Despite Mario and Donkey Kong largely getting along with one another these days, there's still the ancestral drive to kidnap women in red dresses burning in DK's DNA, and so we get the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.
The latest entry, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars has ditched the different 3D perspective of the previous title and returns to the much-beloved 2D focus and gameplay. Your task is to manipulate the environment and guide miniature wind-up toy versions of various Mario characters to their appropriate exit. Using the Wii U GamePad's touchscreen you'll build girders, add and remove springs, cover traps, redirect enemies, and lots more in order to get your clockwork chums to the exit.
The outset is deceptively simple, as you only have a handful of elements to worry about and a fairly obvious path in which to guide your toys. It's simple enough for young children to pick up and enjoy, but adults may find the early levels a bit pedestrian; luckily though that theme ends fairly rapidly as you progress. Very soon you'll find yourself pitted against levels that are not only difficult to unravel, but also test your speed and foresight in a manner that may be off-putting to younger children. That's good news for us adults though, as the single player campaign is extensive and hugely challenging. Getting to the exit isn't necessarily the challenge, though, as there are numerous coins as well as one large 'M' coin to collect in order to complete the level entirely. There are bound to be a few individuals who can simply breeze through the game, but most will surely be scratching their heads trying to work out how to get that one last coin.
The single player is as solid as it's ever been in the series, but the biggest element of this game that differentiates it from its predecessors is how it utilises its custom level editor – referred to in the game as the Workshop – and the sharing of levels you create using Miiverse. The level editor is a hugely powerful tool that allows you to create levels of identical calibre to those found in the single player, but naturally this additional freedom allows you to create some truly creative and/or haphazard experiences. There are limitations, but they're few and fair, the biggest one is that you cannot share a level with anyone unless you yourself are able to complete it entirely, meaning you have to collect all the coins and reach the exit or exits without losing any of your Minis. This is excellent, as it prevents people from putting up literally impossible levels that will only seek to frustrate and infuriate the public. No doubt there will be plenty of those anyway, but at least they'll be possible!
As far as the sharing is concerned, this title shows that Nintendo is really beginning to understand how to use the internet to its full advantage. Gone are the slightly clunky QR codes from games like Pushmo World, and instead a slick, easy-to-use interface makes the sharing process simple and quick. Once you have completed your level and have uploaded it, you're basically done; anyone can discover and download it at their leisure, and should they enjoy it they'll no doubt tip you a few stars. These can then be exchanged for new elements to use in the level editor or used to tip others for their creations. You can also earn stars the old-fashioned way by simply playing the single-player, so it may well be worth your time getting to grips with that first so you've got a nice, fat stack of stars to do with as you so desire.
Finding levels you want to play is a nicely implemented feature that brings Nintendo's online experience kicking and screaming into modern times. You can sort levels by time uploaded, your friend's creations, and the most popular at the moment, saving those you like to play offline any time you want. It's simple but it would be difficult to gauge any other factors into the levels apart from perhaps theme, but themes are merely visual and shouldn't affect any decisions to download a level or not. Miiverse also plays its part in the sharing experience. If you like someone's stage or need a little guidance on how to best it you can leave a comment on the level's Miiverse post specific to your needs, or you can just leave a friendly Yeah to show them your appreciation, even if it's not necessarily worth forking stars out for. Nintendo has clearly put an awful lot of thought into this system, and it feels very much like a pilot scheme for the upcoming Mario Maker, and if it pulls it off this well we'll be more than happy with the results.
Presentation-wise the game is really very pleasant. It's not jaw-dropping like Mario Kart 8 or Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but considering this is just a quick download title - and also available on the 3DS - it's very pretty indeed. The pre-rendered models are all very shiny, blocky and charming, and the animation is as good as it gets. It's a shame that the action is shrunk down on the big screen to better accommodate that of the GamePad, but considering you'll be spending 90% of your time looking at the controller it's not make or break. The music is a mashup of the best tunes from both the Mario and the Donkey Kong series, meanwhile, and doesn't even kick in properly until you tap on your Minis to start them up. Expect to hear tracks from the Western version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Donkey Kong Country, the original Donkey Kong arcade game as well as many more.
As with the 3DS version, also, when you buy one iteration you receive a download code for the other - this'll come as a code in North America so, in theory, you'll be able to either use the other copy yourself or share it with another gamer. You can also learn a little more about how the portable version differs in our Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars 3DS review.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a hugely enjoyable action puzzler with some really fantastic ideas and mechanics. The sharing feature is easily the biggest draw, and the possibility of fresh content being available for years to come is enormously exciting. It's not vastly different when compared to the previous titles in the series, but as the old adage goes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.