MARIO & LUIGI: PARTNERS IN TIME / Nintendo / DS
Super Mario RPG pioneered the idea of Mario-themed RPGs that replace a lot of the usual power-up grind with timing-based battle commands (and the featureless dungeons with platforming elements). From there, the concept split off into two branches: the Paper Mario games, and Superstar Saga for GBA. This one is the direct sequel to Superstar Saga.
All of these Mario RPG titles are really polished and well-made; still, I tend to feel like I'm dragging myself through them. Partners in Time was the worst of the bunch yet in that regard. Nintendo clearly put a lot of work into the game, but the design just wasn't on point.
The first element is just a problem that's inherent to these games - the constant timing tests in battle tend to wear on you given how much you have to do them. That, and the platforming is necessarily more iffy and sloppy than it is in a mainline Mario game and always feels kinda tacked on. There's nothing more irritating than having to make some long chain of jumps and then having Luigi juuuust barely slip off a ledge at the end, forcing you to start everything over.
This one seemed more fussy than usual, though. Part of that is the central gimmick of having Mario and Luigi tote their baby versions around, which necessitates twice the amount of remembering how to execute different attacks with all these different types of items and what you have to specifically do to each enemy type and whatnot. Battles also tend to be very long in this game, with enemies having lots of health and forcing you to grind away at them with the constant threat of a harsh punishment for any little slip-up in your button presses or timing.
It's also just a super linear game. As the title implies, there's a central time travel conceit - but really it's barely used. Don't expect something like Chrono Trigger, where going back into the past alters things in the future and whatnot. The present consists solely of Peach's Castle, which you're locked into and serves as a hub to various isolated areas of the past. Really, it's like jumping into paintings to go to levels in Mario 64. You could remove the whole idea of time travel and it really wouldn't matter all that much.
At first it seems like maybe you're just going through some extended linear tutorial phase, but nope, this is how the whole game works. It's completely on rails, one level to another to another, with no side quests and somewhat limited opportunity to even grind money and EXP if you care to (which is actually a good idea given how cranked up some of the bosses are).
As far as plot and content goes, the game also kinda feels like a rehash of Superstar Saga at times. Similar story beats, jokes and characters.
It's got that Nintendo polish, but I suspect the company felt pressured to crank out a Superstar Saga sequel very early in the DS lifespan and just kinda rushed the whole thing.
* Gameplay Video