Within games criticism exists a niche subset of “challenge-run” criticism where a player will attempt to beat a game while adhering to a set of self-imposed rules. These rules—such as, not firing a bullet or trying to beat the game on one life—act as a prism through which the player can then critique the game. Personally, I’m not a fan of this form of criticism, but I have started using some of the techniques to help me become a better player and hence a more insightful writer. For example, last year I beat The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword with only three hearts in order to better understand the motion-based combat.
Given my dislike of levelling and equipment systems in the Mario and Luigi games, I played Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros. underleveled and paid little attention to the equipment system. As with Bowser’s Inside Story, I used the badge system as a means to top up my SP so that I had more opportunities to master the Bros. and Luiginary Attacks. These decisions, I believe, allowed me to play a more skilful game and better understand the core actions of the combat system.
“Challenge runs” usually bring a particular aspect of a game into focus, and for Dream Team Bros. my more skill-based approach left me unprepared to tackle the game’s surprising number of difficulty spikes. Friend and regular commenter on the Daniel Primed blog, CM30 covered the worst offenders in his piece Opinion; Mario & Luigi Dream Team’s Toughest Bosses, so I’ll let his words do the legwork here. Given AlphaDream’s attempt to make the series more approachable to a wider audience, this issue stands out as a major oversight. Fortunately, I could overcome most of the difficulty spikes thanks to gold ol’ fashion attacking and dodging—and a long view towards winning the war of attrition. However, my earnest attempts were no match for Dream Team Bros.‘s final boss Dreamy Bowser.
The confrontation is simply rigged. Initially at least, the gaudy-coloured tyrant plays out like most other boss battles. However, after the first few turns Bowser then withdraws into the background to chow down on a magically spawned pile of meat, curing around 500 HP across him body and arms. Each Turn another pile of meat drops out of thin air and Bowser’s mid-battle snack continues while the player is left strong-arm their way through an army of technicoloured goons. Even if the player uses a taunt ball on their next turn to lure Bowser back into the foreground (an already somewhat nuanced move), Bowser will have already recovered a significant amount of damage. And so the war of attrition rages.
The biggest problem with this battle is the difficulty of Bowser’s attacks and the protracted learning process it takes to learn the tells. Each individual attack is actually a sequence of smaller attacks which run over a continuous period of time, and Bowser will usually attack more than once per turn. Furthermore, since one mistake can throw off the timing needed to stay in sync with the sequence, individual hits can quickly snowball. When this happens, the player needs to heal, in turn conceding an opportunity for Bowser to heal as well. If one of the Bros. is knocked out, then the player must forfeit the entire turn in order to reconsolidate. So the player must avoid most attacks or struggle against the slippery slope.
From my experience, the war of attrition rages for about 10 minutes before Bowser’s HP drops to where he’ll start using his strongest attacks. However, should the player fail to adequately respond to Bowser’s new moves (which they likely will as they need time to learn and encode the new attacks into memory), then they’ll have to spend another 10 minutes in the trenches. Hence, the process of mastering Bowser’s later attacks is highly protracted.
My “challenge run” had taught me that playing Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros. as a purely skill-based game with little investment in the levelling and equipment systems has its limits. In this case, Dreamy Bowser is the point where player skill no longer translates into success in the combat system.
After struggling against Dreamy Bowser for several hours and ready to put Dream Team Bros. on the shelf, I was airing my grievances with CM30 when he gave me a tip. He suggested that I equip the Miracle and Gold badges, grind up some badge meter, and use their power to freeze Bowser for a few turns. This way I could squeeze in one more attack per turn and finish him off before he entered into his meat-eating recovery state. And it worked! Within 5 minutes I had Bowser beat (CM30 did it in three!). So maybe skill wins after all!
Six Challenge Runs Everyone Should Try – USGamer