The best way I could summarise Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros‘s gameplay progression would be to say that it’s a hybrid of Partners in Time and Bowser’s Inside Story. In PiT, the player enters each major area through warps points littered throughout Princess Peach’s Castle. With each locale being standalone, once the Bros. complete one area, they can move onto the next. In BIS, the player criss crosses a large interconnected map Metroidvania style and unlocks new environments as they gradually acquire new abilities. DTB features both the segregated areas of PiT and folded design of BIS.
Once the player has completed Dream Team Bros.‘s opening tutorial, they work their way around the game’s hub, tackling one locale at a time (as with PiT). Each area contains an overworld section set in an isometric perspective and a dream world section set in the sidescrolling perspective. (Resident commenter and friend of the blog Cheatmaster30 describes the dream world as being Mario and Luigi’s equivalent to a Zelda dungeon). Later, after Princess Peach is captured, the Bros must complete a scavenger hunt to collect the various zee parts of the Ultibed. The game progression then shifts from a linear to a freer format where the player can revisit the previous five locations in any order they choose (folding over prior areas like BIS). Finally, after a short interlude where the Bros meet up with Bedsmith, the player must tackle Somnom Woods and Dreamy Neo Bowser’s Castle in the lead up to the finale.
AlphaDream also integrated various side events into Dream Team Bros.‘s story to allow the player to shape their progression through the game. These optional extras come in the form of Pillos, anthropomorphic head rests which act as portals into Luigi’s dreams. Each excursion into the dream world offers additional challenges and rewards which can assist the player in the main game.
Dream Team Bros. and Bowser’s Inside Story differ in how they organise the flow of gameplay, how this organisation can be read through the game world, and how the player can choose to deviate from the main story. These two approaches to game progression give each game a distinct feel.
After some lead-in, Dream Team Bros. falls into a comfortable rhythm of overworld-to-dreamworld, locale-to-locale gameplay where the player has the option of taking minor deviations if they wish. This model is highly explicit. With each area requiring a roughly similar time investment, the player can read their game progress by simply looking at the world map and noting the number of worlds they have completed. Along the same lines, Pillos clearly signpost additional content, dream world challenges which are themselves wholly separated from the overworld. Each major area on the world map stands by itself as well, with minimal bleeding into adjacent zones. The clear cut and explicit nature of the game world establishes clear expectations for how the adventure will play out, although some players may find this approach to be somewhat artificial.
In BIS, the progression of gameplay isn’t quite as explicit. AlphaDream organised the game’s story around the Bros. and Bowser much in the same way as DTB is organised around the overworld and dream world, but the size of each chapter of gameplay (usually the length of time the player spends as either avatar) varies significantly more than it does in DTB. And because the developers designed the interconnected worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom as a jigsaw and not as a hub lined with separate locales, the player doesn’t simply finish one level and move on. Rather, they visit the same junctures multiple times throughout the course of the story as needed. Many of the optional activities therefore emerge organically as the player passes through familiar areas with new abilities. These various elements give the experience a degree of inconsistency which can make the adventure seem to unfurl organically (even though it’s still tuned by the game developers).
Between Partners in Time, Bowser’s Inside Story, and Dream Team Bros., each title organises the Mario and Luigi adventure in a unique way (much like the Wario Land games). Partners in Time‘s adventure is heavily compartmentalised; Bowser’s Inside Story flows more organically; and Dream Team Bros. finds a comfortable midpoint between the two. When we pair these observations with the those from the prior article, we can see that with each iteration, the Mario and Luigi games evolve on multiple fronts.