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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DS) artwork

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DS) review

"Yet another 3DS eShop puzzler that comes out of nowhere and is tons of fun."

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move once again turns the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series on its head. This time it trades its Lemmings influences in for a new top-down gameplay style, and it's better for it.

In Minis on the Move, your goal is to place tiles on a gridded playfield, which guides a tiny mechanical Mario character (called a Mini) to the exit. If the Mini reaches a space without a tile, or finds itself in a situation where it can't proceed, you've failed. The influences from Pipe Dream are obvious, but Minis on the Move adds more than its fair share of twists to the familiar formula. Each stage has three coins placed in specific spots, and collecting all three of them in one run will reward you with a star, which can then be used to unlock toys for the “toybox” (model viewer) as well as mini-games. This means every level has an easy route (if you just want to make it to the exit tile) and a hard route (if you want to try for the coins). Since Minis are small toys and not floods of goo, you can use bombs to destroy tiles that have already been used and you can also place new ones in their vacant spaces, opening up several possible routes and strategies for each level.

Of course, there are plenty of special tiles and traps that will help or hinder you. Conveyer tiles, for example, will push a Mini in a specific direction. If there's a switch present, you can tap it to reverse that direction. Spring tiles will send your Mini flying over one space, over any hazards (such as Spike tiles, that will end the game if walked on by a Mini), causing it to land two tiles away. Trash Can tiles will let you throw away three tiles in your possession. This is useful for several reasons, with the most obvious one being the fact that tiles are constantly being added to your cache and you'll get a game over if a new tile spawns while you don't have room for it. Throwing three tiles in the trash will reward you with a Magic tile that can be used to complete a path between any two tiles that are one space away from one another.

As though the many special traps don't add enough depth to the proceedings, Minis March Again also rewards you for pulling off special tricks. Trapping your Mini in a loop will cause the tiles it is standing on to rise into the air. This will allow you to reach any coins that happen to be floating above your Mini's head, just out of reach, and it will also allow you to add precious seconds to your ever-dwindling time limit. As a bonus, any tiles in your cache will turn into special purple tiles that can be deposited on any tile you've already placed, without the requirement that you first destroy them with a bomb tile.

The most advanced (and difficult) trick in your arsenal is the figure eight. If you can trap your character in that formation, you'll be rewarded with a bonus exit tile that you can place anywhere on the playfield. Walk onto it to immediately end the level and enter the bonus round, where you can pick up small coins for additional points. Any uncollected special coins from the level will also show up in the bonus round, though they're not always easy to catch before they bounce away.

The gameplay variety doesn't end there, either. There are four different main modes that task you with reaching the goal in unique ways. Mario's Main Event is the most straightforward of the lot, with the simple goal requiring that you lead your Mini around the stage and towards the goal tile with whatever tiles you're semi-randomly dealt. Puzzle Palace mode drops the time limit and gives you all of your tiles at the start of the stage. This allows you to plan your route from the start, but it also means that you'll only have a limited number of specific tiles. If you need just one more straight horizontal tile to complete the path you have planned, too bad; you'll just have to start over. Many Mini Mayhem puts several minis in play at the same time, and you have to guide them all to the exit. This mode doesn't allow you to place tiles at all and instead forces you to interact with tiles that are already in play. You’ll need to flip switches to manipulate Conveyer tiles, rotate corner-shaped Pivot tiles, or move Blue tiles around with your stylus. Finally, Giant Jungle mode takes place on a massive grid, multiple times the size of the stages in any other mode, and drops the coins in favour of stars. Each stage contains ten stars and is held to a tight time limit, which you must extend by picking up stopwatch items. These stages are incredibly intimidating at first glance, but the good news is that you don't have to collect all of the stars in a single run. Each mode offers its own unique experience and they're all a blast to play.

If Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move has one serious flaw, it's the way luck factors into the Main Event and Jungle modes. The tiles you're dealt are somewhat random, as noted previously. Specific tiles have different chances of appearing in different stages, but ultimately, there's no guarantee you'll get what you need. It's not uncommon to find yourself close to the end, but to simply never receive the one tile you need to finish your path. Such circumstances can be frustrating, but as often as you'll be forsaken by the random number generator gods, you'll also receive their blessing. Sometimes everything just falls into place, and that's as satisfying as being as miserable failure is frustrating.

When the tiles agree, Minis on the Move's smart level design really shines through. It becomes especially apparent when you attempt to build your own levels in the included Create & Share mode. Designing your own stages is fun and the interface is suitably intuitive. As of writing, there aren't that many noteworthy user-created levels posted online, but the potential is there for that condition to change. Maybe someday the most popular levels will be ones that offer some kind of player agency, instead of simply ushering you to the end of the stage with a series of bouncers and conveyer belts like they do right now.

Minis on the Move isn't very remarkable, visually. The 3D effect is fine, but you won't spend much time looking at the top screen anyway. Most of the action takes place on the bottom screen, and while it's clean and serviceable, it would have been nice if the bottom screen interface looked a bit less barebones. The music is catchy, with a soundtrack largely consisting of remixes of classic Mario tunes. The sound effects are satisfying, and certainly a step up from the terrible stock effects used in some of the past Mario vs. Donkey Kong games.

Minis on the Move is the best Mario vs. Donkey Kong game since the very first entry on GBA that aped Donkey Kong '94. The core gameplay is loads of fun, the difficulty curve (if you aim for all of the coins) is steep but fair, and while it can occasionally be frustrating when things don't go your way, you'll never lose that much progress due to a single failure. With more than 180 levels and a handful of available mini-games (all of which are fun on their own right, whether you're fishing for flying Shy Guys or destroying a cube by pelting it with Mini Marios), the $10 price tag gets you a lot for your investment. Pushmo and Crashmo have some new company in the ever-growing list of great eShop puzzlers. If you've ever enjoyed a round of Pipe Dream, definitely give Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move a try.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 13, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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