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E3 06: Mario vs Donkey Kong: March of the Minis - Hands On

You wouldn't know it by looking at all the buddy-buddy sports games that are on the GameCube, but once upon a time, Mario and Donkey Kong were big-time enemies. In the case of Mario vs Donkey Kong: March of the Minis, you're controlling a horde of tiny, mechanical Mario clones as they try to escape the puzzling, 2D prison Donkey Kong has slapped them into.

Well, you don’t actually control the Marios themselves. They're kinda roaming freely around the levels, awaiting your instructions. You tap one to animate it, then point it in the direction you want it to walk. It'll follow that path with no regard for its own safety, though, so you've got to constantly be on their asses. In just the first few puzzles, we saw four or five of the little guys running around simultaneously, bumping into enemies and getting themselves killed.

The little micro-brats can't fall very far, either, so you've got to mind bridges, elevators and all that good stuff too. Bridges, in fact, are another key component to the riddling levels - you can suck up squares with the stylus and plop them back somewhere else, thus creating a safe walkway. But what order to do this in, and where to slap the squares, that's the real trick.

They're not totally defenseless, though. We stumbled across a magic hammer that KO’d anything in the level... until it ran out of steam. Some enemies actually serve a purpose, so until you've properly scoped out the stage, you shouldn't wildly start whacking baddies into the next life. For example, the scarlet-clad Shyguys can walk on spikes - mini Marios cannot. So, you've got to hop on their heads and cruise across.

It's not the most intense game, or a graphical powerhouse, but if there's one thing the DS does well, it's simple puzzle games. The first Mario vs Donkey Kong was a quiet, well-received Game Boy Advance title, so there's no reason to think this one will be any worse.

May 10, 2006