At times it feels like Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is designed as a time trial to measure the shortest amount of time in which players will fling a 3DS across the room. Once the game is afoot, every trick in the book is deployed to trigger urgency: Constant unstoppable motion, ticking clocks, shaking tiles and frenetic music that speeds up right as you beg it to just take a breather to avoid having to replace gaming hardware and nearby shelves. The path to victory is occasionally dark and often overwhelming but the light at the end always feels within reach — and is, if you’re willing to wrestle with your sanity for it.
Minis on the Move marks the first 3D entry in the traditionally side-scrolling series, and while the perspective has shifted the goal remains static: corral cute wind-up toys around peril and collect trinkets along the way. Much like Picross’ shift from pixels to polygons, Minis on the Move deftly carries over a great deal of what makes the series fun — safely steering an unrelenting march through traps with on-the-fly thinking — and its plethora of modes stretches the simple premise into all sorts of intriguing territories, but unlike Picross 3D doesn’t feel as though the new dimension really adds anything. Since the game is played entirely with the touchscreen, which shows a flat, top-down map of the field, the 3D is pretty but fairly moot to gameplay.
Mario’s Main Event is, as expected, the heart of the beast, with a straightforward goal to simply get the sole Mini to the end of the stage by laying down a path using tiles fed to you through a pipe. Each stage has three Mario coins littered about and nabbing all of them nets you a Perfect star: amass these to unlock new modes and minigames. Grabbing all coins, or even just getting to the end at times, can be a tall order in this vicious puzzler as it isn’t afraid of a few twists; in true Nintendo fashion, the game gently introduces each new mechanic with a few softballs, followed by some fastballs and then downright aims for your head. Oh, and then it brings a second, third and fourth pitcher to the mound to pelt you. Many obstacles don’t need an explanation — conveyor belts, launchers, keys, traps, twisting tiles, and so forth — and on their own are easily managed, but bundled together and with the mode’s massive sense of urgency it’s easy to find yourself in over your head right quick.
Being able to quickly manage your surroundings is crucial: Minis on the Move is the game we’ve found to be most fond of panic since ChuChu Rocket! forced us all to lay down in a dark room alone for a while. You can hang on to five tiles at once, and the more you hold the faster the music plays and the pipe itself shakes. This lends a constant sense of urgency, because if a sixth one drops into the pipe then it’s Game Over. Send a Mini off the map or down an incomplete path and it’s Game Over. Into a trap or enemy? Definitely a Game Over. Not to mention how that dumb clock always seems short of time — yep, you guessed it: that’ll be another Game Over.
You can’t slow down the speed at which you get new tiles, but you can tap the incoming one to make it drop in quicker. The tiles that come in aren’t totally random but often seem reluctant to give you the one you need to advance, and there are a few options to handle unwanted tiles. Throwing enough of them into a special Trash tile on the field yields a Magic tile that can create a path between two or more placed pieces; forming a closed circle without a Mini on it will create a new Trash tile, and having a Mini in the loop spawns a bunch of extra time pick-ups while raising the platform (the most “3D” portion of the mode); and Bomb tiles allow you to clear out another placed tile, in case you need to forge a new path or clean up a mess.
A master of surprise Mario’s Main Event isn’t, with tried-and-true tricks and traps that don’t particularly feel fresh or new, but it is well crafted with nary a stray tile. The difficulty ramps up awful quick, though, and if the stress or challenge become too great there are other modes that offer twists on the formula and more Perfect stars to collect. Puzzle Palace’s 60 stages skip the time stress and random distribution of tiles to get Minis to the end using a pre-determined set. Many Mini Mayhem unleashes a number of Minis on the field at once and demands you rotate and shift tiles around to get them safely to their warp pipe across its 50 stages. The absolutely sprawling Giant Jungle includes a mere three boards but each feels about eight times the size of a regular stage — here, the goal is to navigate to the end while collecting clocks and the ten Stars scattered about. Largely the same tactics apply across the board — with Giant Jungle in particular feeling like a massive endurance test — but each mode has their own distinct flavor and it’s easy to find a favorite. We’re particularly fond of Puzzle Palace’s cerebral emphasis over the other reactive main games.
However, the secret best part about Minis on the Move is tucked away among the four minigames: the two types of Cube Crash, likely as close a quote of the lovely WiiWare title Art Style: Cubello as we’re ever going to see. A large shape floating in 3D space is in need of bustin’ by flinging Minis at it, and a Type B-style spin throws a bunch of varying sizes that need to be broken as quick as possible. There’s a satisfying friction to Cube Crash and the mode happens to be the only portion of the entire package where 3D visuals feel important by its need to judge depth. Unfortunately there are only three stages of each type, but Type B’s focus on precision and score gives it strong legs.
The other minigames aren’t nearly as enjoyable — Mini Target Smash does what it says on the tin but isn’t as satisfying as Cube Crash, and both Fly Guy Grab and Elevation Station require super-fast stylus spinning that has never been fun. All mini games are locked away behind how many Stars you’ve acquired in the main games. Stars also unlock Toys for the collection, essentially a character model gallery where you can scrub dirt off them for some reason.
Running out of stages in the main modes doesn’t spell the end of the game: a level editor allows players to create new stages and share them online so long as it’s possible for a Mini to actually reach the end. The editor is simple and intuitive, and you can store up to 100 stages both created and downloaded. That’s a lot of minis.
The gameplay may not make much use of its new dimension but the visuals certainly do, with pleasing wind-up toy depictions of Mario, Toad, Peach, Donkey Kong and Stockholm syndrome-suffering Pauline. Environments are chunky and faithful to the toy box direction, but it’s a shame that for the majority of time spent in the main games you’re staring at a rather plain grid of 2D tiles. Gameplay is cleaner this way, but being able to directly manipulate the environment in previous Mario vs. Donkey Kong titles was a big part of the charm now lost here. The game’s audio is bouncy and fun, doing a great job of clueing players in to what is going on: the recurring change of tempo reflects how much butt you need to haul is a helpful, paranoia-inducing indicator.
If a common enemy can bring two adversaries together then players must've done something real horrid to get the plumber and the ape to team up against them like this. A hectic pace and near-constant tension make Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move’s puzzles feel all the more diabolical, if not a little unfair at times, and conquering them all requires the patience of a saint and the cunning of The Saint. While this entry of the series doesn’t really justify the move into 3D with retaining stubbornly flat gameplay, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with Minis on the Move. Just remember to take a deep breath from time to time.
Hmm, i might consider it.
I've heard it gets crazy hard later on.
I wish they released a sequel to the original Donkey Kong 94, these supposed spiritual successors don't hold a candle to that game
That's a shame was hoping for a little higher as I love this series.
@MeddlingIdiot A seven is great for this game. Read the entire article, Jon liked it. I think his main gripe is how the 3D doesn't affect gameplay. Also, he says a few of the mini games aren't as great as they could be. This game is a no doubt download for me. A 7 is more than respectable. I don't like when reviewers throw out 9's and 10's like candy at a parade. They should be for those games that are truly great and bring something new to the table.
Nice review Jon!
I love the Mario vs Donkey Kong series. I will be picking this up ASAP
I'm not getting this.. I really don't like this series haha.
I have every Mario vs Donkey Kong title available to play on my 3DS (and Donkey Kong '94). This will be a great addition to the collection.
I'll get this at its first discount.
@Prof_Elvin_Gadd Yes, I did read the article, but the overall vibe was not as positive as I was hoping for a series of this caliber. 7 is great but it seems like the series is starting to slip. I'll still buy it though as I love these games and don't mind their difficultly.
This game doesnt pull me in to be a must buy like the mario vs donkey kong on gba. I prefer that style of gameplay
@MeddlingIdiot Me neither. I like a good challenging puzzle game. Bring on that urgency!
Cool I was going to download it anyway tomorrow but it's nice to read a review on the game before I get it tomorrow.
I wonder this game really is as hard as they say, since I beat Dillon's Rolling Western with little to no trouble, except for the main boss. I guess it just depends on the skill level of the gamer.
Great review...instant download for me personally. Can't get enough of this series.
The game was hard enough for me in 2D!
Bummer, I don't like that level of challenge. Sadly I'll probably pass. I can always get the DSiWare Mario vs DK but I really wanted this one.
I want a sequel to the glorious GB Donkey Kong too. What a great game it is.
I prefered when Mario and DK used to be rivals with Mario personally chasing DK, it quite worries me that we will never see that again now that the title is not even Mario VS DK, but and DK...
On the bright sight is amazing how toys can make even old rivals friends and this games surely looks interesting, might pick it up in future if I will want a nice looking challanging puzzle game.
Never played a single game in the series, but I have a new found love for puzzlers and, at $10, this is tempting. But first, I MUST complete Spirit Tracks, Crimson Shroud, and Liberation Maiden (and probably Trine 2)!!
@Prof_Elvin_Gadd - I didn't really understand why the game is a 7, what are its flaws.Like you said, the only cons seem to be that the 3D doesn't affect gameplay (which I don't see as a really con. I believe it is there to make it pretty.) and that a few of the mini games aren't as great as they could be. It sounds to me like a 9. Maybe the price tag, I don't know.
Was going to get this day 1, but having read the review I now have doubts in my mind. Can anyone convince me that I wont throw my 3DS against the wall in a rage because of the difficulty?!
Straight to my watch list. I'll buy this later on or when there's a discount as I'm juggling too many games at the moment. Great review.
Day1DL for me loves a challenge! No need to have my hand held xD
Maybe there should have been a non 3d version on the same card, so we could play it on the lower screen, as well.
For £8 this suggests that it was never going to a full price game release. Or maybe it was, and Nintendo also thought that the game play on a 3d screen was not up to a stylus game standard.
Maybe 3d and stylus game play just don't work, unless Nintendo come up with a 3d touch screen.
@ferthepoet: I totally agree, but Mario vs. Donkey Kong GBA is a close 2nd. However, I will be grabbing this tomorrow regardless:)
It's too bad that the 3D is not used better. This had the potential to have some good 3D visuals. Oh well. I always get my money's worth out of the other entries to the series, so I'll be downloading this tomorrow anyway.
7 out of 10 sounds good to me. I love this series, Instant buy.
So this is Mario and Donkey Kong, instead of Mario vs. Donkey Kong?
I don't mind the minis, but am I the only one who misses the platforming the first Mario vs. Donkey Kong had?
Snagging the hell out of this at a later date. Have to buy Oracle games first.
Hmm, guess I should just finish playing my Mario vs DK games before considering this.
This game seems interesting to me. I'd probably have the most fun playing the minigames though.
The earlier installments in the series were fairly straight forward so this difficulty is diverting away from the series in a sense. That's ok by me.
I want tough games. Really enjoy a good challenge and this sounds like one too.
Although the review wasn't the best I will probably get the game because I'm a huge fan of the series.
I'm downloading this immediately! Once I figure out what to use...hmm prepaid debit or checking account?
Woo hoo! More Mini Mario's? Yes please!
pass for me, great review tho
I'll probably pass. I'm not that big into puzzlers, and I prefer the traditional Mario VS Donkey Kong platforming, which was last seen in the GBA game.
A 7 is a bit low. I saw an 8.5 and a 9 on other sites. I will get it anyway. Played all the other instalments and I really love the series.
Still waiting for a TRUE sequel to Mario vs Donkey kong for the GBA....................
@ferthepoet Nintendo 94? I had no idea Nintendo made a 94-bit console
Can't wait to download it tomorrow. Other people's opinions don't affect my own.
I'll want to get this sometime! Sounds like fun and a good challenge! It's better to hear about a Mario game being really hard than being too easy!
Judging by the video, this game seems more like Pipe Dream than the Vs games, which were more like Lemmings.
Sounds too stressful, I hate timers, even in NSMBU :[
Sounds like a challenging puzzle game, right up my alley. Will have to pick this up down the road for sure.
I'm still waiting for a follow up to Donkey Kong 94 and Mario Vs. Donkey Kong GBA.
Soon I will pick it up
Yikes the way the puzzles are set up in this game, definitely does not look like its for me. Good review though Jon.
i don't know this game looks like it's only draw is how hard it is.
did you feel like the game was still enjoyable even when you were playing the easy levels?
This game is getting really mixed reviews, 50-90%? Guess I'll have to see for myself!
I was really looking forward to this. Shame about the severe difficulty. I have not the patience or skill to deal with this level of overly Nintendo hard.
I've always been a fan of the series and this will be a day 1 download for me. I have found it quite interesting just how varied the reviews have been on this one. I will have to find out for myself
interestingly, indeed this review is in lower spectrum of reviews. Destructoid gave it a 9.
I doubt I'll ever play this series again. It's not that it's bad, but what it's become is just not my cup of tea. I liked it better as a follow up to the original Donkey Kong, as in what Donkey Kong '94 and the first Mario vs Donkey Kong achieved... platforming first with a twist of puzzling. Oh well.
@skjia I'm surprised to not see more Pipe Dream comparisons. Am I really getting so old?
I would have bought this as a physical copy for say $20 but no way do I want download only. They lost a sale on me!
@BooJoh Dang. I didn't realize I dated myself by referring to Pipe Dream. lol.
Time to take a joyride in my jalopy and head over to the drive-in.
I was wondering that too but when I saw the description on eShop it starts off stating "Test your puzzle solving skills in this spin-off of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series."
So to anyone who is not into this title I guess it isn't really out of the question that a Mario vs. Donkey Kong 3 could materialize if enough people want it.
I personally love it and will buy any Mario and/vs. Donkey Kong titles no matter what. Whether it is Lemmings-style, platform puzzler hybrid or whatever they think of next.
@DarkCoolEdge: A sequel to Donkey Kong GB...you mean like Mario vs. Donkey Kong on GBA?
@JonWahlgren: I just downloaded - and tried - M&DK, and I have to say it is indeed a lot of fun despite having to look at the Touch Screen most of the time. I have yet to reach panic stations though!
@GamerZack7 Yes but better. And it was released in, 2004? It's about time.
@DarkCoolEdge: I hear that!
@Site staff - i don't suppose anyone has figured out why the name is now "and" instead of "vs.?"
It's 'and' because there's no rivalry this time. Donkey Kong and Pauline host the minigames. The story's been cut down to a paragraph in the instruction manual.
My main complaint with this game is they cut the music/sfx listening room where you could listen to all the tracks in the game. All 4 of the previous games had this feature but not this one
(Though it's possible it doesn't show up until you beat the game, which I haven't yet.)
So…it’s not free? not getting it in any way
I have the complete minis serie and this is the best. The big difference between this one and the others is that in the others it's more fun to build level than to play. This one is the complete opposite.
@ledreppe maybe you are just smarter than him
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