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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is a puzzler with delightful variety (review)

Every time Nintendo hosts a question-and-answer session for its investors, someone always ask when renowned developer will release games for iOS and Android devices. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata always kindly informs them that they have no plans to do anything like that.

The thing is, Nintendo is already developing ideal mobile games. Titles like Crashmo that follow the structure of Angry Birds but that have a level of polish unseen on an Apple device.

That’s the story with Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move. This Nintendo 3DS puzzle game, due out today for $9.99 for the system’s eShop download service, packages a variety of puzzle mechanics into bite-sized levels that would easily stand out in the crowded mobile-app market.

But Mario and Donkey Kong is on Nintendo’s 3D handheld, and it costs quite a bit more than the average mobile app. Is Minis on the Move still worth a gamer’s time and money on that platform?

Without a doubt.

What you’ll like

Variety of puzzle mechanics

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move throws a plethora of ideas at its players. The basic concept is to ensure autonomous toy versions of Mario, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach, Toad, and others make their way to the end of the stage. Players only have the ability speed up these wind-up versions of the beloved Nintendo roster but that’s it.

Instead, gamers manipulate parts of the stage. All of the action happens on the touchscreen with a grid that shows the makeup of the level. Early on, you’ll race against the clock trying to place certain blocks on that grid to help guide Mario to the end. By the end, you’ll have experienced a dozen different takes on this basic concept.

It’s a smart developer that changes up mechanics every 15 minutes or so, and Nintendo definitely prescribed to that school of thought for Minis on the Move.

By the time you get tired of placing block on the grid, Minis on the Move confronts you with blocks that you have to turn. On the Princess Peach-themed stages, it drops the timer and gives you the chance to place a finite number of pieces into the stage like a puzzle. If you can determine the right placement for everything, you win the stage. In the Toad games, you’ll eventually start dragging pieces around the play area in real-time in a hectic mode that will scratch a different itch than the slower-paced modes.

It shifts gears so often that you’ll never fall into routine, and that sets it above most other puzzle games on the market right now.

What you won’t like

Top screen is pretty but doesn’t have any bearing on gameplay

Minis on the Move has some gorgeous 3D effects on the 3DS’s top screen. Things float above the levels and medallions pop out of the system when you earn them, but this isn’t what you’re interacting with.

Instead, everything happens on the 2D, simplified map-version of Minis on the Move on the bottom screen.

The 3D screen is almost unnecessary. Sure, the visuals are cute and colorful, but they also are a reminder that Nintendo wasted a lot of the system’s visual potential.

Slow tutorial stands between you and the action

Nintendo is so afraid to introduce multiple concepts at once. In Minis on the Move, this means you’ll learn new ideas and mechanics one level at a time for the first 20 minutes. It’s excruciating since most will figure out what is happening just by looking at the level.

It’s not enough to damage the overall game, but it is an obstacle gamers will have to overcome before they will enjoy the game.

Conclusion

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is another solid entry for the 3DS. It’s not the system’s best puzzle game — that’s still probably Crashmo — but it is its most varied.

As with Crashmo, I’d rather spend my time with a game as well considered as Mario and Donkey Kong than with just about any title designed for smartphones. Nintendo’s respect for the player’s time, outside of the slow tutorial, is something rare in all of video games, let alone free and 99-cent iOS releases.

The smart mechanics and often-changing gameplay will keep you entertained long past the point of getting your $10 worth.

Score: 85/100

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is 3DS exclusive released May 9, 2013. Nintendo provided an eShop code for the purposes of this review.


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