Mario is missing, and some toy has taken his place.
Mario has done everything. He’s been a saver of princesses, refereed for professional boxing and tennis matches, traveled through time, been “missing” and saved by Luigi, along with a hundred or so other occupations over a million or so different games. (Hell, he even did some hotel work.) Maybe it’s a nice change of pace that he isn’t doing much of anything here, and leaving the work to some mechanized hench-bots. Either that or he’s claiming to be a supervisor of sorts to add to his far-too-impressive resumé. Though really, he seems to have a high turnover rate, so as good as he might appear, he doesn’t seem to be a reliable employee for anyone but Nintendo. But he does make for a good supervisor…
In traditional Lemmings style, the goal of Tipping Stars is to get mini-Marios, mini-Toads, mini-Peaches, and mini-whoever-else from their starting points to the gate (or gates, depending on whether or not any are character-specific). Everything happens on the touchscreen, like stretching our girders and conveyor belts, placing and re-placing springs, to get your Minis collecting coins and grabbing hammers to earn the best score possible. There are a lot of different tools for maneuvering through stages, but as many as there are (and how differently they can function), with the exception of the tiny-tiny bricks, nothing feels awkward or too touchy.
But the “main” sequence of levels—all 48 of which, if you’re quite talented, can be blown through in the matter of a few hours—isn’t the real attraction here. Even the bonus levels unlocked either by the initial line of progression or unlocked from different amounts of Gold-level completions aren’t the attraction (though there are plenty of those as well).
Between the Wii U and 3DS versions of the game—which when one is purchased, the other is also available as Nintendo's first Cross-Buy title—the real draw is level-building. Building levels and sharing them online is where players can really strut their stuff, either by building or playing through levels, and the basic system of “Yeah”-ing a level (really Nintendo? “Yeahs”?) or tipping its creator with additional stars provides an incentive for talented players to build a treasure trove with which to unlock more Minis to play with or bits of level to incorporate into their designs. In practical terms, there’s actual incentive for me to create something that doesn’t suck! Hooray for incentives for hard work! And it makes sense how they function, which makes building even easier!
I’m both happy and underwhelmed that the 3DS and Wii U versions are virtually identical. I wish there was something more specific to invite players of one to pick up the other as well, but I’m happy that any levels created on one version are available for both. With that level development spanning both platforms, that makes for so many more creative players looking to create and offer an even better, fuller, and longer-lasting experience than if one platform had an awesome set of development tools and possibilities while the other was allowed to languish in “blah” content. The Wii U’s GamePad offers a larger screen to work with, which is quite nice for level development, but the tools and execution are still the same process, which is simple enough. If I could build better levels, I could totally take advantage of the tools.
It’s a simple title without any noteworthy story, which is fair enough. I think—and I’m stretching here—that a girl was kidnapped by DK and Mario and the Minis have to save her, but the entire “story” is told within two super-quick cutscenes… one when starting the game the first time, and the other after the last of the sixth set of levels is beaten and the credits roll. This is a puzzle game through and through, none of that sappy stuff to take your mind away from switching conveyor belt directions or scrambling to block characters from falling onto killing spikes. More could have been done if they wanted a story, and it feels like they wanted more than the original Donkey Kong, so there is some emptiness of soul in the code.
But hey, for what they were building, Tipping Stars does a lot of things right. My time was spent primarily on the 3DS version, but both look fantastic on their respective screens and play just as well. Some of the puzzles caught me offguard at first, but the challenge level is never overwhelming. It’s just the right amount of challenge. The layouts could have probably used more diversity, but the backdrops help to alleviate any possible staleness going into later levels. The whole package is just… nice. Pleasant.
Supervisor Mario, you’ve got a good crew here. And it’s a good thing, because you’ve built a platform built to last a while.