It takes quite a lot of star power to be able to co-star with yourself in something. The upcoming Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is set to show that our favourite plumbers are not lacking in this department, but it's not the first time developer AlphaDream has pulled a similar gimmick! For that we should look to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, ferried to the present by the temporal fluxitude of the Wii U Virtual Console.
The Mario & Luigi series has always been unique in its mix of action and RPG elements, combining turn-based battling with a real-time sense of knowing when to hit character-assigned buttons to evade/counter attacks or solve puzzles. With the series jumping from the GBA to DS, the two extra buttons get claimed by the toddler forms of the heroes in a twisty time-travelling plot. Having to cart the baby form of yourself around sounds like a nightmare at face value, but here it's played quite humorously.
There will be times when the babies and elders are separate, each group capable of battling on their own. However, having them together mixes attacks up significantly. The functions and potential of both basic and item attacks change as two more buttons are added to the mix; while coordinating yourself to hit the right marks can come off as somewhat confusing at first, it's also a fun challenge to take on. One of the Mario & Luigi series's strong points is how it keeps players on their toes in what would otherwise be a simple RPG battle, and Partners in Time certainly doesn't slouch in that regard.
Outside of battles, the tykes tend to serve as puzzle-solving tools, able to be tossed up onto high ledges or crawl into narrow spaces to open up paths for the Bros., who often in turn proceed to open up the way for their younger selves. It's often clever, but might also feel a bit tired at times.
The story is rather amusing, with the party travelling between the past and present to thwart an invasion from the alien "Shroob" race. AlphaDream does a fantastic job of expanding the Mushroom Kingdom with its own creative locales that feel unique to the series yet blend in remarkably well with already-established places. The colourful, cartoony atmosphere and bouncy soundtrack still shine through today and seal up the light-hearted nature of it all.
The plot does falter a little in a couple ways, though. The Shroobs are a quirky species and make good antagonists, but they're not quite as memorable as other enemies; especially the scene-stealing Fawful who features in two Mario & Luigi titles. While the overall script is entertaining as expected, the Shroobs' speak in gibberish for much of the game, with subtitles appearing later, doesn't help their strengths as villains. The time travel element also does play into the plot in certain ways, but not in ones you might expect. With all the havoc going on in the past, the present doesn't go through many huge changes. Doing so might have made things too bleak for the mood they were aiming for, but it still might have been nice to see more repercussions.
The slightly slower RPG nature of Partners in Time makes it a better fit for Wii U Virtual Console than some other DS titles. Rarely will you have to keep track of things on two screens at once with great intensity, so it's relatively easy to get away with having the lower screen on the GamePad and the upper on the TV. The larger/smaller side-by-side screen setup on the TV might also work pretty well on larger TVs, too, although it will likely be hard to read the menu on smaller screens. It's not the ideal of playing on an actual DS, but it works, and hearing the soundtrack coming out a TV can be a treat.
Although everyone has an individual preference, an argument can be made that Partners in Time is not the strongest game in the series. With how exceptional the series is as a whole, however, this is not a condemnation! While the story might hover just below the level of other instalments, it's still creative, appealing and laugh aloud funny, and mastering the four-button setup of battles is as fun as ever. If you don't have the original DS cart, this version is still another Mario & Luigi game to pick up on the double.