The “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” spin-off games have always served a very particular subsection of Nintendo fans – the ones that like puzzle platformers. The games were a mix between Mario’s traditional genre of platformers, and Donkey Kong’s old school arcade-style, with a twist of puzzle-based gameplay that set them apart from Nintendo’s standard fare. After four games, “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” has set a certain standard for being one of Mario’s more offbeat games, but the latest entry into the series “Minis on the Move,” takes the series’ signature puzzle-based formula and shatters it into pieces.
For this entry into the series, instead of players controlling Mario on a never-ending quest to save the miniature toy versions of himself from Donkey Kong, “Minis on the Move” challenges players to help the Minis escape on their own. By forgoing the platforming this time around, the development team at NST has literally put the player in control of each board, allowing them to determine how the Minis make it to their exit.
If the concept of “Minis on the Move” sounds familiar, it should be, since it dates as far back as 1989’s “Pipe Mania” (also known as “Pipe Dream”). Younger players are likely to be more familiar with it as a version of the hacking mini-game from the original “BioShock.” However, this game offers four different modes, each of which offer up variations on the same panel placing concept, tweaking the formula just enough so that you don’t feel like anything is rehashed too much. Whether you’re swapping panels against a clock, or trying to rearrange a given board, each of the modes feels like a fresh take on this classic gameplay.
While Nintendo may have switched up the gameplay for “Minis on the Move” there is one thing that they kept from the previous “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” games – the level editor. On the one hand, being able to create your own challenges is great for the creative types, but, more importantly, you can then share you creations with the world… well, at least the parts of the world that have the game. Being able to upload your levels, and download other players’ creations, allows for an almost infinite amount of gameplay out of this one little game. Plus, the user created levels tend to be a bit more unique than the ones built into the game.
Along with the change in the gameplay of this particular “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” comes the inherent problem of a puzzle game like this: hitting a wall. Whether it’s the player’s brain that can’t process certain levels, or the designers just pushed the limits of the game’s difficulty, most players are bound to hit a wall at a certain point in this game. Fortunately, after a round of losses “Minis on the Move” offers the option to give up and move on to the next level. It’s a nice addition, but the catch here is that you opt to give up on collecting your star, which prevents you from unlocking additional levels. This means that whether or not players can actually complete the levels is less important than collecting the three Mario metals to receive you’re star. Difficulty: the bane of puzzle games since the first one was invented.
Abandoning the traditional gameplay of the “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” series certainly seems like it was a good decision for “Minis on the Move.” Opting to go in a completely different direction has helped breathe some new life into the series, and should appeal to even more gamers since the concept is a variation on a classic puzzle game. While there is a good chance that you might end up hitting a wall in some of the game’s modes, there are enough gameplay options to keep you occupied while you work through the game’s more challenging levels. Since this game is the outlier for the franchise, it’s a great entry point for anyone that wants to dabble in a new take on the age-old battle between Mario and Donkey Kong.