While Super Mario RPG has enjoyed decent popularity, and there have been future RPGs to feature Nintendo's trademark plumber, it has yet to receive a true spiritual successor, with titles such as Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga having different mechanisms, not to mention visual styles. Nonetheless, these other Mario RPGs have enjoyed solid critical reaction, and in 2005, Nintendo announced a direct sequel to Superstar Saga entitled Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time, also developed by the AlphaDream Corporation, which provides an experience on par with its predecessors, spiritual and non-spiritual.
As with other Mario RPGs, enemies are visible wandering in dungeons and on fields, with the player able to hit them with the baby's hammers or jump on them to get the initiative in battle. In the former case, the enemies will be temporarily stunned, and in the latter case, all enemies will take some damage, unless they have spiky heads, in which case the jumper receives some damage. Although Mario and Luigi team up with their infant incarnates in this installment, with all four characters having their own HP and stats, Mario and Luigi take to the frontlines, unless one of them has no HP, in which case their baby version takes their place on the battlefield.
Commands for the Mario brothers include attacking by jumping, attacking with one of the baby's hammers, attempting to escape, or using defensive/healing items or offensive Bros. Items. One thing to note is that if the elder Mario brothers encounter enemies without the babies, they won't be able to use hammers, although the babies, when solo, can use both hammers and jumping. Hammering an enemy might occasionally stun it, costing it a turn, although the player can only attack aerial enemies by jumping. Jumping and hammering require timed button pressing to be more effective, a staple present in prior Mario RPGs.
Bros. Items require a greater semblance of timed button pressing than jumping or hammering, and have the potential to be more powerful than those kinds of attack, so mastery of them is essential towards beating many bosses. Enemies will also attempt to attack Mario and Luigi, although timed jumping or hammering can avoid damage completely or damage the enemy in return. In case the player isn't completely proficient in their timing while attempting to dodge the enemy's attacks, the player can fortunately keep plenty of healing items on hand for the more grueling battles.
Winning the battle nets experience for the older and younger Mario brothers, not to mention a bit of money and occasional items, with level-ups happening occasionally, and their stats consequentially increasing. During a level-up, the player can choose a stat to level up additionally, in which case a wheel with different numbers spins that the player can stop; the number at which the player stops the wheel increases the chosen stat by that amount. Ultimately, the battle system provides plenty of strategy and entertainment, with most fights moving at a brisk pace, with the only real hangup being that the game leaves players in the dark about one of its only real sidequests, the collection of beans, which just sit in the player's inventory, daring them to guess what they're for exactly.
Control is solid as well, with an easy menu system and shopping, not to mention a decent direction on how to advance the main storyline and maps on the top screen, with the only real problems being the spacing of save points at times, the lack of a quick-delete-save, and the inability to skip cutscenes already viewed. There are also plenty of puzzles, though fortunately none of them will drive players to use a guide. Overall, a user-friendly game.
The story revolves around the Mario brothers, after teaming up with their younger incarnates, to stop aliens known as the Shroob from wreaking havoc and rescue Princess Peach along the way. The plot does have its humor at times, thanks to a largely solid translation that only has some minor errors (for instance, with a pair of boss enemies speaking in leetspeak), but has some major plot holes such as why the Shroob don't control Princess Peach's Castle in the present while controlling it in the past. The game also leaves players in the dark about who exactly is monarch of the Mushroom Kingdom, and doesn't explore Bowser's ancestors, either, despite showing him in a younger form as a Prince. Finally, there really isn't much backstory on the Shroob, and ultimately, the story isn't as strong as it could have been.
Yoko Shimomura's soundtrack also could have been better, being largely unmemorable, but fits the various moods and environs of the game well, and there is some voice acting in the form of Mario and Luigi speaking occasional Italian-esque gibberish. The crying of the baby Mario brothers might drive many players to mute the volume, but otherwise, the aurals help the game more than hurt.
Partners in Time uses an enhanced version of the visuals featured in Superstar Saga, with character sprites and their environs being bright and colorful, and the Mario brothers being able to face diagonally in addition to up, down, left, and right. There are some oddities such as certain characters walking in place to indicate talking, but the visuals are otherwise one of the game's high points.
Finally, the game is about twenty hours long, with few sidequests aside from collecting beans thanks to the Mario babies' dig ability, and little replay value. Ultimately, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time is another solid Mario RPG, what with its superb gameplay and visuals, among other things. It does have some flaws with regard to its narrative and replayability, but luckily, Partners in Time doesn't disappoint in its gameplay department, and proves to be the first of many solid Nintendo DS RPGs.
+Solid battle system with plenty variety.
+Puzzles won't drive you to use a guide.
-Story has some plot holes.
-Baby element will turn some off.
-Not much replay value.
The Bottom Line:
Another solid Mario RPG.
Platform: Nintendo DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 5/10
Playing Time: About 20 Hours