Release: March 5, 2015Platform: Wii U, 3DS (reviewed)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoGenre: Puzzle
The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series has always been a bit of an oddball in the beloved Nintendo library. You never really see the games being talked about much, and yet Nintendo keeps pumping them out every few years or so. 2013’s Minis on the Move was an especially noteworthy entry in this quirky puzzle series, as it saw the miniaturized Mario and friends burst out onto a gorgeous 3D plane for the first time. This year, Tipping Stars finds the minis returning to their two-dimensional roots, and it marks Nintendo’s first attempt at a cross-buy game on both the Wii U and 3DS. Unfortunately, Tipping Stars ends up being just as flat as its visual perspective, thanks to monotonous puzzles and a small and uninspiring array of objects to work with.
Your primary means of getting the minis to the exit door in each of Tipping Stars’ puzzles is by collecting red girders and then using the stylus to draw connecting platforms in designated areas. Each world consists of eight different puzzles built around a simple gameplay mechanic, like springs that launch your mechanical minis to greater heights and conveyor belts that change direction on your command. A handful of puzzles throw a small curveball into the mix by adding locked doors, multiple character types with separate exits, and a possessed mini that functions as an enemy.
And sadly, that’s basically all there is to Tipping Stars. I never felt particularly accomplished by anything I did in the game. Figuring out one boring puzzle just rewards you with another boring puzzle, and the solutions are often a matter of tapping on different things in the intended order rather than utilizing any real moments of ingenuity or creative thinking. It’s not that the puzzles are too easy, but so formulaic and uninspired that it’s hard not to feel indifferent towards them after you finish the very first batch. A handful of bonus puzzles help to prolong the standard experience, offering the same monotony and lack of imagination that’s present everywhere else.
Another frustrating element to the game is that you can’t ever increase the walking speed of your minis, at least not that I can tell (and I sure tried my hardest). There were countless times where, after having set everything up for a clear strut to the exit door, I had to sit there and wait for them to actually get there. I get that they’re supposed to be wind-up toys and everything, but I think even real wind-up toys move faster than that. At least real wind-up toys are definitely more entertaining to watch. Maybe the waiting wouldn’t be so bad if the game gave you something interesting to look at. But much like the gameplay, the visuals and assets are painfully bland, and the minis themselves almost look blurry whenever they’re moving around.
Players can earn up to three of the titular stars by collecting every coin in a puzzle and completing it under an unspecified time limit. These stars are then used as currency to unlock a small number of objects and assets to play around with in the workshop mode. This makes up the other half of the overly sparse game: a community of user-created levels. While the visual tools here are simple and easy to work with, everything you can do with them is still founded on the same handful of basic and bland principles that form the primary game.
It’s really a shame to see what a shell of a game Tipping Stars turns out to be, especially after the fun and refreshing Minis on the Move. The minis and their routine puzzles provide no strong incentive to keep on trudging through the game, and actually playing it will feel like you’re just going through the motions instead of doing something for your own enjoyment. But the funny thing about the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series is that I’m sure there will be another entry in the next two or three years. I’m just afraid their batteries have already run dry.