Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move marks the 5th game in the portable only series that started life as a spiritual successor to the Game Boy classic Donkey Kong, often referred to by fans as Donkey Kong ’94. While the original Game Boy Donkey Kong, and the majority of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong titles have revolved around 2D platforming with puzzle elements, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move marks a pretty big departure for what series fans have come to expect.
If you’ve been playing video games for a while, you’re probably familiar with, or have heard of, a title called Pipe Mania. This was a puzzle game developed for the Amiga in 1989, and ported over to a whole bunch of platforms over the years. The game revolves around a continuous flow of liquid that exits from a set tile on a grid pattern, that needs to connect with an exit tile located elsewhere on the grid. The in-between spaces need to be filled in by the player, who uses various pipe patterns to get the liquid from one end to the other.
That’s essentially what Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is emulating. There’s a lot more to it, but the core concept is incredibly similar. The main game is divided up into four areas: Mario’s Main Event, Puzzle Palace, Many Mini Mayhem, and Giant Jungle. Each area has a particular gimmick or concept tacked on to the core puzzle of getting mini mechanical versions of Mario, Peach, Toad and Donkey Kong from point A to point B.
Mario’s Main Event is the more straightforward variant of Pipe Mania from the four modes, but as you progress through each mode you’ll see more and more mechanics introduced. Things like rotating stationary blocks, garbage blocks that you can feed other useless blocks to in order to create a new block, walking Shy Guy’s that need to be thwarted with hammer power-ups and so on. While Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move might be heavily inspired by Pipe Mania, it certainly has enough unique mechanics to make it stand out from other clones and mini-game adaptations.
The four core modes will last you quite a while, and the puzzles become fiendishly difficult about midway through. There’s enough variation between each mode that you’re constantly being pushed to learn new ways of tackling puzzles. And with each puzzle being timed, along with the ever-pressing tile drops that occur on the right hand side of the screen, there’s enough urgency present to keep that challenge level high and consistent throughout. There’s also the optional goal of collecting three coins scattered about each puzzle, which in turn nets you a gold star for doing so that also serves as a way of unlocking mini-game modes and collectible toy characters displayed elsewhere.
The additional mini-games unlocked aren’t that great though, and in comparison to what the main game brings to the table, they feel pretty underwhelming. Three of the four involve pulling back on an object using the bottom touch screen and lifting the stylus for a slingshot effect. For one this involves shooting down targets, the other involves grabbing at flying Shy Guy’s, and the third launches projectiles at a cube that you smash into bits. The fourth is a little different, involving a crank that you spin in circles. This crank controls the height of a pipe that Mario is standing on, with the goal being to avoid Bullet Bill’s flying around at various heights.
The only other issue I have with Minis on the Move stems from the art, I don’t care for the mechanical renderings of the mascot characters used, and I think the 3D models on display are sort of ugly. Visually the game isn’t impressive to begin with, but for the most part you’ll be looking at the bottom screen and manipulating simple 2D tiles instead of paying attention to the 3D model of the map displayed above. But this focus on the bottom screen makes any 3D effect shown sort of useless, and while I know most won’t care about a 3DS title that doesn’t make good use of the 3D function, Nintendo has shown a propensity to use that feature well in the past and here it’s little more than an afterthought.
One last feature worth talking about is the level creator, which also allows you to share your creations with friends and others online. I’m not particularly skilled with level creators in general, but considering the simplistic nature of the game, and that it’s based around grid patterns, it doesn’t take much to put together something fun. Pulling more complex patterns and block types from the arsenal available can make for some challenging creations, but the game smartly blocks uploads until you’re able to finish the puzzle yourself, preventing puzzles from being uploaded that can’t be solved.
The creation process is very intuitive, and easy to navigate via the touch screen controls. You can save a number of creations at once, upload completed creations quickly (a matter of seconds) and download levels created by others just as fast. For me it was the best thing about Minis on the Move, and guarantees a near endless supply of content if properly supported by the community.
All in all, it’s still an eShop release that’s worth checking out. The core puzzle mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone that’s played Pipe Mania or one of its variants and spin-offs over the years, but there’s enough new things added in to make the overall experience feel fresh. There’s also enough content supplied from the four main modes to keep you busy for quite a while, and then the potential for additional content from the level creator and online sharing. The mini-games included are hardly worth noting, much less playing, but everything else about the game is a real treat. It’s certainly different from what we’ve come to expect out of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, but if you’re interested in a Nintendo themed puzzle game with some actual challenge, look no further than Minis on the Move.