Review: Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move

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Though it shares a similar title, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has nothing to do with the other Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, and does not play like them. Those games were a fun series of puzzles with platforming mechanics where Mario would try to rescue and direct little wind-up versions of himself called Minis in an attempt to rescue them from the only ape with enough fashion myopsy to see the need for a tie but miss the need for pants, Donkey Kong. They had level structure, boss battles, the reintroduction of Pauline, the lady in a modern dress from the original Donkey Kong cabinet game, and the basic plot one expects from a Mario game (read: bad guy kidnaps someone or something, and the most famous overall aficionado most get her/it back). Minis on the Move only features said Minis and little else. Even without these traditional Mario trappings anyone looking for a distraction that can be played in quick bursts on the 3DS should check it out.

(True sticklers might ignore all of the similarities amongst this game and the MvDK games and only note that the main title for the game is Mario and Donkey Kong, not “vs“.  This is true.  Any persons that want to point this out can rest with head on pillow tonight knowing that a great lack of attention to detail has been addressed, what they’re actually resting their noggin on is technically a cushion, and that they will die alone.  Unless one counts the nursing home janitorial staff gazing disinterestedly, which of course, a diehard stickler would.)

This newest, digital offering in the franchise is strictly a puzzle game where players are tasked to get one or more of the Minis, depending on the level, from the starting green warp pipe to an end goal, also a warp pipe. The world is made up of tiles that exist in a sea of emptiness. The tiles look like little paths on brick blocks and the backgrounds, which have no impact on anything, look like familiar Mushroom Kingdom locals like Peach’s Castle while classic Mario music plays in the background. As they are merely wind-up contraptions, the Minis are not able to intelligently direct their own movement and will shuffle blindly forward, even if that will take them right off a cliff. To help guide the little bugger players will use the stylus to pull available new tiles from right side of the bottom screen to the map in the center which will in turn create a corresponding path for the Mini to follow on the top screen. These tiles are one of four L shapes, the same basic L shape rotated ninety degrees four times, which allow the Mini to turn left or right as well as straight paths. The classic game Pipe Dream is the closest analog. The cutesy automaton will march along these placed paths, provided its tiles match up to sides of the tiles next to it, at times interacting with special tiles that will cause it to jump or pick up hammers to smash foes, until it either dies or reaches its goal. Truly, its geary fate is in your hands.

There are numerous variations on the theme of tile placement. The main mode is a frantic affair as the Mini will begin to march the second a tile is placed anywhere on the map, whether it has one to walk on or not. The tiles available will then begin to fall on the right and if they are not used and too many build up, it is game over. The Puzzle Palace mode is bit more serene as a set number and type of tiles are given so there is no need to adapt or run the level numerous times to determine what kind of squares are going to pop up and in what order. The Giant Jungle is the most imposing of the play types as these consist of a many-screen spanning map with multiple collectibles and pickups. The average game field will be no larger than 7 x 7 squares, but these are something like 20 x 20. They are far more challenging and require a greater capacity to plan and adapt to the randomly available tiles. Most puzzlers should unlock all of the different game modes in a few hours and there are over 150 levels which will take much longer to complete. The levels can be completed by just getting the Mini(s) to the end or by determining the path that will allow them to collect the three “M” coins in each level to get a perfect rating. This is more challenging and will grant stars which allow for players to unlock various modes and cosmetic Mini skins.

In addition to unlocking different models of Minis to run through the game’s series of malevolent mazes, various mini games can be unlocked. If these were little Nintendo classics that the clockwork men sat and played while you watched you might call these “Mini games,” but as they are merely small distractions for you to experience, the more traditional term “mini game” is appropriate.  These are mostly forgettable throwaway options from the main menu that will not be revisited or remembered. The sole exception is a mode that allows players to fling Minis with a slingshot on the bottom screen at rainbow colored cubes which begin in a giant cube formation on the top screen. The goal is to destroy the offending shapes within a limited period of time by picking off small clusters with  Minis or occasionally bombs that appear in the destroyed section of the Mega Cube. Striking the blocks causes the entire group to spin around in a dizzying array of color which is fun to watch with 3D enabled. A noteworthy achievement as most of the game is not interesting to look at in 3D. But, to be fair, the game is never more than serviceable even with the 3D effects turned all the way off. It is always clear what tiles are at play and what special blocks are around, but there are no effects or memorable flourishes. Perhaps it is merely the nature of the beast, but the Minis only move like stiff, wind-up dolls. Consistent, but unimpressive.

The community oriented can make use of the Create and Share function. As suggested by the name, players can Create their own levels and Share them with others.  The toolset to make original levels is intuitive and the game prevents broken levels from being shared as any level that cannot be completed will not be saved locally or shared. New levels can be found based upon their popularity and level size. A few of the maps up are a little interesting, but the vast majority are simplistic nonsense. I checked out more than a few levels which did not require the placement of any tiles to get a perfect store. Just little predefined loops that did not require my participation at all. I’ll grant you making a puzzle is hard, but I just wish the rating system allowed for more options than “I loved it,” “I’ll rate it later” and “I choose not to rate this level.” It is hard not to see a sea of levels that can be completed without interaction in less time that it takes to download them and pine for at least a “Try Harder Next Time!” feedback option.

Even if you live in an area without Wi-Fi and will never touch the Create and Share mode, between the four main game modes and their vast amounts of levels, there is plenty to do here. Some of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong charm is present and helps make it a more appealing package, it is just a shame that there is nothing here to make players want to finish the game. There is always the promise of more puzzles, but there are no story hooks to propel players onward. But since it is a downloadable game and as long there is enough memory available, it can be enjoyed a few levels at a time. A distraction game is a hard sell on a dedicated handheld system that might not necessarily be at hand when that old lady did not bother to read the 12 items or less sign and every other checkout line has four full shopping carts queued up, but in terms of pick up and put down games with a fair amount of depth, you could do worse.

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Pros:
+ Generous amount of puzzles
+ Some of which are actually hard

Cons:
– Not much new to see after the core modes are unlocked
– Graphics are dull

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS via eShop
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 5/9/2013
Genre: Puzzle
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.