Nintendo's track record in promoting amiibo through free apps isn't one that's always shown the company at its best. amiibo Tap: Nintendo's Greatest Bits, for example, was a bit rubbish and unsure of its audience. With efforts like that it's just as well that the range and compatible games mean the figures (and cards) practically sell themselves.
That said, Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge is a positive move in the right direction, as we explained in our review of the Wii U eShop version. Click on through to that for the full lowdown on what it has to offer; in this review we'll only summarise those impressions and instead focus on how this shapes up on the 3DS.
Assessing a free download isn't always easy, with judgement resting on whether it provides good entertainment for your time and a solid showcase for amiibo figures. Mini Mario & Friends does rather well on both those criteria, successfully delivering a range of puzzle stages following the well-worn formula of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Miniature toys march relentlessly on, and it's your job to quickly and efficiently prepare their path.
As highlighted in our review of the Wii U version, this doesn't quite live up to the standards of its full paid entries in the series, but does offer nice variety and some high quality levels. 12 stages are available if a non-Mario-themed figure is scanned (amiibo cards don't work), and they're over quickly but are relatively charming. Plenty more open up with compatible amiibo, however, and with each character having distinctive abilities there are plenty of stages and some clever moments to enjoy. Occasionally level design is slightly underwhelming, but as a whole it's a solid package, even if - like this reviewer - you're lacking 2 or 3 of the figures and missing out on their related areas.
We've covered all of that before, as mentioned above, so what's the difference when playing on 3DS rather than Wii U? Impressively, not much. Visuals that are clean but rather plain on Wii U suit the smaller screens of the 3DS better, so it's a rather handsome effort on the portable. The dual screen setup works better, too, with the bottom touchscreen hosting the gameplay and stylus controls while the top screen shows a wider view (which is on the TV when playing on Wii U). With the handheld the disconnect on Wii U - which meant we often played GamePad-only, forgetting to turn the TV on - is stripped away, and the stage map is undoubtedly convenient to have right there above your eye-line. The only disappointment is that there's no 3D effect, but that's hardly surprising in light of this being a free download across both current-gen systems.
The gameplay holds up nicely on 3DS, in any case, with smooth performance and responsive controls. A little extra care is needed with the stylus, as the smaller New 3DS in particular has a lot less real estate than the GamePad; we never lost any lives because of input mistakes, but just occasionally placed an extra block or two.
Switching out amiibo characters - which is done frequently - also works very nicely on the New 3DS; in fact, our portable's NFC reader is a bit more snappy and needs less persuasion than our occasionally erratic GamePad equivalent. We can imagine it'd be a little more fiddly on older models, however, with players needing to dig out their NFC portal to play, but that's hardly the app's fault.
Overall, then, it's a solid effort on the 3DS, with the same visuals (just output at a lower resolution) and performance. In some ways the game suits the portable better - after all its predecessors are handheld games - and feels very much at home. As this is a Nintendo cross-platform game, however, if you have it on both Wii U and 3DS you'll need to play through twice on fresh saves. There's no cross-saving here, don't be silly!
Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge holds up well on 3DS, with the franchise at home on portable hardware. In a pinch we probably prefer playing on the hefty GamePad screen, but ultimately both versions of the game provide some solid amiibo fun at no extra cost. It's worth a spin on either system.