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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move review: Fancy pipe dream


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There are four games in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, each sporting 2D puzzle-platforming action. What sets Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move apart from the group isn't just the change of "vs" to "and." Minis on the Move still tasks players with the challenge of guiding their Mario toys through a level of obstacles to a goal point, in this case a star, but the game diverges from the series' norm by operating in three dimensions. Players must drag tiles on the touch screen to create a track for their minis to safely traverse.

In true Nintendo fashion, this simple premise is expanded upon with a solid variety of obstacles to avoid and special tiles to use. For example, spring tiles launch your mini two spaces, and colored pipes warp your mini to another location on the small map. The occasional tile with Donkey Kong on it will send your mini flying three spaces in a given direction (I suppose that's where "and Donkey Kong" comes from).

I like to call the total package "Fancy Pipe Dream," as the gist of its primary design doesn't at all feel new or creative. It's much like the tile-based puzzler from the Miscrosoft Entertainment Pack of the 1990s, also known as Pipe Mania. The difference is that Minis on the Move is much more fleshed-out, as it includes special tiles, obstacles, and a few different modes. Oh, and Mario is in it.

Gallery: Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move | 7 Photos

As mini-Mario marches ever forward, tiles will randomly fall through a pipe on the touch screen into a five-tile queue. You lose if the queue overflows, so you'll be battling it along with the timer. And, of course, you'll also lose if your mini falls victim to a Shy Guy, spike pit, or falls off the edge of a tile. By collecting three coins in each puzzle, you're awarded a star, which can be used to unlock more minis and games.

The main game section includes four modes, Mario's Main Event being the primary one. Puzzle Palace takes the ticking timer out of the equation and gives players a handful of specific tiles for each level, challenging them to complete the puzzles in the fastest time. Many Minis Mayhem is similar to Mario's Main Event, except the difficulty ramps up, unleashing multiple minis with each puzzle. Lastly, Giant Jungle takes the typically small map and expands it far off the screen, forcing players to navigate a greater area with their minis, picking up time extensions along the way to keep the timer from ticking to zero.

I found the first 20 to 25 levels in both Mario's Main Event and Puzzle Palace to be exceedingly easy, and bested them in about half an hour each, collecting every coin along the way. Each of the two groups offers 60 levels, which get slightly more challenging near the end, but few left me completely stumped. Many Minis Mayhem and Giant Jungle offered the greatest challenge in collecting all the coins and stars for each level. Perfecting every puzzle in these modes will unlock more levels, like the 10 "expert" levels in Mario's Main Event and Puzzle Palace, which offer a little more satisfaction thanks to some increased difficulty.

Mario and Donkey Kong Minis on the Move review Fancy pipe dreamIf the included levels aren't taxing enough, you can always create your own and share them with others around the globe. Players are limited to creating puzzles on a 7x7 grid at most, and can only make levels in the style of Mario's Main Event. Personally, I found the limited tile puzzles of Puzzle Palace more enjoyable, so this was a little disappointing. Still, creating my own levels and trying the work of others is a great touch, though it won't make the game's core mechanics any more enjoyable. It's worth noting that of all the levels I played in the game, a near-impossible user-created level is probably my favorite. Without even simple additions like leaderboards though, there's no further reason to dig in to these player-generated levels.

Also, apart from the need to occasionally glance at the timer on the top screen, there's really no reason to look away from the touch screen. The top screen shows a prettier 3D representation of the game's 2D puzzles, but all of the actual gameplay takes place on the bottom.

Nintendo may have recognized this, choosing to include a handful of mini-games that make use of both screens. Each one has you either using a crank or slingshot on the touchscreen, subsequently flinging minis into targets or smashing them into giant cubes. Completing a game puts you at the top of its local leaderboard, which doesn't make much sense for a handheld system. I know I won't attempt to top my own scores, since the mini games are shallow and immensely easy. They might work in multiplayer setting like Mario Party, but they aren't very thrilling to play on your own.

Ultimately, Fancy Pipe Dream, err, Minis on the Move fails a crucial test for any puzzle game, the compulsion to play "just one more level." It's the mark of any great puzzle game, something Nintendo itself has captured in games like Picross 3D and Pushmo – and even previous Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, to a certain extent – but Minis on the Move doesn't kindle the same spark. If the game presented even a slightly stiffer challenge, I might be able to forgive its ho-hum mechanics, but that challenge never materializes.

It's too bad, because the game has all the polish and shine you'd expect from a Nintendo product. But in the crowded puzzle genre, especially on a handheld like the 3DS, Minis on the Move doesn't stand out in any significant way. There is no impressive gameplay twist, no mechanic that feels fresh or noteworthy. It may attempt to mesh hectic action with mind-bending challenges, but it doesn't particularly succeed at either.

This review is based on an eShop download of Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, provided by Nintendo.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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