Release Date: May 9, 2013
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
With Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon still fresh on the market, and games like Mario & Luigi: Dream Team and Yoshi’s Island 3DS slowly creeping up on the horizon, it’s clear that 2013 is certainly the year of the Nintendo 3DS. But for every massive retail release, there seems to be just as formidable a digital-exclusive title that manages to slide under the radar. Well this past week saw the release of what is perhaps the strongest title on the entire 3DS eShop to date, and should earn a rightful spot on any 3DS owner’s portable home screen. That’s right folks, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is here!
Minis are these endearing toy versions of Mario and friends, with little wind-up cranks on their backs which have them moving at a steady, albeit choppy speed. Like other games in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, Minis on the Move is a simple puzzle game at heart. In each stage, a mini hops out of a green warp pipe and makes their way down a track towards an end star zone. As you might have guessed, the real challenge here is that these minis are always on the move, and the paths from warp pipe to star zone are rarely ever connected or completely free of obstacles. You’ll need to be quick and make sure these paths are always clear and that they don’t veer off into a devastating drop.
Players control the game completely with their stylus, by manipulating the different pipe tracks on the 3DS’s bottom screen. The 3D graphics on the system’s top screen are absolutely shining, and represent a fully moving model of each and every puzzle, where the 3D visuals make those adorable little minis truly pop off the screen. The only real downside to this is that you’ll be spending most of your time playing the game with your eyes glued to the bottom screen of the 3DS, which has much less eye-popping visuals and flatter, more simplified cartoon icons. In fact, it’s a little unfortunate that the game’s puzzle intensity allows little time for you to actually sit back and enjoy the scenery. On some of the later levels, the puzzles move so blisteringly fast that it would actually harm my game if I tried to sneak a quick glance to the gorgeous 3D action that was happening above me.
The amount of ways to play in Minis on the Move is simply astounding. Each of the four main game modes invites a completely unique twist to the basic puzzling premise, and the respective progressions in difficulty should be an industry standard for all future game developers going forward. In “Mario’s Main Event,” players will need to be quick on their feet and build their tracks as new pipe pieces rapidly pile up in their inventory and threaten to burst. “Puzzle Palace” has you building tracks with a set number of pipe pieces, while “Many Mini Mayhem” has you coordinating the paths of two simultaneous minis by turning moveable corner pieces or rearranging the pipes on the game board in real time. Of course, each mode manages to progress so fully and completely that you shouldn’t be surprised when they begin to feel like totally different games the farther on you get. You’ll never be too far into a level pack for Minis on the Move to throw in some new game mechanics, like Shy Guy enemies who stand in your way and can only be defeated by first scooping up a hammer power-up; spring pads that launch your minis over one additional grid space; and teleport pipes, which let your minis warp to different areas on the board.
Everything you’ve learned in the game will culminate in “Giant Jungle,” a Donkey Kong-focused level set that proves to be the epitome of everything that Minis on the Move has to offer. In each of these mere three levels, players are presented with a massive map, filled with pipes, gaps and 10 glittering stars for you to find and collect. While these levels have the same basic gameplay of “Mario’s Main Event,” the sheer size of each one allows the developers to incorporate nearly every gameplay mechanic encountered thus far, for a truly staggering and rewarding challenge. Thankfully, you don’t have to collect all 10 stars and reach the exit in a single run, as a task like that would be a true testament to any gamer’s speed and puzzling skills.
But wait, that’s not even close to all that this game has to offer you yet! In case all of those different game modes and almost 300 gold stars to collect aren’t enough to meet all of your puzzling needs, Minis on the Move features a simple level editor mode, which lets you create your own quirky grid-based puzzles to stump all of your friends. Minis on the Move also boasts four additional mini-games, which are all more fun and imaginative than anything I’ve played in a Mario Party game in the last five years. The best among these mini games is called “Cube Crash,” which has you flinging minis head-on in a slingshot contraption, and taking out pieces of a rainbow 3D cube. Everything about this game, from the spinning cube, to the pitch-perfect physics when you break off different edges of the cube and watch the little bricks scatter through the air are absolutely spot-on and a pleasure to witness. The only disappointing facet to the mini games is that there’s really no incentive to keep playing them, other than trying to top your latest high score. I would have loved to see certain milestones that had to be reached in each one in order to receive some more of those coveted stars.
Rewards are distributed nicely for almost everything you accomplish in the game, and there are a lot of them to be had in all. You can earn a gold star in each stage by collecting all three of the shimming “M” tokens, which adds another layer of depth to the game, as most of these tokens are placed well off the obvious path to the star zone at the end. At certain intervals, you can unlock your own mini characters to add to your Toy Collection, which functions as a trophy room of sorts that lets you admire your little figurines and polish them off with your stylus if they ever get dusty. The only minor issue I had with this feature is that your toys will tend to get dusty every few days or so even after you’ve already polished them, and when you start to have upwards of ten of them on display at one time, it can be a frustrating and monotonous chore to have to polish every one of them all over again. But even so, the toy collection is something that didn’t have to be included, and it’s so nice to have some kind of reward for earning all of those head-scratching stars in other parts of the game. It serves as just another example of how Minis on the Move goes that extra mile for its gamers.
For those of us who were a little worried that Mario games have been getting a little too soft lately to cater to that casual audience, then this is the game to defuse those fears. Minis on the Move is an insanely challenging game, and perhaps the most difficult entry in the entire 3DS catalogue: rivaled only by the mind-numbingly difficult Crashmo. But at only $9.99, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move packs in more content than most 3DS retail releases, and is an absolute must-have title for everyone’s collection. Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you make a deeply engrossing puzzle game. It makes me excited to see everything that Mario and the gang still have in store for the rest of 2013, and hopefully I’ll be able to snag every last one of those gold stars before 2014 comes along.
Story – 9/10
Graphics – 9/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Sound – 10/10
Multiplayer – 9/10
Replayability – 10/10