If you are one of those lucky people to have played Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga on the GBA you will understand the hype behind this new game. Set after the events of their GBA adventure Mario and Luigi are once again called upon to restore peace to their beloved Mushroom kingdom. The previous instalment saw us play as both Mario and Luigi and, well, they kept to the same formula here... almost. Baby Mario & Baby Luigi team up with their adult counterparts when the timelines become distorted by the “Shroom's". The Shroom's are purple mushrooms intent of taking over the world.. it kind of reminded me of war of the worlds. You can also expect to see younger versions of the Mario-universe characters and a fair amount of time leaping.
Partners in Time plays basically the same as its predecessor, for those who aren't familiar I will outline the basic elements. First thing is first, the game is a turn based RPG with a little more action than the conventional turn based system. During the game you will alternate between battling as Mario & Luigi, The babies or both retrospectively. When all 4 are in a battle together they split into pairs of Mario & Baby Mario and Luigi & Baby Luigi. Each pair will attack and defend together but the adults will take the main damage. Players will have to press buttons with precision and timing in order to unleash the full potential of attacks and this is also the same for avoiding damage. There are 3 types of offence, Jump attack, Hammer attack and Bro's item attacks. Each method of these attacks has its own characteristics and can be used by all 4 brothers together or separately. For example when you do a jump attack with Mario and Baby Mario they jump together and form a combined attack (same applies for Luigi's). If you were to press Baby Mario's attack button just as he is about to hit the enemy he will inflict more damage and adult Mario will leap back in the air again, do the same with him and even more damage is inflicted. The hammer attack follows along similar set rules where you have to alternate which brothers attack button you press. When it comes to the Bros items its a bit of a variety, some have you tapping a button as fast as you can while others will have you press their attack buttons in a specific order, the bros items take some time to get used to. This element of interaction to the battles lets you feel more involved and increases the enjoyment of the game... and it doesn't just stop there with attacks! Whilst on defence you are able to block/avoid/counter practically every attack that comes your way. How you do this is simple, when an enemy attacks the appropriate defence button appears (jump or hammer) if you press this button at the right time you avoid all damage and have a chance of hurting your foe. Mastering this system comes with time and practise and later in the game you will be heavily relying on your ability to avoid damage. In addition on the battle screen there is also a “flee" option (self explanatory) and there is the “items" option which consists of the usual health and revive items. As long as you keep your health points above 0 in battle everything remains Peachy… get it?
The battle system is just one element that makes this game... I haven't even gotten started on the story and adventuring. The game is pretty linear especially when you compare it to the previous instalment, it seemed that the big N has cut down on the exploration side. That being said the story still retains a healthy length of around 20 hours so it's by no means a short game. For the most you will find yourself being thrown back in time via a portal (whilst many portals are visible you will find that a lot of the times you only have one option) and once you have settled the score in the past you will be thrown back to the future, repeat process till end of game. Unfortunately your actions in the past don't really have much of an effect on the present so its lets the plot down slightly. The levels themselves are all of decent size and length, they have a nice variety of puzzles to solve and a lot of hidden beans, I say no more. Puzzles in the game usually consist of hitting blocks that create an action elsewhere, as you can separate into teams this means a lot of the puzzles involve alternating between the different brothers. Each brother has their own ability which helps solve some of the unique puzzles, Baby Luigi can burrow underground, Baby Mario bashes things with a hammer, Luigi can hover for a short time and Mario rolls along in a ball. You can also throw the babies in the air to reach high up platforms, providing they are on the shoulders of the older brothers of course. The levels have their own story which will keep you occupied and very much entertained so its not just fighting and puzzle solving. These stories are about either the Shroom's, Bower's antics and more often than not a combination of both. The mood of the game is very light hearted, most time times the peril the brothers are in is more funny than serious. I can't really think of many games which have made me laugh out loud before, Partners in Time has been one of those.
The games camera is set in an isometric viewpoint (2D-3D crossover) in the exact same style as Superstar Saga. This has allowed for a crisp, easy on the eyes set of visuals but it hasn't pushed the system anywhere close to what Mario Kart/64 has. I really don't view this as a bad thing... the game just wouldn't work in 3D so it's a valid call from Nintendo. While some people will be criticising it for the lack of touch screen usage others, like me, won't be bothered. Not every game should be made to use the touch screen, especially if it works as well as this one. The game has displays on both screens so its not as if the bottom screen has been made totally redundant. The best use you get dual screen action is when the brothers are separated and one set is on the top screen and the other on the bottom. This dual screen use also provides an extension the battle screen and display of a mini map but not much else. It doesn't make the game any worse really, Superstar Saga was of a similar nature using one screen and that was still a superb game.
The sound in the game is quite impressive and every now and again you do hear simplistic dialogue, most the time its just gibberish to symbolise the talking but names are mostly coherent. I feel that these voices are integral to the humour and the enjoyment of the game, even though you can understand little some of the brother's reactions have been hilarious. The in game music is typical of the Mario universe, not a bad thing as it sounds good and fits the game well.
I can count in one hand the amount of Mario based RPG's, it's not been a large focus for Nintendo. Given my soft spot for stat based mechanics and turn-based mayhem combined with the added ingredients of a Nintendo fan-boy makes this one of my top games. The only downside in this game is that once it's all over you don't really feel like playing it straight after, there is also the issue of how your past actions have little effect on the future.
Your money will be well invested in buying this game as it has 20 hours of play and a classic story, but there is no immediate replay value. Fans of Mario a/or Luigi shouldn't pass up this classic generation game, its been nice to play it, to play it, nice!