Mario's Mini-Me's are back for more ape punishing action.
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem
When the first Mario Vs. Donkey Kong game hit the Game Boy Advance back in 2004, I remember falling in love with the unique action puzzler. The game featured a throwback to classics with its large amount of action gameplay clearly influenced by games such as the original Donkey Kong as well as Donkey Kong Junior (with many other action/platforming elements from other Mario games added into the mix). However, it also included a hefty portion of puzzle gameplay as well (and different modes of gameplay at that) that reminded me greatly of the MSDOS classic, Jetpack. With just over 100 levels, the game had an enormous amount of value and replayability as well (each level had two parts and the first 45 levels play differently than the next 45). In short, the game was a classic, and one of my favorite unique titles on the Game Boy Advance.
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis was an exciting sequel to me as I was expecting an experience much like its predecessor. Instead, the game was very different featuring entirely touch screen controls and movement of the characters that almost seemed “on rails” at times (very akin to the Lemmings series). Sure, the format was similar, featuring just over 80 levels and a similar scoring system (where collecting everything in the level and finishing in a reasonable amount of time can reward you). The main difference besides the controls, however, was that the game was much more strictly a puzzle game than an action title (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it lacked the genre originality that the first title heralded). The biggest problem I faced with the new style of gameplay (aside from some quirky controls from time to time), however, was that I didn’t feel the drive to completion that the original game pushed me on through its difficulty, originality, and extremely polished gameplay. I specifically remember playing through March of the Minis in an almost methodical fashion as I enjoyed the game but didn’t feel the magic that the first game brought to the table.
Though I missed out on the DSi downloadable title, Mvs.DK: Minis March Again, from what I understood is that the game is a hefty amount of additional content and makes for a strong downloadable title. I don’t know if it’s more like March of the Minis or the current release, Mini-Land Mayhem, but it has received a little better marks. As for this game, I wasn’t really as excited for its release as I was for that of the second game because I knew what to expect this time around (and though I’m a huge puzzle fan, I was expecting a complete reiteration of the previous installment with only minor gameplay changes). Does Mini-Land Mayhem bring enough new content to the table and/or gameplay improvements to re-spark my interest in this Mario puzzle series?
Classic Non-Important Storyline
MVs.DK: Mini-Land Mayhem begins very similar to previous games in the series. The main premise behind the knowingly simplistic storyline is that Mario and Pauline (the alternate-reality, busty lady-friend of Mario’s that exists only in the realm of Donkey Kong) have a line of “minis” that they are trying to sell. Donkey Kong wants in on the action because he’s in love with the super cute minis but it always turns out that he just misses the last Mario and thus becomes angry. To let out his aggressions, he steals Pauline and Mario must go on an adventure to stop Donkey Kong using the minis to do his bidding.
Once the 1-2 minute story sequence finishes, the game doesn’t take any time to get into the gameplay. Starting at the first of 8 “attractions” (these are the worlds in this game), you’ll have to finish through eight successive levels and a boss level to finish an attraction and move on to the next one. The attraction setup is a nice way to pace the game’s different additional gameplay mechanics as each attraction features a new theme. Here is a list of the different gameplay elements introduced in each attraction:
1) The first attraction consists mainly of creating ledges for your minis by stretching red girders across pits where bolts are available. 2) The second attraction features trampolines to set at a set amount of places (while still adding girders to the mix). 3) The third attraction has conveyer belts that you can change the direction of by pressing a button and placeable conveyer belt pieces that act similarly to the girders. 4) The fourth attraction allows you to move pipes to different locations. 5) The fifth attraction features ladders that can be placed similarly to the girders but vertically rather than horizontally. 6) The sixth attraction features magnetic walls and ceilings that your minis can walk on to defy gravity. 7) The seventh attraction features cannons like in the Donkey Kong Country series. 8) The eighth attraction features shy guys that can turn into blocks if led to their appropriate spots.
As you can see, there is a wide amount of variety as well as good pacing throughout the entire experience (similar to that of March of the Minis). To further keep the game varied throughout, there are also different types of levels within an attraction. The majority of the levels merely feature directing your Mario minis to the exit within a certain amount of time. However, the fourth level in each attraction adds multiple types of minis into the mix (Toad, Donkey Kong, Peach, Daisy) and each of these minis must be directed to their respective color coated exit. Finally, the eighth level in each attraction places a key in the hands of one of your minis and you must direct him along with the others to the door, with him in the front.
The boss battles are also attraction themed, forcing you to use the respective technique learned from the attraction to take down Donkey Kong. I found the levels to be a little frustrating for the most part merely because the battle lasts for several minutes (as opposed to ˜1 minute time it takes it finish an ordinary level) and if you’re going for the collection completion and the trophy, you’ll need to start the level over multiple times (it can be very annoying doing the same thing over and over again until you’re successful and I want to punch Pauline in the face for saying “Please Save Me” before every battle).
Finally, to sweeten the pot of 1-player experience, players are rewarded with multiple different additional levels. First of all, each attraction has a mini-game that is rewarded for collecting the letter in each level to spell out minimario. These mini-games are all very similar and are nothing special but are a nice changeup in gameplay once again. Secondly, for every 5 medals you collect (one found in each level), you can unlock a special level (20 in all) that are much more difficult than the traditional levels. Finally, every 10 trophies you earn also unlock expert levels (10 in all) that are even more difficult than the special levels.
When I first played through the game, my impressions were that I enjoyed it but like March of the Minis, found the game to be a little bit lacking. For the most part the levels were too easy, even when getting the trophy (I often had a score much higher than the target score on my first try). However, like I had heard rumors of, once finishing the game you unlock a plus mode, something that was in the first game but excluded from March of the Minis. Though I was disappointed to find out that the new plus levels weren’t actually of different layout than the original levels, I was still pleasantly surprised to see that they added in a more difficult mode with twice the overall gameplay. And while the original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong did feature plus levels that were entirely different than their predecessors, this game has over twice the overall levels in its main game than did the original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong.
As for the difference in these plus levels, each features at least 2 minis (rather than only 1 in previous levels) and every level has different types of minis throughout. For instance, while the first level of the first attraction normally featured one mini Mario, the plus level has an extra mini Toad. However, to complicate things, plus mode also introduces an order of entry rule that applies to each level: minis must enter the exits in a certain order or you’ll lose the level and the order goes: Mario>Toad>Peach>Donkey Kong>Pauline. Thus, even the levels in the first attraction had me analyzing the level for far longer than the original levels did and earning the trophies were far more difficult this time around. Also, to further add to the depth, there are 20 more special levels you can unlock (though they are only unlocked from plus medals) and even more expert levels.
Still Missing Mario Vs. Donkey Kong…
Now, there is no doubt that the main game has some length to it (sure, it’s no Chu Chu Rocket but over 20 hours for completion is no slouch). Still, though, this doesn’t necessarily equate to star power for me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Mini-based games for what they are (a touch screen based, sandbox puzzle game) but I just felt like the original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong had an incredible mix of puzzle and action gameplay, something that the recent iterations in the series has not been able to mimic. Whereas the original game in the series was one of my favorite puzzle games on the entire Game Boy Advance (or even DS for that matter), these Mini-based titles don’t hold that same place in my heart (possibly because the original game was something completely different than what we had seen, while these games seem a tad generic in design considering the massive amount of similar sandbox titles out there).
March of the Minis included a basic level editor and the ability to trade with friends over Nintendo WiFi. This game also has its own online features so I was hoping that the overall editing experience would be much larger scale and the online experience would be more robust this time around (as it’s been 4 years and Nintendo’s online support has ramped up since then). To begin with, the level editor features much more options in creating levels. As opposed to the 10 or so objects you could lay in March of the Minis, this game has around 26. As for enemies, this game has 8 different baddies you can place in your maps whereas March of the Minis only as 3. Finally, you’re given the option of which type of level you’d like to create in this game (normal, multi-door, key, magnetic). The editor reminded me even more of playing Jetpack as a kid (definitely a good thing because I spent hours creating wicked levels in my youth on that MSDOS game).
As for Nintendo WiFi connectivity, you can do far more than merely trading with friends in this game (which pretty much was the Nintendo WiFi experience on the DS when it first came out). Now, like many recent games on the DS, Nintendo has provided the tools for a full community supported online library of levels. You can submit and download levels from a database that includes Nintendo created levels as well as user created levels. There is also a challenge zone where you can either create or rate current levels based on a design constraint set by Nintendo. This allows for a more diverse group of user created levels and the ability to rate the levels allows for useful meta data to help those searching for quality levels. You can upload up to 20 levels and download up to 60 levels (though I wasn’t sure how many regular levels you could download). Also, there is a fairly in-depth search feature that allows you to search for different level features such as top rated, top weekly or latest; from small to large or wide to tall; and whichever type of level you wish to play (normal, key, magnet, multi-door).
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is far superior to its predecessor, March of the Minis, in my honest opinion. With twice the levels of either previous game in the series, a much more robust level editor and online features, as well as stronger overall gameplay than the second game, I would go so far to say that it’s one of the best original puzzle games that Nintendo has made to date. However, I still long for the action/puzzle amalgamation that the original game brought to the table. Though this game feels like it’s been done before, though (and in fact it has with March of the Minis), it’s still the best DS based Mario Vs. Donkey Kong game to date. Buy it if you’re in for a large amount of puzzles but if you have either a DS, DS Lite, or Game Boy Advance, I would recommend picking up a copy of Mario Vs. Donkey Kong if you haven’t played it yet and if you can find it (it goes for somewhere between $10-$20 on Ebay).