Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis is the Nintendo DS sequel to the original GBA classic and a new recruit to the ever-growing Wii U Virtual Console library. Rather than being more of the same platforming puzzle action, Nintendo chose to focus this entire game around what is but a small percentage of the previous game - the Mini-Mario levels. Following on from the story of the original, the Mini Mario Toy Company's Mini Mario toys (try saying that fast) have proved to be such a hit that Mario has decided to open up a dedicated theme park, brilliantly called 'Super Mini Mario World'. On the day of the grand opening along comes Donkey Kong to ruin the festivities by kidnapping special guest Pauline and whisking her away to the top of the nearest building. Mario decides the best course of action at this point is to use his Mini Mario toys to help save the day.
In order to clear each platform-based level you'll need to guide at least one Mini Mario to a set goal while avoiding perilous obstacles and enemies, all within a set time limit. Instead of being split out across different worlds you'll move from themed floor to themed floor of the building, each of these 8 floors containing 9 rooms (levels) and a boss battle with DK, plus a bonus mini game unlocked by collecting all the Mini Mario Cards from every room. Additionally there are a couple of secret levels to unlock, earned by accumulating stars achieved from meeting score targets in each room.
The most immediate difference from the previous game is the way you control the Mini Marios; instead of following a single leader like some kind of conga Mario train, each Mini is independently controlled using stylus only. By swiping over them in different directions you can easily command your little friends to auto-walk, stop and jump. Interacting with environmental objects is key to navigating each Mini from its start point to the safety of the goal; these include springs, bridges and even riding atop the head of an unsuspecting Shy Guy to traverse spike filled gaps.
Every level can be checked out prior to setting any Minis moving, enabling you to plan out your routes and strategy. While the game is puzzly it's not really a head scratcher; it's not difficult to work out how to complete a level. The challenge comes from the dexterity and timing required to guide all your Minis safely into the goal, in a similar fashion to retro-classic Lemmings. Losing track of any of your Minis once they are all in motion can mean losing any one of them to an enemy encounter or into a pit; in that regard you could say the game is more about Mini-management than it is about solving puzzles.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis also contains a level creator called 'Construction Zone'. Playing out like an early version of Mario Maker, in the Construction Zone you can create your own levels using simple drag and drop controls. Clearing floors unlocks new kits based on each corresponding floors theme and increases the amount of options available. As in Mario Maker, you must first clear your creation before you are able to share it. However, here's the bad news - due to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection no longer being active you can't share your level with anyone nor can you download any levels other people have made. This means the Construction Zone is very much a lonely place to be, and unless you really love playing your own creations or have willing friends in the same room, it is unfortunately rendered a tiny bit pointless.
In terms of overall look and feel, the weirdly westernised graphic style makes a comeback, although being on DS there's a definite improvement in quality and resolution over the GBA original, ensuring the game is charming and pleasing to the eye. Audio is equally appealing - while not classic or particularly memorable, the music and sound effects gel nicely; this IS a Nintendo game after all and there's no denying the overall craftsmanship and presentation, which is spot-on.
As with other DS games on Wii U Virtual Console, there are display issues. In this game those issues stem from the fact that the entire experience is played out on the touch screen, so you have to look at the GamePad to play, making the TV display irrelevant. Boss battles further compound the problem as you do need to be able to see both the top and bottom screens in order to succeed, which means realistically the only way to play is by having both of the DS screens displayed on the GamePad. It's not ideal for lovers of a big screen experience, but it is perfectly playable even if it means you're essentially just turning your Wii U GamePad into a DS emulator.
In conclusion, Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis is a decent enough distraction. It's fun without being too frustrating and is a pleasant way to pass a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. Strangely the later games in the series simplified the controls even more; pick this up after playing Tipping Stars and you'll be surprised at how much more depth is on offer here. While Mario vs Donkey 2: March of the Minis is by no means an unmissable classic (plus we think the original game is still the better option) if you are a fan of the series or puzzle-action games in general this is definitely worth a look.