Mario’s Mini-Land has just opened and Pauline is there to make an appearance. To make things even more appealing for potential visitors, the first 200 people there get a brand new mini-Pauline. We all know that Donkey Kong’s had a thing for Pauline since 1981. Of course he shows up, anxious to meet her, and to get his free toy. Unfortunately, he’s a little too late and is attendee number 201. In a fury, he kidnaps Pauline and takes off into Mini-Land. Mario has to save her, so he winds up some mini-Marios and runs after them.
I’m just going to say this right away, so we get it out of the way. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is adorable. The mini-Marios, mini-Toads, mini-Peaches, mini-Donkey Kongs and mini-Paulines are precious and I’m surprised Nintendo isn’t releasing licensed wind-up toys of all of them. The entire game is bright, colorful, crisp and clear. So you know if you’re making a mistake, you can’t say something like, "I didn’t see that Shy Guy/spike pit/fire ball!"
Nintendo also added some charming touches. Like, if you close your DS in the middle of the game, Mario will talk to you. He’ll be outraged that you’re leaving him, and may even mumble through the closed DS. When you come back and open the DS, he’ll happily great you. It’s a great little extra that many people might not notice.
Levels are timed, but don’t let that bother you. You get around 300 seconds and that’s more than enough to solve a puzzle. The mini-Marios stand still and the timer doesn’t kick in until you tap one to make it move. This means you can get a good lay of the land before the clock starts. I’d advise you to check out where the girders, ladders, traps, coins, letters and enemies are. Then work out a gameplan in your head, before tapping one of them to start. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is a little like Lemmings. Touch controls work perfectly for this style of game and the controls are responsive.
Each area of the park is divided into eight levels, a Donkey Kong boss level and a minigame level you can unlock by collecting the letters of the word MiniMario. Grab scattered Mario coins to unlock even more levels. In addition to the boss level, there are also two slightly special levels – one where there will be multiple mini characters and one where the exit door will be locked and a mini-Mario with a key will have to be the first to approach it to unlock it. While the levels with additional minis typically just provide an extra dose of cuteness, the levels with locked doors are more challenging than usual. Expect to try two or three times, to make sure you get the coin, letter and coins while still getting the key-holding mini to the exit first.
The Donkey Kong boss levels are a lot like the original Donkey Kong game. Donkey Kong and Pauline are on a platform on the top screen, and there are typically three spaces for mini-Marios to get up there to launch an assault on Donkey Kong. You have to get the three minis up there safely, while Donkey Kong tosses down barrels, removes girder slots, shifts pipes or sends ghosts to keep the minis away. You only get six minis in this level, which come out on their own at set intervals. So you could be juggling two at a time. Thankfully, timer power-ups occasionally appear so the whole clock thing isn’t a big issue here.
Minigames are quick little action games. Minis will drop from tubes at the top of the touch screen, and you must direct them into the correct boxes at the bottoms by placing girders correctly. The goal is to get as many minis into correct boxes as possible before time runs out. If you’re successful, you earn more M coins to unlock extras.
Mini-Marios always start walking right. Until they hit something (or are destroyed). You have to make sure they reach the door in an orderly fashion, then all get through the door within a certain amount of time so no minis get locked out.
The level creation and sharing is handled quite well in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem. In order to design your own stages, you first must complete a few tutorials that teach you how to create a level. Once that’s done, you’re free to do as you please. Depending on how far you are in the actual game, you’ll unlock more tools and items to use in the creator. It makes sense, since you prove you know how the different mechanisms work by playing the game and earn the right to use them on your own.
Plus, the level creator makes you actually play and complete your creation with a trophy before you can share it. This means that every custom level you download is guaranteed to be playable. Even if they seem really difficult, you know going in that the creator had to be able to finish it.
Acquiring new levels is also very simple. You log onto the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and they’re all there. You can sort them by category and size, or even look only at levels created by Nintendo or for special Nintendo challenges. Then, once you actually start browsing levels, you can see a small snapshot of how it looks and its rating before you download. It’s very helpful and well organized.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is addictive. It’s a game where you’ll open it up, intending to play a puzzle or two, look up and realize you’ve been playing for at least two hours. Maybe more. It has a way of luring you in and keeping you mesmerized, focused only on keeping your mini-Marios alive and constantly marching towards their goal. And there’s tons of replay value thanks to the 200 levels included on the cartridge user created levels in the future.
Food for Thought
- The CG, still event scenes were a little jarring. I preferred the sprite-based, animated opening and between-area segments.
- You get three save files, so a couple people could share the cartridge.
- The official Challenges are a great way to keep people playing, since they’ll keep coming back to make and see the new levels.