The gameplay is quite similar to its predecessor; in particular, the DS’s special features are almost entirely unused. (It could easily have been released as a GBA game; I don’t really care either way.) You’re controlling four people instead of two (baby and grownup Mario and Luigi), but it doesn’t make much of a difference – in fact, like the earlier game, it hardly matters that you’re controlling multiple people. The characters are much, much less distinct than those of a traditional RPG; I guess this is what happens when you start with a characterless hero and add more people who are essentially clones of him with only minor modifications.
The core gameplay is pleasant enough. In particular, I like the way combat works (both here and in Paper Mario): it’s turn-based but with button pressing controlling how you attack and defend. So when you see a new kind of monster, it takes a bit of experimentation to figure out how best to defend against it (and attack it, sometimes), but even once you’ve learned that, you’re reasonably involved in the battles without feeling oppressed.
Well, not too oppressed. There’s not a lot of variation to the combat in the battles – Paper Mario, with its badges and variety of partners (with actual different attacks) does better in that regard. Honestly, there were rather too many times when I spent an hour or so making my way across some bit of terrain, and getting absolutely nothing of interest out of it – sure, there are boxes to hit, and enemies to battle, but nothing that I haven’t done a zillion times before. So a bit more novelty would definitely be appreciated.
Another way in which this series falls down in comparison to Paper Mario is how it handles leveling up – it’s all quite generic here, whereas in that series you have an assortment of badges to chose from, giving you an interesting range of options. Also the production values are lower here, but that’s expected for a handheld game in comparison to a console game.
Ultimately, I don’t have a lot to say about the game. It’s pleasant enough, but quite lacking in ambition: coasting on earlier successes and gameplay advances without really adding anything to the party. I’m not sorry I played it, and I might even play the next game in the series (assuming there is one) if it comes out when I have a lull in my handheld game schedule. But if not, I won’t be missing anything.
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