Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again! (DSiWare)

Is it a shameless cash-in or a worthy expansion of its forbearer?

Some have already voiced their concerns as to whether Minis March Again! is a shameless cash-in by Nintendo, simply copying Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis and not really providing us with extra content or even new stages at all – which is certainly not true. What they should have asked is whether it is a good game in its own right, regardless of any similarities. The latter will have to be answered with a resounding yes.

For those unfamiliar with the earlier DS title, Donkey Kong has been slighted yet again – this time by being denied entrance to the newly opened Super Mini Mario World. In his rage he kidnaps Pauline, and it is up to Mario to rescue her via the help of his mechanical friends, the Mini Marios, which traverse a variety of treacherous stages in order to reach the highest floor to ultimately defeat Donkey Kong.

As it is a puzzle game, it is your job to figure out how to manoeuvre your Minis around the obstacles (i.e. spikes, piranha plants, shy guys) littered throughout the given stage to reach the exit gate. But beware! While it was possible to directly manipulate your Minis in MvDK 2 via the stylus, this is certainly not the case here. Think of your Minis as lemmings: once you activate them they won't stop until their either dead or have reached the gate, and they'll only change direction when they bump into an obstacle which can't be overcome. Fortunately, you're given unlimited preparation time to plan your move – at least in the beginning – and there are a variety of ways to manipulate the environment to progress, as in the likes of re-usable purple blocks (for building bridges, stairs, and even walls in pre-defined areas), box springs, conveyor belts, timed pop-up walls, etc.

You have to be careful not to let one of your Minis go kaput, otherwise you'll have to restart the stage and lose a life. That said, you also have to make sure that none of your Minis goes wondering off while another exits the stage. As soon as the first Mini reaches the gate a countdown timer is displayed above it. If the next Mini doesn't reach the gate before the countdown runs out the gate will be barred and you fail and also a life – this makes clearing the later stages a bit trickier. Speaking of lives, it's a mystery to us why they were added, as they don't seem to have any negative or positive effects on the game. Once you run out you can simply restart with five new ones. It's not a real detractor, but it's a bid of an odd inclusion.

If you were worried about seeing anything familiar you can breathe easy. While the game may share assets with MvDK2, all of the stages here are brand-spanking new, and there are plenty of them to go around in MMA. In fact, the game comes with a total tally of 100, including eight boss stages. Each of the four themes (which are floor-based) come in a set of ten stages, the tenth of which can only be played if you've collected all MINIMARIO cards throughout the nine before; this special stage is much more challenging than the others. The first four floors are basically there to teach you the ropes and gradually introduce new game mechanics. Once beaten the 'plus' floors become available, which provide a far tougher challenge, especially due to the fact that you're not given any preparation time. After a three-second countdown all of the Minis will start moving, and it will have you scrambling to keep them safe. Add to that the twelve rooftop stages, half of which become unlocked with each cleared set of four floors, and eight basement stages, which are unlocked based on your performance throughout the game – the more gold stars, the more are available – and you’ve got a truly great challenge.

As you might expect, the presentation is quite cartoony, as practically all Mario games are, and characters, enemies and protagonists alike, have all been given a pre-cell-rendered treatment which is actually quite appealing to the eye. It may not win any major awards, but visually everything fits together quite nicely. It's also well complemented by the audio which is of typical Mario flavour, although the "Yipee!" each Mini exclaims as he reaches the gate has a striking resemblance to Lemmings. The background music consists of remixed Mario medleys and even a remix of the Donkey Kong Country theme. In general, there's no jarring experience, and it's all rather pleasant.

Before we forget: another big draw (some may think of it as the biggest) of the game comes from the construction site mode, which could extend MMA's replayability quite a bit. Here you can build, edit, and play stages of your own devising, you can share them with friends, and most importantly you can upload and download stages to and from Nintendo's server via WiFi. Finding new stages couldn't be easier: just touch the corresponding search category and you're presented with a plenitude of stages. Select the one you're interested and it'll download to your DSi before you can even blink. It literally takes less than a second to download a stage, which makes us wonder how small those files really are. You're able to store up to a total of 140 stages. Once you've played said stage you're given the ability to rate it, which will be uploaded to the server the next time you connect to it. While at the time of writing there are a slew of lazy designs floating around that are barely altered templates, there are also quite some clever ones available. Clearly, some folks are already familiar with the game.

Conclusion

All around Minis March Again is a very competent, fun, and engaging package. It is easily one of the top games to be had on DSiWare at this time and in the foreseeable future. Just think of all the possible ways you can drive your friends (and even complete strangers!) up the wall with your devious designs! And if building such contraptions isn't your cup of tea, you're still bound to have a grand old time being the lab rat.

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