Nintendo’s Mario vs. DK puzzle series has taken a few twist and turns over the years, starting as a platforming-based puzzler back on the Game Boy Advance. The latest iteration in the series stays true to its puzzling roots, but trades in platforming for puzzle pieces, specifically, square tiles. You’ll use various types of tiles to create marching paths for your minis, leading them to the green warp pipes in each stage. It’s a good concept and the game offers tons of puzzles right out of the box in addition to user-created content, but the game’s charm can run out pretty quickly as you progress.
Minis on the Move comes with just under 200 puzzles in 4 different game modes. 3 out of the 4 main gameplay modes take an Angry Birds-style 3-star approach to completion: clearing the level gets you one star, getting a high score gets another, while collecting the three challenge coins in each stage nets the third. Playing through the main game nets you stars for level completion and unlocks DK mini-games as well as Toy Chest trophies; little figurines which serve no actionable purpose in the game, but can be fun to collect if you’re into that sort of thing. As mentioned before, you guide minis to the goal using tile roads in each mode, but the differences lie in how those tiles are used.
You have to wonder about some of the decisions you’ve made in your life when you’re about to be fired from a slingshot.
The “Mario vs. DK” moniker got tossed out the window in this game; apparently now the two are working together to run a carnival of sorts. While the Mario Toy Company hosts its main carnival, DK and Pauline (the red-dressed woman from Donkey Kong) run a mini-game tent with various slingshot-based time-wasters. The four featured mini-games are slight variations of each other, requiring the player to catch Shy Guys and reel them in on the touchscreen, or launch cannonballs at a rotating 3D cube. They’re interesting, but the meat of the game is contained in the tile-based puzzle levels.
In “Mario’s Main Event,” you’ll drag-and-drop tiles from a queue that spits out a new tile every few seconds. Lead your mini to danger, let it fall off of the map, or fail to get it to the goal in time, and you’ll have to start over. Also, if too many tiles build up in your queue it’ll explode, which also requires a restart. Building special types of closed loops on the board provides bonuses; loops with your mini on them become raised tracks which you can use to grab floating coins and gain additional time. A loop without your mini spawns a trash space to toss useless tiles and gain a magic connect-all piece. The magic piece sometimes becomes more trouble than its worth, though; instead of allowing you to pick the tile you want it automatically connects all possible paths on that square, sometimes allowing your mini to scoot off into oblivion instead of saving it. Still, you’ll need all the tools you can get to avoid the monsters and hazards in later levels.
“The bridge is out! Keep ambling towards the gaping hole!”
The same danger rules apply for “Puzzle Palace,” a mode where you’re provided a specific set of tiles to create a successful path with. There’s no undo button to pull a tile up when you’ve placed it incorrectly, but a reset button on the touch-screen allows you to start from scratch whenever you want. Generally you’ll only want to use it while still experimenting; hitting the reset button clears the board but doesn’t reset the stage timer, costing you points and possibly stars when you use it. I found myself just pausing the game and hitting the restart button whenever I actually figured out the solution to gain more points; it’s a frustrating work-around, but it works nevertheless.
The third game style, “Many Mini Mayhem,” sets all the tiles up for you in advance, but requires tile rotation to make the path to the goal. Multiple minis spawn on the board, and every mini must make it to the goal. This mode was both the most fun and the most frustrating for me in terms of getting three stars for completion; often just trying to find ways to time the arrival of the minis at the goal pipe perfectly would take an additional attempt or two. It didn’t feel overly frustrating though, and I was willing to keep at it for a while…unlike the fourth gameplay mode.
At least they sound really cute when you tap ’em…
“Giant Jungle,” the final puzzle gameplay mode, drove me crazy. This time the game plays on a huge, 14×14 grid and you start with 60 seconds of time. 10 stars are placed on the board, and your goal is to lay down pipes Main-Event-style to lead your mini through as many stars as possible on the way to the goal on the opposite end of the board. Power-ups to give you additional time are peppered around the stage, as well as spike traps and Shy Guys to send your mini to an early demise. Generally your #1 enemy is the clock, and be prepared to give up every star you’ve obtained during that run if you mess up, considering there’s no saving or bookmarking your progress. After multiple failed attempts at trying to get 3-4 stars on a run I just decided to make a path to the goal, grabbing one star on the way to unlock the next level. This mode was definitely the least fun for me, though it does provide the most open-ended gameplay of any of the four modes.
Even if you clear all of the game’s stages, you can still hop online and download user-created puzzles. Like Warioware D.I.Y., the game comes with an editor you can use to create your own works of puzzle art. The editor is drag-and-drop as well, and it’s pretty easy to create your own puzzles to share with the online community using any of the game’s tiles. As you play other people’s content you can rate it on a scale of 1-3 stars, which ideally pushes the puzzles that are the most challenging or the most fun to the top. I downloaded a few 3-star maps, but more often found that they weren’t puzzles at all, but were more like demos where a series of conveyor belts or springs would automatically take my mini to the goal. The 3-star rating system is a great idea, but it would have been stronger if you could rate maps based on various criteria like “fun,” “challenging,” or “cool,” so players know just what they’re downloading.
But it doesn’t matter how bad they are, because they’re still better than Giant Jungle.
Minis on the Move is a good game in its own right, but I don’t feel a particular drive to keep playing it like I do most puzzlers. The pace feels slower and less exciting than other beat-the-clock games, and though the graphics aren’t bad, they fail to really impress or take advantage of the 3D. If you’re a long-running fan of the series, or are looking to get a fanciful puzzle fix on the 3DS though, Minis on the Move just might do the trick.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is available from the 3DS Shop and at retail locations for $39.99.