The Mario vs. Donkey Kong formula has been shaken up again. As you may remember, it started out as a standard platformer, where players controlled Mario as he quested to save Paulina and the minis toys from Donkey Kong.
Then, it turned into a Lemmings-style game, where players influenced the environment to get the minis toys from point A to point B. Now, with Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, tile-shifting puzzle elements have been added to the ingredients.
Whereas the previous Mario vs. Donkey Kong games attempted some kind of story, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has none. Instead, you dive right into the main game to have the various Minis toys start gathering M coins and stars for you. The loss isn’t anything tragic, as story was never this line’s strong suit, but I would have appreciated a few cute cartoons. Besides, the other basic elements remain.
All of the recent Mario vs Donkey Kong games involve constantly moving Minis of Mario, Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong and Pauline. In this game, the goal is to place or arrange tiles on grids to make sure the toys collect the coins, stars, key or bonus-time clocks and reach the goal before running out of time, ramming into a hazard or opponent or falling off of the map. To add a bit of variety, there are four different categories of puzzles, and the puzzles get larger and more complex in each cluster.
The first group is Mario’s Main Event, and consists of 60 puzzles that are unlocked in groups of 10. I like to think of the first 10 puzzles here as the overall tutorial, as even though the other three groups have slightly altered rules and guidelines, the premise is similar. In this case, a map is presented with a pipe from which a Mini will appear, along with blue, red and green Mario coins, perhaps a key, and a star goal. The action takes place on the top screen, while players lay tiles on the touch screen. These invaluable tiles appear randomly in a red pipe on the touch screen, where up to five tiles can be stored at a time.
The goal is to place the tiles as quickly and efficiently as possible, helping the Mini get the items and reach the goal before time runs out, the Mini gets hurt or the red pipe overflows with tiles. It’s a very tense situation, I assure you. My heart started pounding by the time the floating coins, that require a special block to reach, were introduced in level 14, and never stopped. You want to get all those coins, after all, as it’s the only way to get a star for the level and unlock extras.
That said, I much preferred Puzzle Palace, the second category of puzzles that are considered the Peach levels. It’s mainly because with this cluster of Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move challenges, you can’t lose. Instead of a series of randomly descending blocks appearing in a pipe on the touch screen, players are given varying numbers of six kinds of blocks. As long as these tiles are in the right spots, you’re going to win. You don’t even have to worry about a clock ticking down. There is a timer, but it’s only checking to see how long it takes you to complete the level. I loved these challenges so much. My success wasn’t left up to chance, and I felt brilliant every time I arranged the tiles in the proper positions.
Which brings me to my second favorite area, Many Mini Mayhem. That’s the third group of 50 “Toad” puzzles. As the name suggests, this series of puzzles has multiple pipes with toys coming out of them, and all must be lead to the goal before time runs out. Usually, it has to be done in a certain order, as one toy will be bearing a key. It sounds like it would be as frustrating as Mario’s Main Event, due to the timer and multiple Minis, but it’s not that bad. I was stressing out a little, but the overall affair is made more comfortable as you don’t have to worry about a tile pipe. Instead, you can rearrange almost every tile on the board to create paths. There are some exceptions, as a few tiles can only be rotated instead of moved and hazards are permanently placed. Still, I felt it was as reassuring as the Puzzle Palace levels. Everything I need to win is right there. If I can’t arrange the tiles properly, it’s my own fault.
Finally, there’s Giant Jungle, which is the Donkey Kong world. I absolutely despised Giant Jungle. You’re given a huge grid, at least 14×14, and are tasked with getting the Mini toy safely to the goal before time runs out. You’re also expect to grab some of the randomly placed stars along the way. I suspected I wouldn’t like this level when I realized you never start with enough time. You’re expected to constantly grab extra time clocks along the way. I knew I wouldn’t like it when I saw this was paired with the random tile pipe from Mario’s Main Event. It is diabolical. The three Giant Jungle levels are the most frustrating of the four Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move events. Despite that, I found it the one that got under my skin the most. I just couldn’t let that grid beat me. I ended up developing a pattern where I’d attempt a Giant Jungle puzzle once, fail, do my frustration dance, go play a few levels of Puzzle Palace or Many Mini Mayhem, then go back and start the Giant Jungle trouble all over again.
You’re probably wondering what happens with all those stars collected from the Main Game puzzles. Well, it unlocks a few extra bonus features. Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has four mini-games to unlock, as well as 12 toys. Once you’ve reached certain plateaus, say 10, 20 or 230 stars, you unlock the mini-games, extra mini-game modes and new figures.
The toy section is pretty useless, as all you can do is polish and look at the mini Mario, Toad, Donkey Kong and other figures, but some of the mini-games can be quite interesting.
What caught my eye most was Cube Crash, which reminds me a little of Peter Molyneux’s Curiosity. Mini Marios are loaded onto a slingshot on the touch screen, and players have to fling them at a cube to break it down. One version has cube that is at least 7×7, while the other challenges players to keep smashing increasingly larger block layouts. Both are timed. It was easily my favorite of the four mini-games, though it does get quite difficult to see where a Mini Mario will land on the cube when flung. A clearer reticule would have been appreciated.
My second favorite mini-game was Elevation Station. Bullet Bills of various sizes are whizzing past a Mini Mario. The goal is to survive for a certain amount of time, dodging the Bills and collecting coins by turning the reel on the touch screen to lower and raise the platform Mini Mario’s standing on. It’s more challenging and fun than it sounds.
The other two Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move mini-games have a similar premise. In both Mini Target Smash and Fly Guy Grab, you’re flinging something at something else in the sky.
In Mini Target Smash, you’re trying to get as high a score as possible before time runs out, as you fling Mini Marios at targets. In Fly Guy Grab, you’re flinging a hand at the Shy Guys, then using a fishing reel to pull them down from the sky. In each case, the targeting is a little better than Cube Crash, but I think that’s mainly because the reticule stands out a bit more against the icon targets and Shy Guys. Both have their moments, but neither captivated me as Cube Crash did.
Like most of the previous Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has a create and share option. You can create up to 100 custom levels and share them online. You’re pretty much given an empty grid, only a pipe and goal are onscreen, and the ability to do with it whatever you want. As usual, completing certain levels in the main puzzle mode will unlock additional tools for use in the custom levels and each custom level must be 100% beaten before it can be shared online. The online levels are sorted into Top Weekly, Popular, Random and Friends categories and, if you really enjoy one, you can save it to your game for offline play. I get the feeling that the editor and online gallery will provide a substantial assortment of new challenges for years to come. I have this weird habit where I come up with what seem to be brilliant puzzle ideas right when I’m falling asleep, causing me to head to the editor to see if they’d work.
I really enjoyed Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move. The only downside was the constant pressure I felt while playing it. It’s more stressful than the other Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, which is keeping me from loving it as much as its brothers. It’s a good game that grabbed me the moment I picked it up, hitting those same triggers that press you to keep playing one more level. (Just one more level!) Yet, I can’t help thinking some minor tweaks would have made it a more enjoyable experience. I applaud Nintendo Software Technology for doing something different with the series, but deep down I’m hoping the next game will return to the Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem formula.
Food for Thought:
1. I wish there had been more to do with the toy figures than polish them.
2. Different, special abilities would have been nice for different minis. Maybe have Toads move faster, Peaches float after a jump or Donkey Kongs not need hammers.
3. If pressed, I’d rank the Mario vs. DK games I’ve played from best to still-good-but-not-my-favorite as follows: Mario vs. DK: Mini-Land Mayhem, Mario vs. DK 2: March of the Minis, Mario vs. DK then Mario vs. DK: Minis on the Move.
4. To unlock the Pauline toy, play each of the mini-games.