Thursday, June 26, 2008

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS) - New Review

Here's a brand new review for all of you out there. It's a game from 2005, but I just recently played and completed it. Enjoy.


A Blast From the Past

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In 2003, the plumber pair of Mario and Luigi leaped into an adventure together in the fantastic RPG spin-off Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. Almost two years to the day the original Game Boy Advance title was released, developer Alphadream is at it again with a DS offering. This time it's a journey to protect both the past and the present in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. The Mario & Luigi series is greatly akin to the other Mario role-playing efforts including the Nintendo and Squaresoft joint effort, Super Mario RPG, and the Intelligent Systems Paper Mario series. The Mario & Luigi franchise is a jack of all trades combining exploration, platforming, and RPG battles, but is it a master of all or a master of none?

Our story begins with Professor E. Gadd, from Luigi's Mansion fame, unveiling to Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach and her faithful yet timid castle guards his brand new time machine. Rather than send someone unimportant to go back into the past first such as Toadsworth, Princess Peach along with a Toad or two decide to be the first passengers into the past. When the machine returns from its trip to yesteryear, Princess Peach is nowhere to be found. It turns out that a group of alien invaders known simply as the Shroob have attacked the Mushroom Kingdom's past and have "Peach-napped" the princess. It's up to Mario & Luigi to hop into the past and attempt to save the day, but they won't be alone this time. Quite early in the game Mario and Luigi team up with their cute and adventurous baby selves. This isn't a serious time travel story like Back to the Future, so no worries that Mario and Luigi meeting themselves in the past will have any bearing on the present. In fact, the Shroobs attacking the past of the Mushroom Kingdom actually has no effect on the Mushroom Kingdom present either. Weird, huh? The game can get away with this, however, as the story doesn't take itself serious whatsoever. There's a wide level of humor from the wide ensemble of characters new and old such as the message board-mocking, 1337-speaking Hammer Bros, Baby Bowser, grown-up Bowser, Toadsworth, the Yoshis, and the return of a certain furious villain from the previous Mario & Luigi in a much helpful role. There were plenty of occurrences when you'll laugh at loud at the sometimes lowbrow humor especially when regarding poor Luigi.

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Let's hope E.Gadd shows up in a console Mario game sometime.

For those who've never dabbled in a Mario RPG, be it the Paper Mario series on either the Nintendo 64 or the Gamecube, the original Mario & Luigi, Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance, or the most ancient Mario role-playing game, Super Mario RPG on the Super Nintendo, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time plays like what you'd expect a Mario game to play like in an RPG setting. That is, there's still a lot of leaping on heads of enemies, lots of jumping and platforming, and a load of charm. Contrary to most typical RPGs, there are no random battles involved. Those who squirm at the thought of drudging through a dungeon and being interrupted from their exploration and attacked by monsters randomly have nothing to fear from Partners in Time.

And there's plenty to explore, too, and this time with two more party members. Each character jumps in battle and on all of the game's maps by pressing their assigned button. For instance, Mario leaps into the air by pressing A, Luigi does by pressing B, and Baby Mario and Baby Luigi with X and Y respectively. Since Mario and Luigi cannot be separated from one another at any time while exploring, platforming with the two requires split-second precision simply timing your leaps carefully enough to be able to have both plumbers jump and cross a chasm at the same time. For someone new to the series, it can take just a little bit of time getting used to controlling two avatars simultaneously. This can become even more confusing by needing to control Baby Mario and Baby Luigi. Most of the time the babies are with Mario and Luigi, nestled comfortably on the plumbers' backs. Other times you'll have to break up the babies from their adult selves to enter small alcoves that Mario and Luigi can't fit into. This is where the second screen comes into play. Usually it's simply used as a rather non-detailed map to show where each character is in relation to other areas and monuments. When the babies enter a cave or underground passage, their exploration is shown on the top screen. The designers cleverly use this separation mechanic to open up a plethora of imaginative puzzles. One has Baby Mario and Baby Luigi hitting a button inside a baby-only cavern to open a locked gate for their elder selves. The puzzles aren't secluded to the babies helping out the adults either. There's times when Mario and Luigi will have to spin a gear in order to power a wind tunnel for the babies to hop into and soar to an elevated platform.

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Use this move to spin across chasms.

In addition, both pairs of plumbers utilize a variety of actions to be used in and out of battle. Mario and Luigi can toss the babies from their piggyback stance to have the babies reach areas otherwise too high to jump to. When apart, both Mario and Luigi and Baby Mario and Baby Luigi have separate actions to use on one another. Here's an example: not only can Mario and Luigi roll up into a ball in order to reach places in a much faster amount of time, they can roll over the babies to squash them down, almost paper-thin, for the babies to move under a gate which would be otherwise impassable for the normal-sized pipsqueaks. Baby Mario and Baby Luigi can drill themselves underground to move past obstructions and obstacles as well as dig up rare beans used to purchase new stat-increasing and bonus-inducing badges. The actions aren't just used once or twice and then thrown away like in Twilight Princess either. They're used all game long from as soon as you learn them to till the conclusion of the game which will last a little over fifteen hours for most apt players.

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Breaking up is hard to do, but sometimes it's necessary.

As stated previously, there are no random encounters. There's no "Oooh. What's this switch? I think I'm going to hit it. Wait. Blast! I just got into a fight! ...What was I going to do again before this battle?" Instead, the enemies wander the game's maps, and if you leap on them or attack them to initiate the battle, you'll get a nice damage bonus on the enemies before you even start to battle. Beware though as the tables can be turned. If you're hit by an enemy on the world map, the plumber hit will be dazed for a set period of time.

What's great about the battles of Mario's various RPGs is that they're not passive at all. How times have you gotten into a random battle in Final Fantasy VII (or any RPG for that matter), and all you had to do was mash the X button to get through it? This isn't the case in Partners in Time. Battles are won and lost by timed button presses. Right when Mario makes contact with that pesky goomba, press the A button to get an attack bonus. The enemy is shooting a ball of energy at both plumbers, leap over the attack at just the right time to escape damage. These leaping and other acrobatic antics make this RPG and the others in the series feel a lot less like Final Fantasy and a lot more like Mario. It keeps players in the battle and not just mindlessly pressing a button to win.

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I-Is that juice-like substance coming out of its butt?

New to the series are Bros. Items. These are ultra-powerful abilities that can take off a lot of hit points on the various enemies you encounter. One will have you rallying a Green Shell or Yoshi Egg from plumber to plumber in time to damage your foe while another will have you timing and pressing a button for when one of the four heroes leaps on top of an enemy's head. The game is sort of reliant on these Bros. Items, too, as they are intensely powerful. Some of the bosses took long enough with using Bros. Items solely, so I can only imagine how long it would have taken had I just used normal attacks!

Mario & Luigi isn't without other faults. The game, while clocking in at just over fifteen hours, is lengthy enough, but once it's completed there's really nothing else to do. The only real side-quest is collecting beans, and the reward for doing so is just a powerful badge to make the game even more easy. It's not to say that Partners in Time is a cakewalk. The game does start out rather simple, and unfortunately, your hand is held through a good portion of it. However, after about halfway, you're on your own, and the enemies' attacks become harder to gauge. The DS's multitude of features aren't really taken advantage of either, save for the top-screen and one, yes, one, use of the touch screen in the entirety of the adventure. Also, the music is actually a disappointment. The great Yoko Shimomura returns to score the game's soundtrack, but compared to her previous works, this one is just a bit on the underwhelming side.

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is a worthy addition to Mario's collection of RPG tales. It doesn't set the genre on fire, and it isn't the best RPG that Mario's starred in-- however, it's a fun, albeit short, role-playing romp that unleashes a lot of laughs, clever game design, and some tricky battles. I can certainly see myself playing through this title again just for the fun of it, but definitely not before another run of Superstar Saga.

[SuperPhillip Says]

Story: There's a load of laughs throughout the game, but don't expect the time travel stuff to make too much sense.

Graphics: Nothing that couldn't be done on the Game Boy Advance. Here's hoping for a sequel that taps into more of the power of the DS.

Gameplay: Excellent. Passive battles be damned!

Sound: Lots of funny plumber banter (well, purposeful gibberish), and a soundtrack that isn't one of Yoko Shimomura's best.

Replay Value: Once you beat the game, there's little else to do. Worth a replay at the very least later on though.

Overall: 8.5/10 - Recommended.

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