|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 19 Jul 2007|
Partners in Time is the sequel to Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that this game does not change much of the formula of the first game. However, it does build on the platforming RPG nature of that game and add some new twists.
Partners in Time’s biggest inclusion is that of Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, bringing the game to a grand total of 4 playable characters. To make this make any sense, time travel will of course have to play a part in the plot. Don’t expect it to be too complicated though. Aliens invade the past, Princess Peach gets taken back in time and gets abducted, and the babies from the past and the current day grown-ups team up to get her back. There’s no talk of time paradoxes or anything like that.
Anyway, on to the good stuff. This game, like its GBA predecessor, is a very light hearted game that’s full of a lot of old Mario references and in-humor. The game has a few serious moments, but for the most part, it’s just a fun adventure with the Mario Bros. babysitting their younger selves. Since there are 2 new characters, the game takes the opportunity to make you use them as much as possible. Expect to be split up and solving field puzzles almost as much as you are together. For the most part, there is a lot of clever uses of the 4 characters, and the game utilizes the two team puzzle dynamic pretty well.
The game also shares the same graphic design as the previous, with the stylized 2D art that isn’t your typical Mario sprites, and while there’s not more detail with the upgrade to DS, their faces are very emotive and all the characters, especially the bosses and enemies, look great. It’s a credit to the art department, and this game really stands out due to its look. The game also sports a surprising amount of original, catchy songs. While there are a few reprised classic Mario tunes, there is a dearth of new stuff here, and most of it is very good. It runs the gamut from upbeat songs like the menu screen to wacky fast paced carnival music to somber battle themes like the final battle.
Ok, now to what I didn’t like about this game: It’s just so…safe. It doesn’t take any risks to mess with the formula of the first game, and there’s so much potential here that is going to waste. What may not be obvious to people who never played the first game is that this is, at its very heart, a basic dungeon crawler. There’s a main hub (Mushroom Kingdom Castle) and tons of time warps to take you to the past. Every warp takes you into a battle field, where the formula stays the same for nearly every single area you visit. You arrive somewhere, the Shroobs (the aliens) have take over or attacked an area, and you need to get through 3-4 different small field maps before you get to a boss, and then get dumped back in the castle. The game tries to throw story in here and there and a few puzzles (usually synchronous puzzles where you need to be doing something with both sets of brothers at the same time), but it can’t hide that aside from the battle system, the rest of the game is overly simple and lacking depth.
While some people may find some fun in dungeon crawling RPG’s, they have always been one of my least favorite types of games. I would much prefer that it at least be more like Paper Mario, which is closer to a traditional RPG in that sense, with multiple towns, a larger cast, and more areas to explore. This whole game is terribly on rails. Up until the final area, it is very obvious what needs to be done at all times. Areas you need to go to on the map have a giant floating finger near them, every bro mechanic is explained even when it doesn’t necessarily have to be, and there’s really no optional areas in the game. You pretty much HAVE to visit every place in the game. There’s no overworld, no real secrets. Like I said, it is safe. And safe is boring. And while I commend them for adding new characters, I would have LOVED to have seen other allies, like Toad, Peach, Bowser, Yoshi, etc. It would be great to actually have a party in this game, but you are stuck with these 4. And really, you only ever attack with 2 characters at any time. When you don’t have the babies or the grownups, it is just a two man party, and when you do have them together, the babies don’t attack independently, and instead just serve to strengthen the grown-up attack by pressing an extra button. It is a good thing the battle system is pretty fun, or this game could be a disaster.
Luckily, its a very action-packed affair that depends on multiple context sensitive button presses. This has its drawbacks though, at least for me. It starts out pretty fun and simple, but later they just add so many moves and Bros. items (requiring using all 4 characters and each of their respective face buttons to control them) that battles not only become casino online long button tapping item use affairs, but they also get increasingly confusing. At points, if you want to do full damage to an enemy, you may need to press A, B, X, and Y in a dozen different combinations, faster and faster. It hurts the head. Worse yet, this is pretty much the only way to do serious damage to a boss. I would have loved for there to be a Magic option in the game in case I didn’t want to use Bros. items all the time, but that was pretty much the only way to get noticeable damage.
Aside from the lack of attacking options, the system is still pretty fun, and I really like that the game gives you a chance to avoid pretty much every attack an enemy makes by jumping it or counterattacking. There’s some length issues to battles though. The end of the game, without spoiling anything, becomes a series of very long battles that are not well suited for a handheld at all. One battle in particular took me about 45 minutes. It may have been that I was underleveled, but I was doing fine until I got to the end, and the boss’s HP suddenly skyrocketed, as did their attack power. I’m of the opinion that a handheld experience should be able to be started and stopped within 10 minutes, and Nintendo is usually very good with that, but less so in this game. I think the worst part of all of this was that the ending was seriously bland and anticlimactic, and gave me no sense of accomplishment. Everything is peachy keen again, and nothing changes. Yawn. Matsu warned me this would happen, but I was still disappointed. In fact, what bothered me most as the game continued was that it was so easy and formulaic. I never felt the urge to want to play it, and at times I was just playing it so I could beat it and get it over with. That’s not a good thing with RPG’s. Luckily these Mario RPG’s are always short, but still. The Paper Mario games I didn’t want to end. I couldn’t wait to get this game over with. The story was overly drawn out, the battles continued to get longer and more complex, and most of the non playable characters in the game weren’t engaging.
Also, not that it matters, but this game really doesn’t use the touch screen at all. It uses the dual screens in a few ways, but this probably could have been done on the GBA with some button changing.
As much as I hate to say it, I find it hard to recommend this game. It has a lot going for it: distinct art style, good music, a rich history of characters to draw from, and a good localization team handling it. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to overcome the paint by numbers dungeon crawling mold it’s made in, as well as a lackluster story, increasingly annoying and complex controls, and long drawn out battles. Lots of potential here, but there needs to be some serious changes to become a really great franchise.