Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time - Staff Review  

Big Bro, Little Bro
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Easy to Moderate
15 to 20 hours


Rating definitions 

   With a timing-based combat system and a bizarre plot involving purple mushrooms from outer space, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time takes some of the most appealing aspects of the Mario universe and applies them to an RPG base. The level of difficulty has a tendency to spike in odd places, and the game is perhaps not quite as funny as Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, but it adds enough in the way of new mechanics and unusual plot twists to keep things interesting. Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time has a lot to offer fans of Mario and turn-based RPGs, but the overall effect is mitigated somewhat by the slightly spastic difficulty level and sometimes flat plot.

   The storyline of the first Mario & Luigi game centered around the Mushroom Kingdom being invaded by evil beans from the neighboring Bean Kingdom. The story of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is similar in setup - the Mushroom Kingdom is invaded by evil mushrooms from outer space known as Shroobs - but adds in time travel, characters in baby form, and a mysterious item called the Cobalt Star. Overall, the story isn’t quite as good as that of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, mainly due to the lack of any real replacement for Fawful, the evil, nonsensical, raving lunatic of a bean from the first game. Stuffwell, Mario and Luigi’s talking luggage, does pick up some of the slack, but he's not a patch on Fawful when it comes to sheer strangeness. The game does have its moments, of course, and the general feel of the story fits nicely with other Mario games, but it does feel like some of the craziness of the original title has been lost.

   One thing which does carry over nicely from the first game is the visual style. Bright colors and fluid animation help the overall look of the game stand out and give it a wonderful cartoon-like feel. It does re-use a large number of earlier designs from the Mario series - Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and so forth - but this is entirely expected, and it amounts to an unshakeable tradition. It simply wouldn’t be Mario without evil mushrooms and winged turtles. The new character and enemy designs fit nicely into the Mario universe, introducing not only the silver UFOs and dark purple footsoldiers of the Shroob army, but also a number of highly unusual original creatures.

The top screen is usually reserved for the map. The top screen is usually reserved for the map.

   As with the first game, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time uses a turn-based system with timing-based elements. The player times button presses to correspond with Mario and Luigi’s jump attack, or the baby’s hammer attacks, with more accurate timing netting higher damage. The same kind of system is used to avoid damage; the player can jump over certain enemy attacks and deflect others with the hammers. With the proper timing, most, if not all enemy attacks can be avoided, or even countered. The system is very simple, with a fairly small amount of customization available. The addition of two extra characters and their corresponding buttons adds another layer to combat, but also makes it considerably more difficult to consistently connect with special attacks. This becomes especially difficult as the Bros. Items become more and more complicated. Thankfully, most of these moves are interested in how long the player can keep the attack going, rather than in whether they can finish it off completely.

   Outside of combat, the Bros. will have to contend with a wide variety of puzzles. As with Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, they’ll have a number of unusual techniques to help them through these trials, but the addition of Baby Mario and Luigi certainly changes things up a bit. Under normal circumstances, the adult Bros. carry the baby Bros. around piggyback, but the babies can also be released to wander about on their own. The majority of the puzzles in the game require the party to split up to hit switches and open doors, but things are varied enough that it never becomes a chore. The game is particularly imaginative about the trials it presents, steadily introducing new kinds of puzzles and techniques for getting past them for the majority of the journey.

The split between screens can make some moves hard to time. The split between screens can make some moves hard to time.

   The game’s control is very tight, a good thing given how much the game relies on accuracy and timing. Menus are well-implemented, and although even poorly put-together games such as Lunar: Dragon Song have been able to implement effective touch-screen menus, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time forgoes this for a more traditional control system. In fact, M&L:PiT is one of the very few DS games that make no real use of the touch screen at all. As this has no effect on the quality of the game, as there is something to be said for using a tried and true system.

   Yoko Shimomura, the composer responsible for both Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and the SNES classic Super Mario RPG, returns to compose for M&L:PiT. Her work on this game is perhaps not quite as good as that of her previous titles, but tracks such as Yoshi’s Island and the final boss theme still show her unique, upbeat style. The sound effects are largely classic Mario fare - the jump, the fireflower, et cetera - but the inclusion of limited voice acting adds some much-needed character to the story.

   Probably the biggest issue with Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is the inconsistent difficulty level. During normal encounters, the Bros should have little or no trouble at all defeating enemies in two or three well-timed attacks. However, boss fights tend to be drawn-out pseudo-puzzles that quickly turns combat into a matter of figuring out where the game wants the player to attack and in what order. There is also a particularly nasty difficulty spike right at the end, in which the last two or three hours of the fifteen to twenty-hour game is spent fighting the final bosses.

   Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time uses a lot of what made Superstar Saga a fun game: lively characters, an active turn-based combat system, and engaging, intriguing puzzles. Overall, the game does a decent job of carrying on the feel of the previous game, but a lot of what made Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga so much fun was the incomprehensible antics of the Beans, Fawful in particular. Though the plot of M&L:PiT is by no means bad, it doesn’t have quite the same feel as its predecessor, which is a bit of a shame. Ultimately, while Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time may be a bit of a letdown for anyone expecting extra helpings of Bean, it stands well enough on its own to be an enjoyable, if unsteady game.

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