Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time
The Chef pops out of the kitchen for just long enough to bring us a review of the new Mario and Luigi RPG on Nintendo DS. Yum.
"Dad is great! Bring us the chocolate cake!"
Ah, yes. I desire someone, or something, bring me the chocolate cake. That, or a copy of Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. Why? Because the game is awesome. Damn awesome. Better than chocolate cake awesome. Take the past iterations of the "Mario RPG" series (Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Superstar Saga, Paper Mario 2: Thousand Year Door) and roll them into one delicious portable game package is what Nintendo has done with Partners in Time, and it makes the game a must-have for anyone who has a Nintendo DS. No exceptions.
The game opens with things being all fine and dandy in the Mushroom Kingdom until Professor E. Gadd busts out his time machine. Sending Princess Peach back in time only to find it return in shambles and with no sign of the Princess, Mario and Luigi don't play around or waste any time - they're all over it like Toad's vest. Almost immediately, the game has players travelling back in to to face one of their most formidable challenges ever: taking care of their infant selves. There is some jazz involving some aliens and a young and bratty version of Bowser, but those events are a treat that should be left unspoken about until one actually plays the game. No spoilers here, fools! Overall, though, the story is not your typical fare for a Mario & Luigi adventure, but that's what makes it so sweet.
Partners In Time is set up like your traditional RPG in concept only. You move around a map, encountering monsters, leveling up, and discovering items and power ups. What makes it different in the classic sense is that there is an enourmous emphasis on action-oriented elements and more "twitch-reliant" (the good twitch - not bad) aspects. The game is heavy on plot and story as well, but all of it good. More on this later, though. Distilled, Partners In Time takes some of the most sucessful and polished attributes of gaming and crams it all into one firmly pressed patty. Mmmm. With mustard on top.
The combat system is deep and gratifying. Let's break it down a bit for those who may be unfamiliar: though Partners In Time is set up like your typical RPG - as in taking turns between each character getting their action - during combat you have the opporunity to use various action commands. Consistently time-based, these are specific button presses at the particular times that will benefit your attack in someway, or allow you to dodge enemy assaults. Pulling off a umping attack? Hit a button right before landing on the enemy to do a greater deal of damage. Rolling attack from an enemy? Hit the jump button right before impact and you'll dodge the incoming. Unlike traditional RPGs where attacks deal damage based on behind-the-scenes statistics and random rolls, Partners In Time leaves all of the control for how much damage you inflict and recieve in the hands of the player. It's an incredibly gratifying design, and after you really start to get the hang of how all of the various enemies behave and how your attacks and counter-attacks affect them, you just feel so damn empowered. This is what a videogame is all about.
Players are treated not only to an incredibly deep and dynamic battle system, but to an amazing set of well-designed puzzles out of battle. Since the cast of the game features Mario and Luigi as well as their toddler selves, you're often splitting up into two groups to progress through many portions of the game. This is done marvelously with the DS' two screens. Even better is that it allows you to switch back and forth in real-time during these split ups, and is actually required to complete some of the games more intricate puzzles.
The dual screen integration shines in this title like few other DS games before it. You use no stylus - both screens are for gameplay, interface, and cinematic purposes. It's actually an amazing testament to the design team; you hear so many complaints about half-assed touch screen implementation in other DS games, but here Alphadream ditched all that jazz. What you have with Partners In Time is a no-nonsense title on some unique hardware that knows exactly where its strength's lie.
One of the biggest problems with Partners in Time is that the game throws a lot to learn at you, and very quickly. People who played Superstar Saga will probably find this a bit familiar - it had a pretty steep learning curve as wll. Early on in the game, so much information about button combinations and the abilities of Mario & Luigi, and their baby counterparts, are spat at the player so quickly it can really make one's head spin. It could easily frustrate the more impatient gamer (myself being one of them), and sometimes feels like something you have to actually plow through in order to get to the more gratifying portions of the game.
What has set the Mario RPG series of games apart from most titles is the care and personality put into the games' writing. Much like a bare-bones action movie that satisfies well enough on its own, what with people getting shot in the face and all, Partners In Time is chock full of hilarious dialogue unseen in most videogames. As far as comics and general shennanigans go, I'm a tough nut to crack, but Partners In Time had me laughing out loud. Characters, places, exchanges - everything just has such a quirky human feel to it that everything comes across naturally and unforced. It's like the writers sat down and said "Ok, this stuff is all completely ridiculous and unconventional. But so what - it's funny. Let's put it in the game." That's commendable, and that alone makes the game a true gem.
Ok, I should stop gushing. I mean, one could almost see Nintendo's hand up my ass as I ramble on and about why this game is so incredible, but who cares. This is an incredibly well done piece. If you own a Nintendo DS, there is no excuse for not checking out Partners In Time. That's not a guarantee that it's a game for everyone, but rather a big fat A+ for Alphadream when it comes to Advanced Game Design. This game is the cream of the portable gaming crop, and you'll be really hard-ressed not to be taken in by at least one of it's plentiful charms.
What's Hot: Laugh-out-loud funny dialogue wrapped around virtually flawless gameplay.
What's Not: Information overload early on means there is a lot to keep track of and provides for a steep learning curve.