"Lacks the charms of Superstar Saga, but retains the fun combat system"
Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time is the second Mario RPG sequel that lacks the charm of the original. The first sequel, of course, is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, but where that game still has the great scriptwriting and wacky humor of its predecessor, Partners in Time does not, even though Superstar Saga is one of the funniest games for any system. Still, Partners in Time is a worthy play, if only because of the fun platform-style RPG combat, which is still novel the second time around, with a few additions as well.
+ The puzzle/platform-oriented combat system
+ A couple of funny scenes
- Most of the humor misses the mark by a long shot
- The puzzles outside of combat are no-brainers
- Not very much to do
? Collecting beans is now utterly useless
It's a shame that developer Alpha Dream could write such a funny story for Superstar Saga, but reduces its humor to lame slapstick for the sequel. The story has become a standard set in the Mario RPG category, where Princess Peach is kidnapped by somebody other than Bowser, causing Bowser no end of frustration. It was funny in Superstar Saga and Paper Mario 2 to see Bowser sidelined as a secondary villain (especially knowing Bowser's secret crush on Peach gathered from his diary in the first Paper Mario). In Superstar Saga, he teams up with Mario and Luigi to rescue her before becoming a villain, and in Paper Mario 2 he says that nobody can kidnap her but him, which prompts him to terrorize the land a la the original Super Mario Bros. Partners in Time doesn't do anything with Bowser near as creative as the latter games, but uses him solely as a nuisance who foils the activities of both the heroes and the villains.
This time around the main villains are the Shroobs, a group purple-shroom space aliens who fly around in UFOs abducting citizens, blowing up homes, and turning everything into purple shrooms. Princess Peach happens to be testing out a newly invented time machine when the Shroobs attack the Mushroom Kingdom of the past and Princess Shroob, bearing a strong resemblance to Princess Peach, abducts her. The Princess Peach of the past, baby Peach, is not kidnapped (though it would have been a nice twist if she was) but ends up at the Mushroom Kingdom of the present, where both the Toadsworth of past and present must entertain her spoiled, crying highness. Mario and Luigi, meanwhile go off in search of the adult Peach, and the game milks a dry well of laughs using Luigi's cowardice. The babies of Mario and Luigi cross paths with the adults and help them rescue Baby Mario's future girlfriend.
The babies spoil the game because the developers seem to be under the impression that the scenes with Mario and Luigi attempting to make them stop crying are funny. These scenes are not funny, and they happen all too often. Luigi is, predictably, much less successful than Mario when it comes to calming Baby Luigi down, leading to some lame slapstick. The clever, witty lines of the original have been reduced to crying babies and objects falling on Luigi's head.
I will admit, there is one scene in particular that is very funny, not to mention a cameo that I won't spoil. The two Toadsworths, when they attempt to calm down a crying baby Peach, perform some strange moves in order to do so. These moves, conveniently, are helpful to Mario and Luigi on their quest, so they ask the Toadsworths to teach them. For one move, Mario and Luigi roll up into a ball together, leading up to the game's best line when young Toadsworth explains that the moves take, “endurance, flexibility, and an open mind.” The true nature of the last item on this list probably flies over the heads of most youngsters. (Interestingly, in the Game Script FAQ for Partners in Time, this part is missing).
If the combat were not so fun, then this game would not be worth playing. Honestly, the only reason to play this game is to witness the ingenious combat system at work and to discern patterns of enemy attacks in order to dodge or deflect them. And this isn't just a rehash of the combat in Superstar Saga, although it does use the same ideas. This time, the babies help out Mario and Luigi, piggy-backing on their shoulders and adding extra damage (much needed) if you press the buttons with the correct timing. This requires that you pay closer attention in combat.
The Bros. Items are a new addition, replacing the Bros. Attacks from Superstar Saga. These items can be used either with just one pair, or both pairs of the Brothers. If used with both pairs, there's an extra layer of depth and more difficult button combinations, but the damage rewards are quite high. Mostly, these items aren't necessary for regular combat, but they are almost absolutely necessary for boss fights, sometimes doing upwards of 500 damage where Mario or Luigi would do about 100. Obviously, they make some very tough battles much more doable.
All four characters level up separately, although since the babies have to stick together and the adults have to stick together, there will be a discrepancy only between the two babies and the adults. In the end, the experience levels out so that both parties remain pretty close. Level up screens are fun, mixing random stat upgrades with the ability to choose what you want upgraded. When a stat hasn't been chosen to be upgraded for some time, the chances of increasing it significantly become much higher upon choosing it. With my luck with Luigi, though, even when I had a good chance of getting the highest stat increase, he would always get the lowest possible increase. Perhaps Luigi really is that unlucky.
When it comes to gameplay, my complaints are few, though they do decrease the overall enjoyment of the game. The puzzles, while clever and fun in Superstar Saga, are simple in Partners in Time. The game never puts any interesting use to the fact that the babies can wander off to locations that the adults can't, but instead creates some very simple scenarios. Usually, the talking suitcase, Stuffwell (an annoying chap and another of the humor fatalities) gets out and tells you what to do, as though it wasn't obvious already. Also, I have to complain about the beans in this game. In Superstar Saga, the beans could be used to make coffee mixes, vital to increasing stat points of Mario and Luigi. Now they're used to purchase badges, not quite so vital, and mostly pointless. The beans were shafted.
I can't say there's much to complain about here. The visuals probably don't push the DS's limit, but who really cares? They're colorful and also provide visual cues to warn the gamer which character an enemy is about to attack. Interpreting these visual cues is part of the fun to the game. And the sound recycles old and new Mario music, from the original game on the NES to Professor E. Gadd's theme in Luigi's Mansion. The chatter of Mario and Luigi is spot on, as always, but the crying of their baby counterparts grows tiresome, at best.
It's actually a lengthy game as long as you fight every enemy you come across. I continued playing just to see what the next new enemy encounter would be like, and how inventive the boss fights would be. While the final boss isn't near as difficult or ingenious as Cackletta at the end of Superstar Saga, it is still some good fun. I wager most of you will play this to the end, putting in anywhere from fifteen to twenty hours, which may sound small for an RPG, but it's pretty good for an action/platform game. Don't play expecting a funny game, but play expecting a fun game.