This game turned my brain sideways. Also: The sense of distress when you're about to fail is amazing.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is a Nintendo eShop exclusive that makes major changes to the series in an interesting way. In keeping with Nintendo pushing the 3D aspect of their 3DS games in their first- and second-party games, this title has been redesigned to feature 3D visuals. Instead of a side-scrolling game, it now has a puzzle mechanic reminiscent of the classic puzzler Pipe Dream.
Now when playing, you have a series of pieces that drop into a pipe on the right side of the screen, with a limit of five available pieces, at any given time. Those pieces can be set in place in empty spaces on the game board to create a path for your Mini (a little mechanical figure, usually Pauline from Donkey Kong) to follow to collect medallions and reach the goal.
It's a simple enough premise, but the game puts obstacles in your way in the form of spike-traps, mechanical gorillas that fling you, conveyer belts, and rotatable platforms. If you walk into a nasty obstacle, the Mini breaks; if it walks off a ledge, it breaks; if a gorilla throws it into an empty slot, it breaks; if you wait too long to start, it will jump out of its start pipe; if you let the pieces sit too long in the pipe, they will shake and rumble then the level will end; and if you let the timer run out, the level will end; and in every case, you have to start over. Thankfully, if you mess up, it also provides you with the infrequent bomb to blow up a platform you misplaced.
The gameplay features excellent player training, introducing new concepts or ideas slowly and building up the difficulty as the player progresses. At the event all the levels were unlocked, and some of the later ones proved extremely challenging and mind-bending.
It also features four modes: Mario's Main Event (which features the gameplay explained above), Puzzle Palace, Many Minis, and Giant Jungle. Puzzle Palace gives you a task with obstacles but a limited number of tiles you have access to from the start of the level. Many Minis makes it so you have to send multiple Minis through the level at the same time and you can only move existing tiles on the board. Giant Jungle is probably the most challenging, which features an extended gameboard on which you must collect time power-ups to keep the clock from running down while you try to collect all the stars.
It also features an impressive little set of mini-games that are good for relaxing if you need to take a break from the brain-teasing puzzles of the main game. These include a slingshot game, Mini Target Smash; a fishing game called Fly Guy Grab that has you grabbing and reeling Fly Guys out of the air; Cube Crash, a 3D version of Breakout; and Elevation Station, where you spin a crank to move a mini-up and down on a crank to collect coins as they scroll by and avoid bullet bills.
The mini-games, and Mini Target Smash particularly, reminded me of the 3D Toy Story target-shooting game, Midway Mania (a popular ride/video game in the Disney parks). I couldn't help but think, along with the fun of the Wii U's Nintendoland, that a Nintendo theme park could be amazing.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move drops the "vs." from the title, since Mario and Donkey Kong are cooperating in this one. The game features over 180 levels and has a stage creator for aspiring puzzle designers to create and share their own levels. It launches on the eShop on May 9th.