Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
The plumbing brothers team up with their nappy-clad younger selves in an epic time travelling adventure - and they absolutely will not stop, ever, until Peach is saved!
Puns; where would reviewers be without them? Any article about a game, no matter how dull that game is, can easily be livened up by a liberal sprinkling of puns. True, a fair dose of barely masked sexual innuendo, off-colour jokes and outright swearing usually doesn't hurt either, but puns are the glue that holds the facts together. But we can't use them here, oh no, Nintendo (or Alphadream, we'll blame them both) have made such a cringe-worthy pun with that Partners in Time subtitle, we just can't bring ourselves to add any more, for fear of pun- ishing the readers (sorry, we'll stop, but only if you read on).
The title of the game may have ended up on the dodgy side, but at least the game hasn't, and that's what really matters here. Partners in Time (PiT) is a close relative to the Super Mario RPG series of games, and a pseudo follow up to the GameBoy Advance's Superstar Saga. In fact, there isn't much about it that requires the unique possibilities the DS offers developers, not utilising the DS microphone and only using the touchscreen on one very brief occasion. If it weren't for the constant, and skilful, use of the dual screen setup, there's no reason this couldn't have been released on GBA.
Yet the use of those two screens is oh so very skilful that you just can't imagine it would be anywhere near as enjoyable an experience on any other console. So what it doesn't use the other abilities of the handheld, it's great to see Nintendo once again leading the way with their console, to show that DS games pushing gimmickry is entirely down to the developer, not the machine. There are four main uses for the two screens. The first is as a very obvious map screen, that's not where the clever lies; not least because the map is lacking in level of detail, being a bit too vague, but it does have its uses. The second use is during combat, when certain enemies have attacks that incorporate the upper screen; a nice touch, but still not genius.
The nicer dual screen touches start to creep in when the story has been set up. The Mushroom Kingdom is under attack from an alien race called Shrooms, who want the place for themselves and, guess what - Princess Peach is captured, again. She's the Kim Bauer of videogames that girl. The problem is, she was nabbed whilst on a trip to Mushroom Kingdom past, in Professor E. Gadd's time machine. So it's up to Mario and Luigi to head back in time, rescue the Princess and save the Kingdom. Whilst in the past they meet up with their younger selves and team up to defeat the Shroom threat.
Once you have the babies in your party, there are sections of the game which require they temporarily split from their moustachioed mates, usually segueing onto that upper screen, in order to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles. It's still not quite genius, being already seen to a greater degree in Zelda: Four Swords, but it is solidly handled. The true brilliance shows itself, again linked to the storyline, just in the simple telling of it. With story being such a huge part of the RPG recipe, the way in which both screens are used to portray it does almost everything to keep players entertained beyond what otherwise is a typical Mario game tale.
Like the other games akin to Super Mario RPG though, the script itself is also a gem; with visual riffs on many facets of popular culture and current affairs, and some great characterisations, really helping the game to keep players hooked. In all these respects, it isn't quite up to following the tough act set by Superstar Saga and the GameCube's Paper Mario 2, so it's just as well for that second screen to give the game something different to bring to the mix. Luigi in particular, having to be such an active participant in events, doesn't portray the full extent of his exaggerations of personal glory, nor his truer scaredy-cat self, as clearly as he has previously. In contrast though, the supporting cast contains some great personalities, not least of which is a pair of l33t-speaking Hammer Brothers who try to pwn the n00b brothers. They r0x0rz!!1!
Ah well, at least it plays as fun as its ancestry right; again, almost but not quite. The nuance of the various interactions between the adults and babies, and between them and their environment, also doesn't recapture such pinnacles as seen before. It does look and sound great though, with some beautiful little incidental animations, well drawn sprites and some lovingly detailed locales. Sound effects are spot on both for a Mario game and an RPG, and the music consistently proves to be eminently catchy.
What is important to take from this review is that Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time is an excellent game, well worth any DS owner's time. It just isn't quite as great as its forebears, but only by a very small margin, such is the difficulty in following up great games. And it's also important to take away the pun, or just ignore it... it's not as bad as any we would have made in its place.