Since 2004, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong has provided four solid puzzle titles to both the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. Starting as an action/platforming puzzler, the series moved more into a sandbox style, on-rails platforming puzzler. Everything up until now has been seen in a classic 2D platforming style but with the newest iteration to the series being on the 3DS, why not change things up a little bit to better accommodate the hardware?
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move features a top-down on-rails style of puzzle game with similarities to Pipe Dream and Pipe Mania. Your goal is to guide the minis around the playing field, collecting coins and sometimes keys, and then reach the goal. The bottom screen allows you to freely manipulate the playing field with the stylus while the top screen shows a jazzed up, 3D rendition of the action. Your main method of manipulation involves placing tiles into empty spaces on the board, though there are many other things you can manipulate on the board such as rotating tiles and the direction of conveyers. Tiles are gradually stacked in your inventory and you can’t allow them to overflow or you’ll lose (thus, the game is governed by the minis’ movement, the usage of tiles, and the amount of time each level give you).
Every Mario Vs. Donkey Kong title has introduced further complexities to the gameplay as you progress through the game (a healthy trait to any puzzle title) and this game is no different. You’ll begin the game merely placing different directed tiles and simply navigating a bare canvas during the first few levels. However, as you reach new tiers of levels, many new obstacles are introduced to the picture such as conveyer belts, 1 & 2 space jump pads, enemies, hammers, and trash cans. Each complexity serves as a different mechanic to add flavor to each of the levels in the game.
Another huge difference between this game and other pipe style games is the creation of loops and special blocks by creating patterns with the tiles. For instance, if you create a loop with your mini on it, the ground will temporarily rise up and you’ll be rewarded with 5 extra seconds of time for each tile included in the loop. Also, every tile in your inventory will be turned into a tile that can be placed overtop of a previously placed tile. Or, if you create a figure-8 around your mini, the previous conditions will occur and you’ll also be given a special bonus-finish tile; this allows you to place it anywhere on the map and if your mini reaches it, it ends the level and brings you to a coin mini-game where you can collect coins to bolster your score. Finally, you can also create trash cans by creating a simple circle anywhere on the board, as long as your mini isn’t on it. Trash cans are handy because they allow you to throw away up to 4 unwanted tiles and afterward reward you with a special tile that fits two open blocks together.
One of the best parts of Minis on the Move is that it features four slightly different game modes to further mix up the experience. Aside from the previously described “Mario’s Main Event”, there is “Puzzle Palace”, “Many Mini Mayhem”, and “Giant Jungle.” Puzzle Palace ditches the time limit and score and instead records the amount of time it takes you to solve each puzzle. You’ll be given a set amount of tiles (as opposed to an unlimited flow) at the beginning of the level and there is only one solution to each level. Many Mini Mayhem plays like Mario’s Main Event but instead features multiple minis on the board at any given time and rather than placing tiles, you move tiles on the board. Finally, Giant Jungle is just as the name implies, an enormous board that is at least 4 times as big as any of the other levels in the game (it’s a 14x14 scrollable grid and you can only see 7x7 on screen at any time).
Each of the first two game modes consists of 60 levels in tiers of 10 and if you finish any of them, you’ll be rewarded with 20 and 10 more difficult bonus levels respectively. Many Mini Mayhem has up to 60 levels total including the bonus levels. That’s 210 levels in all in those three modes. As for Giant Jungle, there are only 3 levels but they are extremely difficult, especially if you are aiming to collect all 10 stars (thus only 3 levels has about the same staying power as the other modes).
As you finish levels, you’ll also unlock extra mini-games along the way. The four games are Mini Target Smash, Fly Guy Grab, Cube Crash, and Elevation Station. The first two play similarly as target practice games, one where you fling minis at targets, and the other where you must grab and reel in different valued Fly Guys. Elevation Station is a coin collecting game where you have to guide your mini through obstacles by moving him vertically through clockwise and counterclockwise touch screen motions. Finally, Cube Smash involves slinging minis at 3-dimensional objects formed by small blocks. The goal is to destroy all of the blocks to move to the next object. All of these games feature 3 or more levels and though they’re enjoyable, they’re not nearly as exciting as the 4 main game modes.
Finally, following in line with previous Mario Vs. Donkey Kong titles, Minis on the Move features a great level editor that allows you to create up to 100 5x5 to 7x7 square or rectangular levels. The level editor is very intuitive, featuring a side panel on the right with all of the available tiles or obstacles that you wish to pre-place on the board. After you’ve created a level, you must beat it first before you can share it on the internet.
As for internet functionality, you can search from four different categories, Top Weekly, Popular, Random, and Friends. What’s great about the 3DS though, is that you don’t have to download a level to play it, but can actually test levels out while on the internet. It will keep track which levels you’ve beaten and you can rate the level after you played it. Finally, if you like a level you played, you can choose to instantly save the level onto your 3DS. All in all, I found the level editor and online functionality extremely functional and rewarding (even though there were only a few levels available online since the game wasn’t out when I reviewed it).
My biggest issues I found in the game involved scoring and interface. As for scoring, you are awarded with a score or time for every level but these in no way dictate success (just personal success). In previous games, you could earn medals or trophies based on if you achieved a certain score but in this game it seems the only important factor is collecting the 3 coins before you reach the goal. Sure, this is an enjoyable aspect of the game but I wonder why they even include scores if they don’t actually mean anything (and there isn’t online leaderboards or anything).
Secondly, the interface between levels is a little bit clunky and hurts the flow of the game. After you finish a level or lose, you’re only given the option of replaying the level or exiting (thus bringing you out to the level select screen). A next level button that brings you instantly to the next level would improve the flow of the game and prevent you from having to watch animations after finishing every level. Thus it takes an extra 8-10 seconds between each level and kind of slows down your overall progress. Finally, if you finish one of the modes, you’ll have to watch the credits (which last for several minutes) and you can’t speed them up or skip them. Unfortunately, even after you’ve beaten a mode, you’ll still have to watch the credits for each other mode you beat and you won’t be able to skip them without turning your 3DS off (which just feels dirty ;-)