So I won a code for this game through a guy on twitter who has just started his own little Nintendo site by correctly guessing the Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage music. I would have bought it myself, but winning is neat! So that's it for the plug.
As for the game itself, it's really, really good. I'm almost always shocked at how good Mario & DK games turn out; it's as if I forget that I like them by the next time one comes out. The music is super catchy, the minis are all very cute, the presentation as usual is top notch.
Now, we've seen this type of game before: creating a maze/track for characters to get from the starting point to the finish line. But this one has some fresh ideas that make it pretty damn open. There is not a single solution for each puzzle.
Initially, you think: okay, you win the game by getting the three medals and then going for the finish line. But then you learn that there is a way for you to just create your own damn finish line, and you're like "huh?". Not only that, but you don't even have to get the three medals in a level, because if you do create your own finish point, you are warped to a mini-game in which you can get them.
Isn't this strange as hell? You don't have to play by the normal rules to win. It's as if the developer thought "well if you can pull off the condition to create a secret exit, we're just gonna give this level to you". It's very surprising, for a M&DK game. And I like it.
None of the articles on that guy's site have any comments. We should get him to come write for us over here, he will have an instant fanbase!
But yeah I have this game and it is not bad. My only real complaint is how it is tough to plan too much in advance. Sometimes you get an idea in your head and go for it just to find out that you have basically built yourself into a situation that you can't win because luck? wasn't with you. Although I'm still a bit confused about whether the pieces that you get are random, semi-random, or follow a specific pattern for each stage.
Actually I have another complaint, though it isn't really something the game does WRONG per se but just a natural artifact of the type of game that it is, but... I feel like I just end up playing the whole game looking at the bottom screen with its sort of boring 2D tile graphics as opposed to taking in the 3D on the top. In fact, even though at first glance you think "it's Mario vs. DK in 3D!", it's actually very flat, 2D gameplay... the 3D top screen is nice to look at but not really necessary.
I'll probably write a review for this game. Eventually.
They seem at least semi-random to me. It's true that that can really screw you over sometimes. That's why you need to improvise!
If you want puzzles that are more straightforward, there IS the puzzle mode which gives you specific tiles to complete the level, and you have all the time in the world to do it as long as you place the first piece last.
But sometimes you just end up in a spot where there literally is nothing more that you can do. I guess maybe you have to "think ahead" more, but that can backfire too, if you build a nice path somewhere and just simply cannot get over to it.
This game is my game of the summer, according to my 3DS diary I have more than 20 hours on it, more than Super Mario 3D Land despite 3D Land making you do everything two or three times (maybe some of the time is from suspend mode, though, I don't know if it counts).
It's very easy to think it's mediocre or forgettable: the Pipe Dreams/ Pipe Mania mechanics seem stitched on the Minis, the 3D graphics should be a lot better since there's so little to display (it's not even at 60 fps), the minigames are shallow and boring, and the whole game effectively plays on the bottom screen and looks like an IOS $1 game, when it's here sold at $10.
But the rules of each mode are varied and perfectly fine tuned, the level design is bloody brilliant (the user created levels are abysmal compared to it), and God bless Nintendo, it's at last HARD from the beginning, you don't have to spend more than half the game on easy tutorial levels like in so many other Nintendo puzzle games (and more specifically Mini-Land Mayhem). Here, the mechanics and tiles are all explained very quickly without filler levels or (another flaw of other Mario vs. DK puzzle games) stupid boss level, you're free to play tons of spectacular quality levels from the very start without having to wait "for the good bits".
I'm near the end of the game, and discovered the game adds "expert" levels in Mario and Peach mode once you finished the "normal" levels: 10 more nail-biting levels in Mario mode, and 20 "smoke will pour out of my ears from thinking" Peach levels.
This game is up there IMO with Pullblox and Fallblox among the best puzzle games in recent years. It nails the main quality of a puzzle game: being in appearance completely simple and innocuous, but in reality devilishly challenging, which makes you mad at yourself that you can't solve something that seems so simple, hence motivation, hence addiction, hence satisfaction when you finally beat the thing.
You have to use the trashcan mechanics. I see you don't mention it in your review, but if you make a loop in Mario or DK mode without a mini on it, it creates a trashcan. Along with creating a loop with a mini on it raising the tiles (making your mini reach coins or keys) and adding time bonuses, it's a carefully thought out and planned mechanics that makes the game much more interesting than other Pipe Dreams clones.
Also, the variety between the four modes is very welcome and surprising.