Mario & Luigi: Dream Team- Perfect Dream Logic

Saturday, August 24th, 2013

It seems to me that whenever I play a game starring Mario, Nintendo’s iconic plumber mascot, it is always an almost completely flawless experience.  The settings are vibrant and fun to look at, the running, jumping, and collecting action is engaging, and the characters, music, power-ups, and just about everything else blend into a formula that is very satisfying.  I most recently got this feeling while I was playing through Mario’s newest adventure on the Nintendo 3DS, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, in which this perfect gaming concoction takes on a dreamlike quality that is quite palatable to me.

Dream Team‘s story starts with Mario, his brother Luigi, Princess Peach, and a whole castle’s worth of Toads (the little mushroom guys with the red-and-white spotted hats) arriving on Pi’illo Island for a relaxing vacation.  The island has recently become a famous tourist attraction with large cities and towns, mysterious ancient ruins, and, most interestingly, a rich cultural heritage involving the island’s original inhabitants, the Pi’illo Folk.  It seems the Pi’illos found a way to enter the realm of dreams and used this knowledge to build an impressive kingdom.  The kingdom came crashing down, though, due to the evil activities of the “king of bats,” Antasma, who used his powers to trap the Pi’illos in the form of rocklike  pillows (someone at Nintendo must really love wordplay).  It is up to Mario and Luigi to free the Pi’illos from their imprisonment and defeat a revived Antasma so everyone on the island can go back to sleep in peace.

To save the island, you must take Mario and Luigi and jump, spin, smash enemies over the head with comically oversized hammers (Thank you, Donkey Kong!), sleep on the imprisoned Pi’illos (I’m serious, this is a prominent part of the game; I’ll explain in a moment), travel through the strange, exotic landscapes of the dream world, and do all sorts of other surprising things.  To the game’s credit, all of these different actions provide a decent bit of variety to the adventure which keeps introducing new moves and ideas while building upon previously established concepts.  In a recent play session, I smashed boulders and enemies with my hammers; a fairly routine event.  I also journeyed into one of Luigi’s dreams, built a tower of Luigi clones which I used to jump really high and grab a pile of coins, learned how to change a tower of Luigis into a cone of Luigis, and used that cone to float gently down from a high platform to my goal below.  Definitely not events you would normally see in a Mario game, but par for the course here and one of the ways I love being routinely surprised by this game.

The whole game feels like an endless dream to me.  The situations Mario and Luigi find themselves in are typically ridiculous but strangely make a lot of sense at the time.  For instance, I am currently following a pair of Russian-accented strongmen up a mountain while fending off attacks from flying dumbells and blue spike-headed bees.  Whenever I can find a pillow for Luigi to sleep on (he’s a big insomniac in this game for some reason), I have him lay down on it, and then travel into his dreams so I can free two gigantic Pi’illos.  When they are freed, they open huge gates blocking my path to the Russians.  I have never seen these creatures in a Mario game before and the ways I have interacted with them have been quite unusual, but I now think of them in the same way I normally think of the turtles, walking chestnuts, living bullets, and cloud men dropping spike-covered walking shells that are my old friends from the old Mario games.  They may be strange, but they do make sense in a world of dreams, and I can accept them for what they are.

The whole experience has felt light and floaty to me, just as if I was in an actual dream.  The game, so far, is not particularly difficult for me.  Sure, I might have lost a battle or two because I misread the attack patterns of an enemy, but I have been able to try again and again until I got it right.  Even if I cannot get the timing exactly right on an attack, there is always the “Easy Mode” option; making nearly every fight in the game a potential cakewalk.  I am largely free to explore the game at my leisure without worrying about a permanent “game over,”  just as if the game was an acutal dream whose menaces won’t give me trouble when I wake up.

Perhaps the most bizarre moment in Dream Team came during my most recent playthrough and reminded me why this game is so special.  I had discovered a magical fountain in the mountains, something I had not encountered in the game before.  Usually if I find a fountain like this in other games, it either restores all of my health or strength or does something bad to me.  Both Mario and Luigi were pretty banged up from a constant barrage of tough battles, and I did not want to use any more items to heal them than I had already used (which was a lot, unfortunately).  So I decided to have them take a drink from the fountain in the hope that it might be the type of fountain that would fully heal them.  What immediately followed was one of the strangest things I have ever experienced in a Mario game, or any game for that matter.  A long piece of scrolling text appeared on the screen, relating the story of a dream that Mario and Luigi were apparently sharing.  They woke up in a field of mushrooms and began devouring them gleefully, subsequently learning how to fly over the whole island.  The mushrooms had a nasty after-effect, however: the plumber brothers soon grew larger and larger until they became too large to fly and plummeted back down to earth.  After I read this, a “Game Over” screen popped up in front of me.  “Great!” I thought to myself.  “Now I’ve got to climb back up the mountain again and remember not to drink from the fountain!  Thanks for invoking the same gimmick that caused misery for so many readers of the book series, Choose Your Own Adventure, Nintendo!”  Much to my shock and delight, however, this was merely a “fakeout.”  The characters woke up from their nightmare to find that the fountain had completely healed them.  Thankful that this wondrous act of serendipity had happened, I continued on my merry way.

Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a game which evokes the best aspects of dreams.  It is fun, friendly, and full of clever ideas that make a weird kind of sense.  Even better, it is a dream populated by some very fun people, places, and things and starring two of my favorite video game characters.  I hope this is one of those dreams I never want to wake up from.

Have there ever been any dreams that you wanted to stay in forever?  Let me know what they are in the comments section.  Pleasant dreams…

Pop Culture Questions (and My Answers!) 3: Stopping Crazy Things

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
How did that other question mark turn upside-down anyway?

Some questions turn you upside-down and inside-out.

For those of you who were looking forward to another edition of Pop Culture Questions on Tuesday, I apologize.  Due to circumstances beyond my control (and also because I hadn’t really thought of any good questions yet, and also I was kinda tired), I decided to do a shorter post, the first ever Random Top Five list.  I’m feeling a bit more at the top of my game, now, though, so let’s get back to exploring the nooks and crannies of pop culture for new queries to consider.

How come no one trips on the moving sidewalks on The Jetsons?

The future world presented on The Jetsons is one of my favorite TV environments.  I love seeing all of those high-rise buildings and flying cars and imagining what it would be like to live there.  One part of the show I think I would absolutely hate, though, would be the “moving sidewalks,” those conveyor belts on the floor that the characters are always stepping onto to save time from walking everywhere.  George Jetson, his family, Mr. Spacely, and just about everyone else in the universe seems to manage just fine in handling these sidewalks, a phenomenon which I took for granted when I was younger but which greatly bugs me now. 

No one trips on the sidewalks and ends up having their feet crushed under a doorway or wall or wherever those sidewalks start or end.  The sidewalk never moves too fast and sends someone hurtling through a glass window and falling hundreds of feet to the planet below (if there even is a planet down there).  Every other machine seems to go haywire at least once an episode, but those moving sidewalks always work the way they’re supposed to.  Even during the closing credits when George gets caught on the treadmill (“Jane, stop this crazy thing!”), he just keeps going around and around, the forward momentum always carrying him but never throwing him off.  I would be terrified out of my mind if moving sidewalks became a common mode of transportation in real life; I have seen a few in action in various places, but I still feel uncomfortable about getting on one myself.  I feel a bit more comfortable with escalators and elevators, but not by much.

How come there are so many turtles and walking mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.?

My favorite enemies in the Mario series are none other than the first ones I ever saw, the turtles (Koopa Troopas) and walking mushrooms (Goombas).  I’m still curious, though, as to how their numbers became so big.  They seem to multiply like rabbits with each new game that comes out.  It’s come to the point that I’ve seen them start long Broadway-style chorus lines in my dreams.  What has caused this surge in their populations?  Sure, they are pretty cute, and I guess they’d have to be popular if they keep showing up.  Real turtles do produce a lot of baby turtles and you can find mushrooms just about everywhere.  But still, these guys show up everywhere in Mario’s universe, whether they’re in grasslands, underwater, in frigid snowscapes, and even in outer space.  To me, it can seem a bit like overkill at times.  I’d like to imagine that King Bowser has a section of his castle estate designed to be a huge breeding ground and training center just for Koopas and Goombas.  They are probably subjected to all sorts of rigorous tests to make sure they can survive in any type of environment, and luckily for Bowser, most of them do pass with flying colors.  It’s too bad Darth Vader never turned these guys into his stormtroopers; who, besides Italian plumbers, could possibly fight back against turtle shells flying right at their heads?                  

How come the song’s called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

I think love is one of the greatest things a person can experience in this world.  No wonder so many songs have been written about it!  Through these timeless tunes, we’ve learned that love “is a many-splendored thing,” “takes time,” is “hard to find,” “knows no season” or “clime”, and, in short, “does exactly what it wants to do.”  Obviously, love is very demanding, so maybe there’s a good point to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ age-old musical question, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  Still, I feel there’s a negative tone to the question that Lymon and the Sour Bunch raised, because I’m sure most people don’t feel like fools when they fall in love with someone.  They probably think all is right with the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.  Even though I do think that is a foolhardy way of thinking, that doesn’t make lovers fools.  Some pretty smart guys have fallen in love, too.  Just look at Peter Parker (you know, the Spider-Man guy) who has fallen in love with Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy, and a bunch of other girls over the years.  Of course, some of the girls he has gone out with later turned out to be bad eggs, but that doesn’t make him a fool.  I haven’t even fallen in love with anyone yet, but does that make me a fool?  Let’s just agree to disagree here, Frankie Lymon and the Funky Bunch: everyone, including fools, smart guys, and everyone in between, can fall in love.

So, did you love this question-and-answer session?  Did it help you to come out of your shell?  Did it move you like the sidewalks on The Jetsons would move you?  I wait with bated breath for your comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 1: Mind Games

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
You send mail, you'd better get mail.

Look, you’ve got a letter!

I enjoy helping people however I can, both in my personal life and through my writing.  As a fun exercise in providing such help and in the spirit of such great advice-givers as Ann Landers, “Dear Abby”, and Dr. Phil, I decided to start an advice column for fictional characters in need of help.  For the sake of privacy, the help-seekers have kept their identities hidden (however, I have linked their nicknames to their Wikipedia pages, just in case any of you are curious as to who they really are).  I hope you enjoy the fruits of my efforts.  Let’s get to some letters.


Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I always felt like a rat in a maze, but now I’m in a real tight spot.  I’ve been trying to achieve my goals and, for a while, I was on a straight path to happiness.  Now, though, the ghosts of my past are coming back to haunt me.  I’ve looked for any and all paths to freedom, but it doesn’t look like there’s any place to turn or escape.  I’ve lost my way and my appetite mulling over this problem.  What do I do?  Signed, Pellet Muncher

Dear Pellet Muncher,

It does indeed sound like these “ghosts of the past” have got you cornered.  I’m not too surprised by this outcome, though.  These tight situations often happen when you follow a singular path for a long time without considering other and, in some cases, better options that may appear along the way.  Don’t worry too much.  Stop and look at your problems from a larger perspective.  It may seem like you’re trapped now, but if you back up a little and see all of the other options you can take, you may find a better way to go.  If all else fails, remember to trust the people and things around you that have helped you the most (at the moment, those would be the power pellets and that tunnel that can shoot you out to the other side of the maze).  I hope this helps, and don’t forget that fruit will keep you very healthy!  Ben


Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Mamma mia!  Have I got a doozy for you!  There’s someone special I really want to see, but she keeps playing hard to get.  I’ve been hopping mad trying to get to her.  Life has put a lot of obstacles in my way, namely turtles, chestnuts, man-eating plants, etc.  But with a good bit of athleticism and agility (and a few mushrooms, but trust me, they are for healing purposes only!), I have powered through everything.  Every time I show up at her castle, though, one of her friends always tells me, “Thank you, but our princess is in another castle!”  I’m tired of this routine, and I’m starting to think she’s not really worth all this trouble.  Should I keep going or should I pack up my wrench and go home?  Signed, Perplexed Plumber

Dear Perplexed Plumber,

I’d say keep going.  It sounds like you have been through a lot lately, and I’m sure the path has been rough at times, but it sounds like you really are enamoured of this girl.  Just look at all you’ve been through just to get to this girl’s house.  It takes a lot of dedication and perseverance to go through so much trouble just for one person.  Even though you know the world around you has made it very difficult to see this young lady that you profess has captured a special place in your heart, you keep trying anyway.  I will give you one more small piece of advice though.  After all that you have done, this girl had better be worth the time you’ve put into getting to her!  If she still does the whole “missing in action” bit, then feel free to find some other person or goal, but at this point in time, I think you shouldn’t give up just yet.  Keep on hopping!  Ben


Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’ll keep this short; I don’t want to waste your time.  A little while ago, I was speeding through life like I always do.  I was making split-second jumps, bopping the bad guys, and grabbing all the brass rings I can (actually, they’re more like gold rings in my case, but you know what I mean, right?).  All of a sudden, though, I ran right into a wall (covered in spikes, no less)!  All my progress stopped, I lost track of what I was doing, and now I’m having trouble getting back up to speed.  Can you give me a running start?  Signed, Blue Blur 

 Dear Blue Blur,

Don’t worry, you aren’t wasting my time; I’ve got plenty of it.  Actually, I’d suggest you slow down, a good deal slower in fact.  The reason you ran into that wall is because you were going too fast to begin with.  I’m certain you couldn’t possibly have noticed the wall or anything else while you were moving at the speed of sound.  Next time, cool your jets and move a bit slower.  Soon, you might notice that you can see everything more clearly including those bumps in the road.  If you take time to look where you’re going, you can avoid a lot of trouble for yourself.  I’m not saying you have to slow down too much, for you can still go pretty fast and know what’s in front of you.  Just don’t go so fast that you end up hurting yourself even more if you don’t stop.  There’s truth in the saying, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”  And by all means, keep reaching for those gold rings.  I always thought they sounded better than brass anyway!  Have a blast!  Ben


That’s all the advice I’ve got this time around, folks.  I’ve got plenty more messages from fictional characters I want to get to; the mail never seems to stop coming in!  If you’d like to see more or if there’s a fictional character that you know could use some help, let me know in the comments.  I believe that while a good piece of advice can help you get through a tough situation, a great piece of advice can keep on helping you for the rest of your life.  I definitely want to give great advice.