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Mario & Luigi: Dream Team looks to unite the real and the fantastical

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Luigi's dreams are the setting for Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, and while the dream world is as fanciful as your typical Mario game, it's the interactions between Luigi's dreams and his real life that truly verge on the surreal.

We spent about 15 minutes with the upcoming Nintendo 3DS title on the E3 show floor, checking out part of a level starring the Mario Bros. and then a boss battle. You can always see Luigi sleeping soundly on the 3DS's touchscreen, while the action takes place on the upper screen.

Mario and Luigi move as a team, with Mario's actions being controlled by the A button and Luigi's by the B button. For example, you have to press A and B simultaneously to get both characters to jump, which takes some getting used to — we kept forgetting to do that, so only one of them would jump and the other would hit the obstacle we were trying to avoid.

The basic enemies in the level we played were called Luiginoids, and since this is a role-playing game, you don't die when you hit one; you go into a turn-based battle sequence between the brothers Mario and a group of Luiginoids. You have to jump at the right times to avoid getting hit, and then you can choose to act with either character. Actions include running away, jumping, using an item and using a hammer.

But the most interesting option is an imaginary attack with Luigi. These are possible only in a dream, and they're a lot of fun to pull off. Luigi Stack puts you in control of dozens of tiny Luigis, but before you can attack, you have to try to stack as many groups atop each other as possible by leaping onto each successive group with your entire tower of Luigis. Luigi Ball has you roll up many tiny Luigis, Katamari-style, by tilting the 3DS as your growing ball of Luigis rolls forward. With each of those attacks, you build up as many Luigis as possible and then strike your opponent.

As we moved through the level, winning Luiginoid battles along the way, we came upon a tree-like object in the shape of Luigi's face. By pressing the R button and then B, we infused the tree with Luigi, and in the process were able to control the fairy-like creature hovering above the sleeping Luigi on the touchscreen. By pulling on the left and right sides of Luigi's mustache, we extended the left and right branches of the tree. After picking up Mario, we let go of Luigi's mustache, which launched Mario to an area he had no other way of reaching.

It was a clever way of tying the two worlds together, and if what we've seen of Dream Team so far in trailers and screenshots is anything to go by, the game will also have the usual humor of the Mario & Luigi series. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team launches Aug. 11 in North America on Nintendo 3DS.