While people obsess over the timelines of Metroid and Zelda universes, I seem to recall Nintendo describing Mario as a series unstuck from time. How else would there be one game where he’s hitting Bowser over the head with a hammer, and in the next one he’s riding in a go-cart with him? Its like there are a million different parallel universes, each with its own permutations and rules and character relationships.
The Mario vs. Donkey Kong universe must be a strange world where Mario is still dating Pauline and is an avowed miniature model hobbyist. The series has done some evolving over time (the original entry was more akin to the fantastic Donkey Kong on the original Game Boy), and this latest permutation is more like Pipe Dreams, only using adorable, tiny versions of various characters instead of water.
There are actually three different puzzle types and rules in the game. The first has the character walking and you’re laying down the random pathways as it walks around, directing it to pick up M coins and get to the exit. The second has you doing the same, only with a preset amount of tiles to choose from, making you adopt an economy approach instead of randomly putting them down. Third has multiple minis, and in it you’re manipulating tiles that are already there to give them safe passage. There is one last selection, but it’s a larger, more difficult variant on the first type.
It tends to be a very frenzied game, especially when you’re running out of space to hold your extra tiles, or need to find just the right piece. Fortunately, there are things you can do with junk pieces, such as put them in the garbage, or use them to make loops for yourself. If you make a full circle loop, it raises you up (which is handy, since some collectibles actually float above the rest of the field), but the really powerful ones are figure 8s. In fact, if you make one of those while your figure is walking on it, it’s essentially an automatic win, where it gives you a special piece that takes you to another dimension, giving you coins, all the collectibles, and a higher score than would be available any other way. As cool as that is, it can easily become a strategy to rely on, resulting in you not solving the actual puzzle, and instead just going around it in that method. Fortunately, this can only be done in the first puzzle type, so you’re not tempted to just use it anywhere possible, and the levels are well enough designed to not make a viable strategy every time.
The game is also very smart with making it so that your first 3 or 4 solutions are just close enough to being right, but fall short in the end. Of course, if you’re not a perfectionist, you can continue on without all the M coins, but to get those, you have to engage in some real lateral thinking. What worked so perfectly in the level before may not work in this one, and the most straightforward seeming solution is often the worst one to take in the end.
Although there are over 200 puzzles in the game, there’s also the included option of creating your own levels, or looking up others online. You do have to test the level before you can put it up, so there won’t be anything broken up. Unfortunately, since I had the game for review, I didn’t see too many great levels, but it’s really easy to come up with something crazy and throw it up online for the world to experience.
Ok, fine. A little more detail. Three of the minigames are essentially the same: you launch a thing at another thing and get points. They’re not exactly rich and deep experiences, but they’re bite-sized and forgettable enough. It’s curious why the developers decided to add in a bunch of pick-up-and-play type games to an already pick-up-and-play type game, but there they are!
Now, though, the biggest question. What’s up with Pauline? She used to look, well, an awful lot like Peach, but now she’s different. She’s this strange Jersey looking woman who would probably have a voice like Fran Drescher. I don’t know what’s up with her design, but this weird tall-haired, tight-dressed, large-jewelry-wearing bimbo look is a little off-putting for the first damsel Mario rescued.
Luckily, these questionable decisions don’t extend to the minis themselves, who are all adorable, and it’s really fun to watch them waddle around the environment.
Characters aside, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is a very fun game, with a frantic pace and several deviations on the main puzzle type that serve to give you a pretty full package. Being able to expand the longevity of this game by allowing level downloads is also a plus, and with a good community, it can last for a very long time. And I certainly hope it does last for a while, because this is a game that would be great to come back and revisit with all the levels and creativity a good community usually brings to a title.