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"I've faced Death. Stood him down. Unfortunately.... he said he'd be back."

- Robert Stock


 





Developer:
AlphaDream
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: November 28, 2005

by Ryan Summerlin




Eat your beans and mushrooms. It's a sequel to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and if you LOL'd at the first game, you'll ROFL at this one.


Mario hasn't starred in as many RPGs as he has platformers, but the former is rapidly catching up to the latter. Mario RPGs bring to the RPG realm a much-needed break from the usual fantasy sword-slinging and kingdom-saving. If you haven't yet played Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door for the GameCube or Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga for the GBA, you're really missing out on some of the mustachioed plumber's finest moments. With English dialogue written in large part by my personal writing idol, Nate Bihldorff, the sheer wittiness of the dialogue in Mario RPGs is enough to make you laugh out loud, but M&L:PiT is the first Mario RPG yet to leave me in stitches during every cutscene. And this isn't at all cheap Comedy Central stand-up fare, this is real, unforced humor (often at the expense of poor, cowardly Luigi).


Superstar Saga took place in faraway Beanbean Kingdom, but Partners in Time brings the Bros. back home to the Mushroom Kingdom. When renowned Professor E. Gadd builds a time machine, Princess Peach can't wait to try it out and visit her kingdom's past. Predictably, she disappears, presumably kidnapped by some past evil. Our mustached heroes will have to do a bit of time-tripping to get her back. Along the way, they eventually pair up with their younger selves, Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, and the Bros. will have to work together to stop the culprits behind all this inter-dimensional mayhem, a purple mushroomy alien race known as the Shroobs.


In case you're less keen to the Mario & Luigi series and Mario RPGs in general, the battle system is quite unique. Overall it controls like a standard, traditional turn-based RPG, where you select your character's actions from a menu. However, when you actually perform that action, you'll need to press that character's button at critical times during the attack; i.e. just before Mario stomps on an enemy. You also get to defend (and occasionally even counterattack) whenever you're attacked, also by pressing the right buttons at the right times, which means you can jump over enemies' heads, bat away aerial attacks with your hammer, dodge bullets (yes, I said dodge bullets) and more, depending on the types of enemies you're fighting. This lends a certain real-time feel to the action that doesn't clash at all with the action in Mario's classic platformers.


Partners in Time does not stray too far from the formula used in Superstar Saga. M&L:SS assigned actions for Mario and Luigi to the GBA's A and B Buttons. M&L:PiT assigns Mario, Luigi, Baby Mario, and Baby Luigi to the DS's A, B, X, and Y Buttons respectively. A brain-bending and thumb-numbing exercise in hand-eye coordination ousts the need for Bros. Points (the MP that fueled attacks in M&L:SS.) In fact, M&L:PiT replaces its predecessor's Bros. Attacks with all-new Bros. Items. Though the new attacks are one-time use items, you seldom run out of them unless you don't bother to hit ? Blocks or completely neglect the shop that's conveniently located inside Peach's Castle (which plays the role of overworld as it did in Super Mario 64). The new attacks are intense and look excellent, especially the ones that involve all four Bros. Though you may waste a few items trying to get the hang of the way each Bros. Item works, they're easy to learn, and a mini-tutorial displays on the DS's top screen for each Bros. Item when you point to it in the field and battle menus. Most attacks simply require you to hit the button of the corresponding Bro. as he stomps on an enemy, or when he has the flashing fireball, etc. Many of the Bros. Items draw on Mario's 2D glory days, such as Koopa Shells and Fire Flowers, while others are new and unique to PiT, such as Copy Flowers and Mix Flowers, which seem to draw their inspiration from certain anime/manga. (I'll let you play the game and figure it out, but it's quite hilarious to see those kinds of subtle references in a Mario game.)


Overworld platforming seems to have been trimmed back a bit since M&L:SS, with maps that seem somewhat like randomly assimilated collections of rooms. However, a map that persistently displays on the top screen is a welcome departure from Superstar Saga, which featured no dungeon map at all (other than vague semblances of maps that were posted on signs sparsely scattered throughout areas.)


The Bros. learn some wacky platforming moves at certain points in the linear storyline that allow them to reach new heights or explore new depths of the overworld. Each new area requires a mix of all the techniques you've learned up to that point to solve puzzles and reach doors. Occasionally, puzzle-solving will force you to split up the Bros. into pairs, with the adults doing something while the babies do another. In such cases, it's usually best to avoid enemy engagements or flee from them, as the Bros. won't have access to their best attacks (ones that utilize all four characters) while they're apart. A better solution is to clear a field of enemies with the four Bros. together before splitting them up to solve a puzzle.


And of course it wouldn't be a Mario game without plenty of throwbacks to Mario's 8-bit and 16-bit glory days. The characters, areas, and music are all a tasteful remix of Mario history. The first time I stumbled into Yoshi's Island through one of the game's many time portals, I got goose bumps and a very warm nostalgic feeling when that music from the opening credits (of the original Yoshi's Island) began to play. Incorporating E. Gadd and Toadsworth from more recent GameCube Mario games was a nice touch, as was introducing younger versions of themselves that you can meet in the past. A few mini-games and areas even resemble levels from Super Mario Bros. (with vastly updated sprites, of course.) Perhaps one of the best surprises in this game was the return of a popular character from Superstar Saga; without spoiling too much... "I have fury!"


Oh, did I mention that the 2D animation in this game is brilliant? Well, it is. On a deep, deep level. Every sprite moves at a quick frame rate and is smoothly animated. No matter which direction you turn, Mario always jumps with his right fist raised, while Luigi prefers the left fist. It's animation of this caliber that makes 3D seem overrated. It's THAT good.


With everything good that's going for this game, I must point out the game's minor flaws for the sake of game-reviewiness. As I mentioned, the areas, especially the dungeons, aren't exactly the sprawling areas that used to test your capacity for spatial thought. Rather, the platforming and puzzle-solving are confined to smaller rooms that seem to test merely your ability to remember how to perform certain techniques. Time-travel is treated very loosely. For example, very early in the game, Mushroom Kingdom's past is devastated by the Shroob invasion, which in another game like, oh, say, Chrono Trigger would in turn have destroyed Mushroom Kingdom's future. Not in PiT. However, the "everything has eyes" Mario universe just doesn't lend itself well to post-apocalyptic settings, so it's understandable to leave the Mario Bros. a safe haven in their native time period from all the chaos they battle in the past.


I might also mention that there is virtually no implementation of the DS's unique features (the touch screen, mic, and Wi-Fi capabilities) in PiT, but this is a great example among a library full of DS titles that use the handheld's touch-sensitivity of a game that doesn't need to use them. It's strictly the D-Pad and buttons and simple to pick up and play, even with no prior exposure to Mario RPGs.


With few minor flaws, PiT gives you plenty of reasons to play it: a plot that is both epic and comical, a quirky and addictive battle system, beautiful graphics and music, and retro charm. Along with Meteos, this is a DS must-have.


Final Grade: 96%




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