The Mario & Luigi series of RPG games has a cult following, mainly thanks to its brilliant sense of humour and charming design.
The fourth game in the series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros, was released for 3DS on July 12 in Europe and comes to North America on August 11.
It sees Mario and Luigi heading to Pi'illo Island, where Mario can enter portals via Luigi's dreams. Once in a dream world, players can manipulate the sleeping Luigi in the real world to trigger special dream powers called Luiginary Works and Luiginary Attacks, which can give Mario the advantage.
In our Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros review we said: "Dream Team's shotgun blast of diverse gameplay types meld together into a well-crafted, complimentary package, constantly pushing you forward in a quest to find out what next awaits. And the biggest compliment we can pay? That it leaves you wishing all RPG sequels were as ready to ditch convention".
To find out more about the game's development, we had a chat with two of its most prominent development figures. Director Hiroyuki Kubota works for Mario & Luigi studio AlphaDream, while Akira Otani at Nintendo is the producer.
CVG: How did the decision to work on a fourth Mario & Luigi RPG come about, and how was the dream powers idea conceived?
KUBOTA: It all started after finishing the development for Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story on DS. We thought, why don't we get a lot of Marios and Luigis to appear in a game?
At that time, the idea was to make not only a lot of Luigis but a lot of Marios appear, but making a lot of characters appear at the same time and controlling them was very difficult in terms of hardware performance, and so this idea was put aside.
However, [when it emerged] we had new hardware for the fourth title we thought we could use this idea of getting many characters to appear and suggested this in the beginning of development.
During the process of deciding the setting for the game, since the setting for the previous title was inside and outside Bowser's body, we suggested two different worlds again: this time the worlds of dream and reality, utilising the two screens of the Nintendo 3DS.
If it was a world of dreams, then it would not be unnatural for there to be many Luigis and the coupled idea of fiddling with a sleeping Luigi in the real world also having an effect in the dream world seemed fun as well, so we decided to expand on this and went ahead with the planning.
Was the 'Year Of Luigi' promotion part of the reason Luigi has such a prominent role in the game?
OTANI: It's probably a happy coincidence. After the success of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, we thought of ideas using Bowser and other characters, but then we also thought that if we kept using other characters, the series might not be about Mario & Luigi any more. As a result of thinking about how to play with only Mario and Luigi, we decided to centre it on Luigi. This was more than three years ago, so I guess it was probably destiny.
Without spoiling anything, it's clear as you play through the game that Luigi's mind is full of issues with being in his brother's shadow. Was it difficult to keep a balance between exploring Luigi's darker thoughts and keeping the game light-hearted?
KUBOTA: We do not think that Luigi is just a shadow of Mario. Of course, as an element of laughter in the game, we sometimes toy with Luigi by purposely calling him Green Moustache and treating him as a character whose name everyone can't remember, but in this title we consider Luigi as the leading character as well.
In this game, there are places where you can get a glimpse of what lies at the bottom of Luigi's heart, and we think that we were able to portray Luigi pretty well in the game, including even the inner feelings of caring for his elder brother, so we didn't really feel any particular difficulty in keeping a balance.
The previous Mario & Luigi games were on GBA and DS. With the extra power the 3DS offers, were you ever tempted to switch to polygonal characters? Why did you decide to keep them sprite-based?
KUBOTA: With polygon animation, it was hard to convey the comical taste unique to this series. The characters were made by making full use of 2D animation, one of our strong points.
However, the background for the real world is made in 3D, so we tried to devise ways of depicting the characters, for example by putting in characters' shadows in a certain way, that would make the 2D characters look three dimensional and not like flat 2D characters when they are placed against the 3D background.
In addition, the game also has the following characteristic. In order to make the direction patterns of the characters look 3D-like, it was necessary to prepare many character direction patterns and many animation patterns to show smooth movements, hence making the proportion of the character data in the memory very large.
The Mario & Luigi games have plenty of unique characters who don't appear elsewhere in the Mario universe. What's the process behind designing these characters? Do Nintendo and AlphaDream collaborate on them, or does one group have more of a say than the other?
OTANI: Basically, AlphaDream thinks of how to play and whilst doing this, comes up with character designs that would be appropriate for this.
Nintendo also supports by seeing to it that these designs fit the atmosphere of Mario games.
The reason why characters which were not in the original appear is because the story is also very important in this game. However, characters with crazy designs sometimes get sent to Nintendo. Of course most of them were rejected...
A lot of the humour in the Mario & Luigi games is dialogue-based, but jokes that may be funny in one country aren't in another. The English-language localisation of Dream Team is fantastic, with some very clever jokes and references to popular culture. Does anyone from AlphaDream collaborate with the localisation teams or are they given a free reign to translate the script as they see fit?
OTANI: For the entire series, we always ask the Nintendo of America writer Nate Bihldorff to handle localisation. He really loves this series and enjoys making changes to the text so that it would be compatible in other countries.
We give Nate and his team the freedom to change things and we are always impressed by how he makes arrangements to the Japanese humour that is characteristic to this game. However, in a past title there was a Japanese-specific joke where a washbasin (tarai) falls onto the head, and he did have difficulty arranging this, asking us if this could be changed to a bucket.
Were there any Luiginary Works or Luiginary Attacks that were planned for the game and ultimately abandoned for some reason?
KUBOTA: There are various attacks that have not been adopted, such as the Bros. Attack and Miracle Attack. Every time we come up with numerous ideas and then choose from these ideas by considering which ones are fun, can realistically be created and fit the concept of the game.
There are also cases where we create the attack on a trial basis, and find that it is not fun after all when playing it, so we have to abandon its production.
For example, there used to be one Luiginary Attack called 'Miracle Volcano'. In this idea, many Luigis gather together to become a volcano, and by shaking the Nintendo 3DS the volcano erupts, releasing masses of Luigis and hitting the enemies. We created this attack on a trial basis, but because the functionality did not work out so well and Mario had too little a role in the attack, this idea was not adopted.
It's been revealed in a recent Iwata Asks that there's a Hardcore mode available when the game is completed. Was this a way to ensure the game could appeal to a wider audience?
KUBOTA: Yes, that's right. In this title, we wanted beginners and people who are not very good at RPGs to be able to play the game to the end, so to make this possible we made hint blocks and easy mode, but we also prepared a hard mode for core gamers and those who still want to play after clearing the game. This mode has increased difficulty, with the attack powers of the enemies increased and a smaller maximum number of items which Mario and Luigi can carry, so we hope that those who have cleared the first round of the game will make an attempt to play this mode.
The staff in charge of adjusting the difficulty of the overall game, as well as the difficulty of the battles has been able to adjust a good difficulty level in the end by playing the whole game repetitively.
Actually, for the previous title (Bowser's Inside Story), we adjusted the game difficulty by having someone who was not very good at RPGs play the game from the beginning to the end, and the staff observing this from behind and watching several hours of gameplay recorded on video. I think that it is because of this experience that we were able to carry out a more detailed adjustment in this title.
There are points in the game where Luigi turns into a giant. It's a bit mad, where did that come from?
OTANI: The battles where Luigi grows into a giant are all in 3D, and we had Good-Feel, who worked on Kirby's Epic Yarn and has expertise in 3D effects, to work on this.
Initially, the voice of giant Luigi was set to be a deep voice as he is big. Charles Martinet, the voice actor, happily took part in the voice recording session and his voice had a fresh feel when it was actually implemented into the game. However, the Luigi-ness had also greatly faded away, so that is why we decided to use the current voice.
If we had kept that other voice, we would have probably seen a completely different new Luigi. The giant battle is the part of the game we were struggling with the most along with the main story, so we hope that players will be able to enjoy it.
While the Mario & Luigi series has always been handheld only, would AlphaDream consider a Wii U version?
OTANI: As a developer I am interested, but we currently have no plans for a Wii U version. If we want to convey the amusement and fun of the character animations and reactions using AlphaDream's pixel art, I think handheld consoles are the best for doing this.