Mario and Donkey Kong have pretty well put aside their differences since the 80’s and early 90’s. Every so often in the modern gaming era however, the portly plumber would have to chase down the big ape again, after he knicked some toys, or once again set his sights on the lovely Pauline. While Mario was happy to chase down DK on foot, just like the good old days in Game Boy Advance puzzle-platformer, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, he’s since given his patented Mini-Mario wind-up toys the duty of prying Pauline out of the big Kong’s clutches. The result was the best trio of puzzle games that one could ask for on the DS!
Now however, it seems like even the toys have put aside their differences! The Mario vs. Donkey Kong subseries has thus been rebranded ‘Mario and Donkey Kong‘, and its gameplay style has been changed again! Whereas the superb DS entries took inspiration from puzzler hit, Lemmings, the first 3DS offering, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, instead takes after another Amiga-era puzzler, Pipe Mania. The result? A slightly uneven, but mostly enjoyable and consistently charming puzzler package for the 3DS eShop.
Out of the gate, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move faces very stiff competition, even with its high-profile branding! The 3DS eShop already has several top-quality puzzle games readily available on it, including Pushmo, Crashmo, Ketzal’s Corridors, and the various solid puzzle offerings of the Game Boy and DSiWare libraries to boot! Minis is only $9.99, still slightly more expensive than most of its competitors, but thankfully, the fact that the game features over 150 puzzles, as well as a simple and reliable online level editing/sharing suite, still makes it a steal in terms of value!
If you’re not familiar with Pipe Mania, you might recognize it as the basis of the hacking minigame from BioShock. No? Well, in any case, your job is to direct a moving object to a goal by building a path for it, making sure it doesn’t fall into an empty or mismatched panel. Sound easy? Well, it’s anything but when obstacles, enemies and tricky layouts start getting in your way!
Minis is divided into four play modes, with Mario’s Main Event being, well, the main event! This mode is pretty much a beat-for-beat clone of Pipe Mania, with the flowing sewage being replaced by a Mini-Mario toy. Using your stylus, you need to drag and drop panels to create a path for the toy, making sure it doesn’t hit a lethal obstacle, or fall into a pit. The earlier stages are quite easy, but the difficulty ramps up quickly past the first couple batches of puzzles in this mode! Made worse is the fact that pathway panels are somewhat random. It’s possible to fail a puzzle, even right at the very end, simply because the right panels aren’t showing up on your queue. As if that weren’t enough, if you don’t place panels fast enough, they’ll overflow, and you’ll have to restart the puzzle. Sometimes, it gets quite annoying!
Fortunately, the next couple of play modes are much better. Puzzle Palace gives you a pre-set selection of tiles, with players having to piece together a path for their Princess Peach toy with what they’ve got. Since you merely need to use your own brain for this mode, it’s definitely the most enjoyable and satisfying of the bunch! No longer do you have the chance of failing simply because the wrong tile wouldn’t show up at a crucial moment, like in Mario’s Main Event!
Another mode that’s lots of fun is Many-Mini Mayhem (say that five times fast!), where players have to guide multiple Toad toys at once! This time, you turn and re-arrange panels while trying to manage the paths of every Toad on the board. It can get pretty chaotic, but it’s also extremely addictive! This mode may be more challenging than the previous two, but it makes up for it by being so much fun!
Unfortunately, the fourth play mode is a real dud however. DK’s Giant Jungle is just Mario’s Main Event all over again, but on a huge board! Once again, you have to place random tiles, while managing other obstacles, to try and make a path for a DK toy. As before, it’s possible to fail simply because you aren’t given the right tiles at the wrong time, and considering how long these puzzles take, failure is extremely frustrating! This just isn’t a terribly fun mode, and most players probably won’t bother with it past a couple of tries.
It will take you a long, long time to exhaust every puzzle in Minis’ many play modes! It took us ages to see every corner of the game, which is a great investment for just ten bucks! Even beyond the main modes, you get a set of mildly amusing minigames to play as well, but they’re throwaway extras that are only meant to waste time and chase scores. They can be alright for time-killing pick-up-and-play sections, but then, so can the main puzzles that you paid for. Still, even if it’s unnecessary, it’s hardly a bad bonus for your money!
Where you’ll likely be spending the bulk of your time post-play however is in the level editor! Designing stages is very quick and easy, again, entirely managed by just dragging and dropping with the stylus. You can test and save stages at your leisure, uploading your favourites to Nintendo Network for other players to enjoy! Depending on how people feel about the puzzle you’ve created, they may ‘heart’ your custom stage, similarly to the custom level suite of LittleBigPlanet. With the ability to upload and download custom levels, Minis’ replay value becomes essentially limitless, since you can look for three-hearted puzzles to consistently have great, reliable content to enjoy!
With that said however, the level editor does have some disappointing limitations. There doesn’t seem to be a way to share levels with players over local wireless, for example. This is odd and disappointing if you like to build and tweak custom levels with your friends, especially since the preceding DS games allowed you to share custom levels locally. Granted, you can kind of get around this, since Minis allows you to wirelessly swap custom puzzles via StreetPass, but why there isn’t just an easy local sharing option is kind of baffling.
Another disappointing limitation to the level editor is that you can only make Mario’s Main Event-style levels. Really? What’s wrong with making Puzzle Palace or Many-Mini Mayhem-style levels? This is particularly frustrating when you consider that these two modes are much more enjoyable than Mario’s Main Event. If you’re not a fan of the Pipe Mania-style gameplay, it severely hurts the lasting appeal of the level editor, in turn hurting how often you’ll want to continually revisit the game.
For most 3DS owners however, Minis gives you huge bang for your buck! For just $9.99, you get over 150 developer-made puzzles across four play modes, a level editor and custom stage suite that just keeps on giving, and, for what it’s worth, some decent, if forgettable minigames. Bells and whistles abound as well, since Minis comes with the same massive level of Nintendo polish that you would expect too! Graphics and menus are very bright, colourful, charming and friendly! The sound effects are also irresistibly cute and cuddly, even if most are ripped from the prior DS games. As for the 3D, the 3D effect is mainly relegated to gimmicks like ‘M’ symbols popping out at you in the result screen, and it doesn’t do much else beyond that. It’s kind of fun, but hardly revolutionary.
Pushmo and Crashmo still stand as the best must-play puzzlers on the 3DS eShop, but if you’re still looking for a robust puzzler that features mostly enjoyable gameplay, and will keep you busy for a very, very long time, Minis is a real bargain! Nintendo could have easily sold this as a full $40 retail package, given its massive wealth of content! Thankfully however, the game will set you back only a quarter of that, making it a very generous offering for puzzle gamers indeed! It won’t knock your socks off by any stretch, and some play modes may be better than others, but Minis will show you a good time and keep you coming back.
It doesn’t hurt that it’s so damn cute, either!