblivion.

Luigi has been the family acrobat with that reliably higher jump since Super Mario Bros. 2, and he flaunts those talents like never before in human-pyramid style thanks to the game’s Luiginary Attacks. In these special moves, swarms of Luiginoids combine to wallop enemies with gigantic hammers, trapping them between solid walls of green Mario Brother, or amassing Katamari balls of pure Luigi to crush anyone standing between the duo and Princess Peach.

These attacks were the biggest addition to the game’s typically involving turn-based combat system. An otherwise traditional Mario RPG blend of QTE-alikes and menu attacks were powered up with an impressive stream of arcade-worthy minigames, helping players deploy special moves with notable aplomb.

Of course, the game had more going for it than mere Luigification: Dream Team also included more uses for touch and motion controls than its predecessor. Players would manipulate the Dream World by tormenting poor snoozing Luigi, as if commanded by Wario himself! You’d tweak that luscious mustache as he slept, tickle his nose to blow away obstacles with an explosive sneeze, or use tilt controls to roll as many Luiginoids as possible into a colossal Luigi Ball.

For all the game’s endless invention and bubbling wit, our review identified Dream Team’s main flaw: it’s just too dang long, clocking in at almost double the run-time of other entries in the series. While AlphaDream was clearly brimming with ideas to stop players from hitting the hay along with Luigi, this ain’t no Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. Even if the game’s impeccable humour never grows old, its reused levels and gently challenging puzzles and combat can’t justify its length.

Mario & Luigi Dream Team
When you’ve got a hammer made of Luigis, every problem looks like a nail made of Goombas — Image: Nintendo

Coming back to Pi’illo Island ten years on, it’s also clear why this island and its drowsy people are yet to return from hibernation. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, a vibrant but functional space to hide pillow-shaped gateways to the far more vividly realised Dream World – even if zones like Mount Pajamaja and Dozing Sands remain utterly pun-derful joys to this day.

Equally, while Dream Team’s story was easier to follow than Inception’s twists and turns, its unique characters like Prince Dreambert and the villain Antasma proved one-hit blunders. It’s the familiar faces who make the biggest impact, with a special shoutout to the delightful Broque Monsieur and the hammiest French accent to be found outside vintage British sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo or Hercule Poirot.

My biggest gripe, perhaps unfairly, is a personal one. As the lanky younger brother to a shorter, perpetually more popular brother, I wanted to see Luigi get his due. Nintendo’s cartoony dream logic lets you sympathise with Luigi’s inferiority complex, so often outshone by a beloved but spotlight-hungry big brother. But Luigi’s heroics are always at Mario’s command. Even in the Year of Luigi, it’s still big brother Mario calling the shots while Luigi enjoys a blissful nap. As Broque Monsieur would say: c'est la vie.

Mario & Luigi Dream Team
For once, you snooze, you don’t lose — Image: Nintendo

Today, just like a dream, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team has largely faded from memory. The second best-selling title in the series barely made our top 50 best 3DS games in 47th place at the time of writing (an easy top 20 pick for me!). The game Satoru Iwata appreciated as “a gift from craftsmen” is still a shining example of the wit and vibrant creativity AlphaDream brought to its trademark handheld series.

Although the developer has since gone into bankruptcy, I still dream of the day this game and Luigi are recognised as the RPG heroes they truly are.