Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (Nintendo Software Technology) is a game with some serious lineage. It all began with a tight little platformer named Donkey Kong that released in the arcades way back in 1981, when I was just a wee young lad. Years later (1994, to be precise), Nintendo would release a Game Boy game named, once again, Donkey Kong (generally referred to as Donkey Kong ‘94 to avoid confusion), which took the basic premise of the original Donkey Kong and expanded it with over 100 stages of platforming brilliance, throwing in some puzzle elements for good measure. 2004’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy Advance was a pseudo-sequel to this game, and it introduced the “Minis”, small mechanical Mario toys that, in certain stages, Mario would have to lead to the exit. In 2006 Nintendo changed up the formula completely with Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, focusing solely on the Minis themselves with some Lemmings-esque puzzle platforming gameplay. A few sequels using this new Mini-focused gameplay formula followed in 2009 and 2010 on DSiWare and the DS respectively, and that brings us up to date. It’s 2013, and apparently Nintendo Software Technology felt that yet another formula shift was necessary. Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is indeed a shift, and the result is what happens when you take the previous Minis-focused 2D games and use them as inspiration for a full 3D game, creating a brand new experience in the process.
Well, kind of a full 3D game, but one that plays in top-down 2D. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Pauline may have a bit of a case of Stockholm syndrome going on here.
There isn’t much of a story set-up in Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, which instead wisely opts to throw you quickly into the gameplay. You may notice, however, that there is now an “and” in the title replacing the “vs.” of the previous games in the series, a subtle shift representing the fact that Mario and Donkey Kong are not rivals in this game, but are now working together (with friends) to accomplish their goals. Would that we all could get over our differences so easily.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is played exclusively using touch screen controls, and there honestly isn’t too much to say about them other than “they work”. It’s easy and intuitive to pick up and drop tiles, move tiles around, flip switches, and more. The only minor control issue that I experienced is that, while tapping a Mini can give it a speed boost, if you miss the Mini and accidentally tap something else instead, the consequences may be dire.
The main game of Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move contains over 180 stages divided between four different game modes. Although all four modes contain the same basic premise of laying down a path (from a top-down view, on the bottom touch screen) to help your mechanical marching Mini reach the goal star, each of them is played in their own distinct way. In “Mario’s Main Event”, pieces will drop into a pipe on the right side of the screen, which you must then use to create a path and get your Mini to the goal before the time runs out. However, if the pipe fills up, you lose the game, so you must lay your path quickly and efficiently. “Puzzle Palace” slows things down and gives you a set amount of pieces and infinite time, requiring you to work out the best path possible with your pieces. “Many Mini Mayhem” has you managing multiple Minis at the same time, shifting and rotating titles to get all of them to the goal successfully. Finally, “Giant Jungle” is a bit like “Mario’s Main Event”, except with super large stages that require you to consistently place your tiles in a smart manner as you collect stars on your way to the goal star.
It may look overwhelming at first, but rest assured... it almost definitely is.
Although the four modes are different enough to truly stand out from each other, they do share some similarities beyond the basic premise. There are various fun (or not so fun) tiles that are scattered throughout the stages in every mode, including spikes, springs, warp pipes, conveyor belts, rotating tiles, and more. In each mode except for “Giant Jungle”, instead of heading straight for the goal star, you can opt for the additional challenge of trying to collect three Mario coins first (“Giant Jungle” has you collecting multiple stars instead.) Except for “Puzzle Palace”, all of the modes have a garbage tile that you can throw unused pieces into in order to create a wild card tile, and utilizing this new tile at the correct time and place is a necessity to finishing many of the stages successfully. Also excepting “Puzzle Palace, all of the modes have you racing the clock to completion, and you can gather stopwatches along the way to add time to the clock, as well as create “loops” that will make additional stopwatches appear along the loop. Creating a “figure 8” will do the same as creating a loop, and also give you your own goal star tile that you may place wherever you please, warping you to a bonus area that, among other things, will let you collect the Mario coins that you missed.
I suppose this is where some of my complaints against the game come into play. Although I definitely understand the need for a time limit, you are often given such little time that you are constantly battling the clock, and having to make loops and figure 8s to get more time (and then find a way to break out of them afterwards) is a sort of strange mechanic that never quite felt right to me. Furthermore, in both the “Mario’s Main Event” and “Giant Jungle” modes, even after playing the game for many hours, I was left unclear as to what exactly determines your piece drops (it appears to be semi-randomized in some fashion), and those modes often require you to plan ahead without any guarantee that you won’t just be planning yourself into a corner because of not getting the right piece drops in time. In fact, overall, in all modes, I’d say that the game requires a bit more trial and error than I’d have liked.
March straight to the goal or collect Mario coins? A decision that will haunt you forever.
In addition to the main game, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has four unlockable mini-games, three of them based off of a simple flicking motion (including one that is very reminiscent of the brick-breaking Art Style: Cubello on the Wii), with the fourth putting Mario on a platform that you must move up and down to avoid Bullet Bills while collecting coins. The Cubello-esque mini-game is probably my favorite of the four, and they are all somewhat satisfying in their own ways, but none of them kept my attention for very long. I get the sense that these mini-games had nothing to do with this project originally and got tacked on to add value, but I can’t really complain about that. Don’t expect to spend too much time with these though, the real appeal of the package is the main game.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move also contains a create and share mode that allows you to, as the name suggests, create and share your own stages online, as well as search for other’s stages to play based on various criteria. This is a pretty awesome addition, although you only appear to be able to make stages of the type “Mario’s Main Event” (and I guess, by proxy, “Giant Jungle”, if you decide to make larger stages.) Much like in Pushmo and Crashmo, you have to prove that your stage can be completed before submitting it by actually completing it yourself, so be prepared to put your own skills to the test if you try to come up with a particularly dastardly creation.
Because dodging Bullet Bills is always relevant to your game.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move isn’t the most graphically impressive game ever, but this is more due to the type of game that it is rather than any real flaw on the side of the developers, as most of the game is essentially just tiles and a few Minis moving about upon them. That aside, the graphics are clean and colorful, and the 3D effect isn’t bad either, although due to the nature of the game, you will probably spend most of your time looking at the not so impressive 2D tiles on the bottom screen, so your experience of the 3D graphics may end up minimal.
The music and sound effects are about what you would expect from a Mario puzzle game, which is to say pleasant and upbeat. For the most part they didn’t really stick with me outside of the game, although there are a few remixes that invoke nostalgia successfully, including a much-appreciated Super Mario 64 remix.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is the type of game that can appear a bit too basic and easy at first, and make you question what the point of it all is. However, after I spent an hour or so with it, it really began to “click”, and once it does click, it can be a highly engaging and challenging puzzle game, especially if you try to get all of the Mario coins in each stage. The issues with the game that I spoke of above hold it back a bit in my eyes, but the variety of gameplay modes, combined with a vast amount of stages, bonus mini-games and a stage creator, make for a meaty package that is well worth the price for puzzle game fans.
Good review! Unfortunately I didn't keep up with all the different Mario vs. DK games (and I hadn't paid attention to the distinction made with the 'and' rather than 'vs.' in this one, though now it makes sense). The last one I played was Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! for DSiWare.
I like the sound of the different game modes like Puzzle Palace and Mario's Main Event. That does sound kind of strange how you have to make loops and figure 8s to get more time.