Searching for a new world to call home, the Shroobs eventually spy the peaceful Mushroom Kingdom as the perfect target. The extraterrestrial fungi invade, but such events take place in years gone by. At a time when Baby Mario and Luigi are still enjoying a carefree childhood and are yet to sprout a moustache, a momentary scuffle with Prince Bowser is suddenly interrupted as the Shroob fleet blasts the castle with laser fire.
Fast forward to the present and we learn that goofy Professor E. Gadd – of Luigi’s Mansion fame – has completed a time machine. Powered by a Cobalt Star, Princess Peach chose to become the first time traveller. But, the Mushroom Kingdom cast is alarmed when a damaged time machine returns with only a menacing Shroob inside.
With Mario successfully taking on the alien fungus, it emerges that Gadd’s machine has torn holes in the time continuum. And so, with a brave face and moustachioed grin, Mario and Luigi heroically leap back in time to save Princess Peach.
Encouraged by the critical acclaim that Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga on Game Boy Advance was met with, AlphaDream relied on the same recipe for the sequel while looking to spice it up slightly by leveraging the Nintendo DS hardware.
Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time retains everything that there was to love about the game’s predecessor, whether that be in the witty dialogue, slapstick humour or turn-based battle system that keeps players readily engaged in both attack and defence. I still see the Mario & Luigi series as having been the perfect vehicle to breathe more character into the Mushroom Kingdom’s inhabitants, allowing Mario, Luigi and pals to display even more of their personality. That continues with the Babies and Toadsworth most notably, as well as implying where the origins behind the Poison Mushroom.
The gameplay itself is largely similar to that seen before. However, this time players take control of Mario, Luigi, Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, a quartet of characters that opens up new possibilities across the board. Each character remains to be assigned to their own respective button – A, B, X or Y – with players co-ordinating the troupe when exploring and in battle.
That’s relatively easy outside of battle, with Mario and Luigi loyally carrying the babies around on their backs. Playful techniques return, with Mario and Luigi soon learning how to perform a Spin Jump and Bros. Ball. Whereas Baby Mario and Baby Luigi have the Baby Drill and Baby Pump, with crossover techniques such as Baby Cakes, Baby Toss and Piggyback Jump becoming increasingly important as you wander through more perplexing environments later on.
It is in battles where Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time suffers slightly. More often than not, players remain in control of all four characters and such instances become more of a battle of concentration rather than anything else. Bros. Attacks remain as joyous as they have ever been, but many rely far too much on your button co-ordination to the point that it can become wearyingly overwhelming.
As with other Nintendo DS games released through Wii U’s Virtual Console service, there are several Screen Setting options for players to choose between. But, with Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time regularly relying on players to flit their attention between the Top Screen and Touch Screen, it is far more suited to the Nintendo DS Layout. Whereas the music penned by Yoko Shimomura isn’t as particularly memorable this time around, away from the chirpy main title theme.
Packed with numerous references to other Mushroom Kingdom adventures, Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time doesn’t amount to the strongest iteration in the Mario & Luigi series. It still presents hours of time-travelling fun, but the reliance on four characters can somewhat limit accessibility.