‘Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move’: Five mini-reasons to play it

May 09, 2013 | 2:23 p.m.
Help wind-up versions of Mario and his friends in Nintendo's latest. (Nintendo of America)

Help wind-up versions of Mario and his friends in Nintendo’s latest. (Nintendo of America)

Nintendo this week again turned to its ever trusty Italian plumber for its latest puzzle game, “Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move.” A download-only title, “Minis on the Move” is a deceptively undemanding game that makes use of the company’s environment-shifting “minis” brand.

For those who missed previous installments, the minis are diminutive, wind-up figurines that represent well-known Nintendo characters. They walk forward, they don’t stop and it’s up to the player to control and tinker with the paths in front of them. That about covers the basics, but not the details. What follows are five reasons to give Nintendo’s latest a shot.

There’s more variety than expected. “Minis on the Move” consists of a primary puzzle game and a host of mini-games that players can unlock as they advance through the game. The main concept is extremely simple. Players guide toy versions of Mario, Princess Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong and others around blocky terrains. The goal is to manipulate the paths in front of the wind-up avatars so they don’t fall into pits of nothingness.

Help a toy Donkey Kong navigate a jungle. (Nintendo of America)

Help a toy Donkey Kong navigate a jungle. (Nintendo of America)

At first, this entails nothing more than putting the right directional paths in front of the always-moving characters. Yet the game gets complex quickly, and does so without overwhelming the gamer. Every couple of puzzles a new element is added, be it cubes that rotate, bombs that can blow up cubes, cubes that come equipped with springs that will send the characters flying over spikes, cubes with hammers or cubes that can generate all-purpose, multi-use cubes. That’s just a fraction of how much the environment can be manipulated. After all, there’s 240 stages in the primary game. That’s a lot of cubes to play with.

It tricks you. “This isn’t so difficult,” you think when you first start playing “Minis on the Move.” The toys walk slowly, blocks don’t fall too fast and most of the layouts are easily viewable on the 3DS screen. In fact, many are relatively straightforward, saving you from even needing the added depth perception provided by the system’s 3D effects.

Five, six, seven or even nine puzzles can and will be completed without care. “Look at me go,” you’ll think as you save toy after toy from tumbling to pieces. You are a hero to virtual children everywhere! And then — bam — suddenly you’re missing a tile. Or suddenly the tiles have piled-up all “Tetris”-like while you’ve been busy keeping Mario moving to maintain your tile inventory. Or suddenly multiple toys are walking into walls and turning around. Or suddenly you forgot to turn one of the movable tiles and now you’re just sitting there helpless as you watch Princess Peach fall off a toy tower or Donkey Kong tumble into a pit of trees.

The sound. Not to encourage failure, but the panic in the voice of a wind-up toy Mario is just one of the many tiny details that adds to a clever, fully developed experience. Mario will blissfully stagger his way around the grassy passageways until he reaches a cliff. And then brace yourself for toy Mario’s pleas: “Oh no! Oh NO! OH NO!” Little Mario doesn’t quite sound angry or even terrified – more just like a klutz who is bummed he keeps falling off  ledges. Yet if you find yourself reaching for the 3DS during down times, don’t be surprised if Mario’s “oh no’s!” start echoing in your head like any of those annoying Psy songs.

Destroy the 3D block in mini-game "Cube Crash." (Nintendo of America)

Destroy the 3D block in mini-game “Cube Crash.” (Nintendo of America)

Don’t fear the mini-games. Yes, Nintendo has done an especially swell job at creating compilations of short little games and party fare. The Wii, for instance, will forever be associated with “Wii Sports,” and one of the more hotly anticipated games for the currently treading-water Wii U is “Game & Wario.” Yet they can also often be hit-or-miss affairs with little staying power, which is why a dedicated puzzler like “Picross” is coming with me on the plane before any compilation of mini-games.

The mini-games here aren’t necessarily going to wow, but they’re cute little asides that make for a fun five or 10 minutes after a round with the main “Minis on the Move” brainteasers. The key is that they all make use of the dual-screens of the 3DS. They’re essentially slingshot games – aim on on-screen, use the stylus to aim with the other – but a diversion like “Cube Crash” (destroy a rotating 3D cube) finds a way to incorporate all that makes the 3DS unique.

The price: It’s a mobile-friendly $9.99.

– Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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