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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move review

Mediocre
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AT A GLANCE
  • Tons of puzzles to tackle
  • The methodical problem-solving of the Puzzle Palace mode
  • An assortment of modes and minigames to break up the pace
  • Main gameplay hook feels dated
  • Incredibly stark presentation
  • Nothing compelling you to keep playing if you get stuck

Would you pay $10 for a one-note puzzle game? If the answer is yes, there's a chance you'll dig Minis on the Move, a downloadable 3DS title that's quite unlike its predecessors. But if you're going into this with expectations exceeding a glorified iOS game, you may be left wanting. Though Minis is a satisfactory puzzler, it's hard to recommend it over the wealth of eShop games that don't revolve around mechanics which are over 20 years old.

There's a reason the core gameplay feels so ancient: Minis is essentially a retooled, Mario-branded version of Pipe Mania, a tile-based puzzle game that requires major planning skills and some minor dexterity. In each of the game's four modes, your task is essentially the same: create a conduit from point A to point B by placing fixed bits of pathway on a grid. Besides some nifty springboard, rotating, and conveyer tiles, this is functionally the same game as the 1989 classic, with wound-up, mechanized Mario characters in place of the slowly moving green ooze.

"...Minis is essentially a retooled, Mario-branded version of Pipe Mania..."

This is a stark departure from the Lemmings-style gameplay of the previous Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, and for many, it's liable to be disappointing. Rather than being a 2D brain-tickler that evokes the beloved Donkey Kong on the original Game Boy, Minis is nothing more than the sum of its stages. You're presented with puzzles, sans any context or continuity, and all that's left to be done is solve them. Compared to the innate charm of most Mario games, Minis can’t escape feeling somewhat hollow.

The gameplay is entirely touch-controlled, via the aerial view on the 3DS' bottom screen; your only inputs involve dragging and dropping pieces to make a path, or tapping your cutesy automaton (a miniaturized Mario, Peach, Toad, etc.) to give them a short speed boost. The latter sounds like a useful mechanic, but it comes at a cost: When nudging your little mech forward, they'll make a high-pitched squeal as they get into gear. At best, this is mildly annoying; at worst, as when using Peach or Pauline, their repetitious yelps sound uncomfortably suggestive.

"You're presented with puzzles, sans any context or continuity, and all that's left to be done is solve them."

You'll first get your bearings in Mario's Main Event, which eases you into the mechanics of the tile-based action. Though the first few stages are brain-dead easy, things start to pick up when you realize that failing to use your allotted tiles before your supply fills up spells instant defeat. Add to the fact that your Mini will naively waltz to its death if left unattended, and the pressure to lay out a safe path starts to build. Those looking to get the most out of the game will chase after the three coins strewn about each level before heading for the exit, many of which will be hovering in fiendishly out-of-the-way locations.

It creates an anxious sort of puzzle experience, combining the forethought of your visualized path with the randomized nature of the tiles you have to work with. Is it fun? Sometimes--but when the pacing starts to feel frantic and disorganized, there's no joy to be had in finally solving a troublesome stage. Thankfully, these levels feel more like a prelude to Minis' standout mode: Puzzle Palace, where you must devise a safe route using a fixed set of given tiles. In this mode, you'll have all the time in the world to plot out the best path, which may initially seem impossible. Because there's no built-in hint system, getting stuck is about as fun as staring at a crossword puzzle you can't solve. But when you do finally devise the correct course, you'll beam with satisfaction as your Mini marches to its goal.

"...getting stuck is about as fun as staring at a crossword puzzle you can't solve."

Racing against the clock is the theme of the other two modes: Many Mini Mayhem, which has you micromanaging the movement of multiple Minis, and Giant Jungle, where your Mini must traverse a multi-screen grid within a very strict time limit. Alas, you're likely to abandon these modes within minutes, as they're downright stressful to play without really feeling like a test of brainpower or skill. Collecting all the coins in any given level will reward you with a star; amass enough stars, and additional, short-lived minigames will be unlocked, alongside some bland collectibles. These are enjoyable when you first try them, but they don't amount to much more than three-minute high score attempts. You can also design and share your own levels via StreetPass, though it remains to be seen if player creativity will match or outdo professionally made puzzles.

As a whole, Minis on the Move feels like a bit like a bait and switch, ensnaring gamers familiar with the franchise's established gameplay, only to deliver something unexpected and not entirely satisfying. With over 150 stages--some fiendishly tricky--and a modicum of variety, there's enough here to keep your gray matter occupied for a dozen or so hours. But those expecting something more than a simple procession of puzzles, ones that could operate on any non-3D system, should stay away. If you're in the mood for charming brainteasers, your eShop money would be much better spent on Mole Mania or Pushmo.

More Info

Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Puzzle
Published by: Nintendo
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending

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20 comments

  • Odori - May 8, 2013 12:15 p.m.

    "Because there's no built-in hint system, getting stuck is about as fun as staring at a crossword puzzle you can't solve. But when you do finally devise the correct course, you'll beam with satisfaction as your Mini marches to its goal." So... uh... it ends up being fun? "can't solve" implies... you can't solve it. If you're able to solve it and it's rewarding once you do then isn't that sort of the fun of a puzzle game? These sentences just seem to contradict one another.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 8, 2013 1:35 p.m.

    If it took five minutes of deep thought to find the answer, that's rewarding. If you're staring at the same screen for 30 minutes with no discernible progress, that's just frustrating.
  • Arobadope - May 8, 2013 2:37 p.m.

    Sooooo having to use your brain is a knock on a game now and days? Dear God how pathetic the gaming media has become.
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 8, 2013 3:12 p.m.

    Did you mean "nowadays"
  • Arobadope - May 8, 2013 5:32 p.m.

    Indeed, doesn't take away from my point, especially if English isn't my first language.
  • talleyXIV - May 8, 2013 6:10 p.m.

    He made a good point so your only defense was correcting a spelling mistake. Nice one. Did you mean: "Did you mean "nowadays?""
  • avantguardian - May 8, 2013 10:35 p.m.

    if ya'll take a gander at the first two "you'll love"s, you will see "puzzles" and problem solving". amazingly, succeeding at these, or even taking interest in them, takes 'a brain'. but seriously, a puzzle game's greatest accomplishment is finding that balance between challenging you, and compelling you enough to work through it when you hit a wall. great puzzle games do this. if a game's obtuseness isn't buoyed by any other compelling elements, then that should be considered a failure. this isn't calculus, it's a video game. it's also lucas's opinion on a video game. so his 'point' is non-existent. he was just being a douche, much like his cantankerous ass of an avatar, the koala.
  • Arobadope - May 9, 2013 7:56 a.m.

    Sorry, your point is ruined by ad hominem attacks. In all seriousness, there are plenty of puzzle games out there that discredit you, crossword puzzles being a major one. Sudoku being another. Unless you're going to argue those aren't great puzzle games.
  • avantguardian - May 9, 2013 2:50 p.m.

    again, we're talking 'video games' here. and personal opinion. i love crosswords and sudoku, but those are typically things i do out of boredom (at work, for example), and no, i wouldn't spend $60 on them.
  • Arobadope - May 9, 2013 6:51 p.m.

    There are crossword puzzle videogames and sudoku video games. Thank you for not knowing that. This game also doesn't cost 60 bucks, it's an E-Shop only title.
  • avantguardian - May 10, 2013 1:43 a.m.

    crosswords and sudoku will never be video games for me, no matter how much you want to be a technical douche about playing them on a screen. they're different, and you know that. but you can just troll away while missing my point entirely. that's cool.
  • Arobadope - May 10, 2013 7:51 a.m.

    More ad hominem attacks, and whether you view them as 'video games' or not, they do have video game cross world puzzles and sudoku, some are actually very good and unique. There's even a picture based puzzle game that is reminiscent of the one board game that I can't remember at all lmfao. Either way, you can ignore them if you want, fact is they are there. Also if you want to talk about missing points you missed mine a few posts ago.
  • Hobogonigal - May 9, 2013 7:58 a.m.

    Did you mean: "Did you mean: "Did you mean "nowadays"?"? The question mark goes outside the quotation mark. If you're going to correct grammar my good sir, at least get it correct. #weekofhate
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 9, 2013 9:40 a.m.

    By golly, we're ALL right!
  • Hobogonigal - May 9, 2013 9:50 a.m.

    Hey bud, you didn't even have a question mark! So that makes you the least right! On an unrelated tangent, what does the 'j' stand for in Ljrepresent?
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 9, 2013 10:04 a.m.

    lolol it's true. The J is for Jack, my middle name!
  • talleyXIV - May 16, 2013 12:05 p.m.

    Nope punctuation goes inside quotation marks. If you are going to correct me correcting your grammar, get your shit together first.
  • shawksta - May 8, 2013 10:16 a.m.

    You can see they were trying to make it as much of what March Of the Minis was to the original platformer on GBA, and it could've worked, but the Pipe Mania style they chose just didn't work out. Otherwise it had the level creator and sharing, and extra modes but ultimately the Original Mini mechanic is much more engaging and overall more interesting than this one. Its a shame, but ill probably give a shot when its on sale. "better spent on Mole Mania" Kudos to the mention, Mole Mania was awesome and is one of Miyamoto's very old IP's, it needs a sequel. Also you guys should do more reviews for Eshop games, or atleast the more important hits like the recent new IP by Gamefreak Harmoknight that came out at March and the sequel to Tingle GBA's creators' Dillon's rolling Western that came out last month but alas they are already 1-2 months old, but atleast future titles that gained popularity like the sequel for the Dempamen coming soon
  • GR_LucasSullivan - May 9, 2013 9:36 a.m.

    Yeah, Mole Mania might be my #1 GB game :) We'll definitely keep an eye out for anticipated eShop games; I too would like to do more reviews for those!
  • BladedFalcon - May 8, 2013 9:34 a.m.

    Hmm, that's unfortunate, I remember enjoying the first minis games for the GBA quite a bit. Sad to see what the franchise has been turned into.

Showing 1-20 of 20 comments

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