This game was an interesting development in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Most significantly, it brought the series into 3D for the first time and changed the gameplay quite significantly. On a lesser note, it took “vs.” out of the title, which I liked because I like both Mario and Donkey Kong and I don’t want them to fight one another.
When I first started the game, my initial impression wasn’t great. It feels like it was more cheaply made than the games which went before it in that it has no storyline or opening cutscene and Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline (the only characters outside of the Minis) only appear as almost entirely static images on the menus. Sometimes they blink and that’s the only thing which stops them from just being pictures. Their presence in the game is minimal. Additionally, the 3D graphics are all very basic and the music, while not bad, is very generic and not all that memorable.
But, you know what? I was wrong to judge it too hastily, because this is actually an excellent game and just as good, if not better, as what went before in the series. The way that the Minis are used has been completely reinvented and the new formula is highly addictive and rewarding.
While the previous three games had been based on directing Minis through 2D maps, you now have to get them from one point to another on a 3D grid-based map. They’ll emerge from a Warp Pipe and you then have to place tiles onto the grid to make a path for them. Different tiles lead the Minis in different direction (so, for example, one might be a straight line going downward, while another is a curve to the right) and you have to place them carefully in order to take them through the safest path. This same gameplay is applied across various game modes.
In Mario’s Main Event, you have to guide your Mini from point A to point B, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles as you go. You are given a random selection of tiles in order to make the path for the Minis and it often won’t be what you’re expecting, so you’ll have to think on your toes. You can’t stop to think because your Mini will fall into the void if you haven’t placed enough tiles for them and you automatically fail if you allow too many tiles to appear without placing them. In Puzzle Palace, you have a set number of certain tiles and there is one specific way to make the right path for your Mini – it creates a very different dynamic, though is still very fun. In Many Mini Mayhem, you have multiple Minis on the map at once and you have to get them all to the exit. In Giant Jungle, your Mini is put onto a giant grid, much bigger than any of the others and you’re timed to get them to the exit, with lots of coins hidden throughout the map for you to collect. Every mode is fun, but I found Mario’s Main Event and Puzzle Palace the most enjoyable, while Giant Jungle was, sadly, my least favourite. Completing these levels gets you stars and these stars are then used to unlock toys in a toy collection, the toys are all different Minis and it’s a good incentive to keep playing.
There are also four mini-games which you can play simply for high scores. One has you throw Mini-Marios at a cube in the sky to break it. One has you fishing for Fly Guys as they fly past. Another has you adjusting the height of Mini-Marios on a platform in order to avoid Bullet Bills. One last one has you throwing Mini-Marios at targets to earn points. They’re all basic, but they’re all pretty fun. The Fly Guy fishing game is probably my favourite.
As usual for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, I wish it contained more Donkey Kong elements as aside from Donkey Kong, Pauline and a few jungle palm trees, there’s practically nothing and most of the content is based on Mario games. On the bright side, you can choose which Mini you use (Mini-Mario, Donkey Kong, Pauline, Toad or Princess Peach), so I had Mini-Donkey Kong out all the time.
I think this game is an overlooked gem. Sitting quietly in the 3DS eShop, I feel like a lot of people might never have even heard this, which is a real shame. I used to play this game on the bus and do one or two levels every day. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it. If you’re looking for a fantastic puzzle game to add to your 3DS library, then make it this one!