|Release: November 14, 2010|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief|
by Steve Haske
With the exception of Metroid, Star Fox, Zelda, and a few others, Nintendo likes to keep things in their games relatively cutesy (just listen to any first-party Wii game's intro!). Though Mario's earliest iterations—Donkey Kong and the arena-based Mario Bros.—were too primitive to worry too much about style, even Nintendo's mascot has gotten more saccharine over the years. You know what? That's ok. Even when Mario and his friends are objectified as adorable wind-up toys, as in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. One squealing "hee-hee!" from an activated Mini-Mario and you'll know just what I mean.
For those of you who haven't been indoctrinated into the series, it should be noted that Mario vs. Donkey Kong is primarily a puzzle game. If you're looking for something more platform-centric, you should stick with New Super Mario Bros., Kirby, or one of Nintendo's more action-oriented series. Not to say that there aren't platforms or obstacles to navigate. But unlike a traditional Mario game, you actually just control Mario's minis, and even they aren't controlled directly. Donkey Kong, operating within a now-rarely-used schism of Nintendo's own canon, has kidnapped Pauline, Mario's girlfriend. Mario's minis, for whatever reason, are the tool that Mario chooses to use against the big ape. Comparisons to lemmings are somewhat inevitable here, because these cute little guys don't have a brain cell between them. A quick tap of the stylus will activate a mini, and from then on it's your responsibility to navigate them safely to their goal without undue harm (or any harm at all, actually). Of course this means there are all manner of traps and obstacles to navigate, and unlike the job-classed critters in Lemmings, minis are stuck simply marching forward in whatever direction they're facing—only bumping into something will change their path.
It's up to you, then, to figure out how exactly to get the minis through the door, into the next level, and eventually on to an end-level showdown with Donkey Kong himself. Initially this is pretty easy: if there's, say, a hazardous pit of spikes standing in between the minis and the end-level door, you can create a bridge using steel girders. The catch is that you only have so many resources, and you have to be smart about how you use them, often resulting in literally having to retract bridges the minis have just crossed in order to save them from some upcoming obstacle. The girders are just the beginning, though. Once you're through Mini-Land's first world, the tools at your disposal change, giving you access (per world) to things like ladders, pipes, conveyor belts, and jumping pads, among other objects.
The level design never really mixes and matches things too much. You may have to use conveyor belts and girders in a single level, or perhaps manipulate some warp pipes alongside jumping pads to get the minis to their goal. Anything more complicated than that would be counter-intuitive to Mini-Land Mayhem's relatively simple design. This is a DS game, after all, and true to the style of portable gaming, you'll rarely spend more than a few minutes discerning and completing your actions in a level.
It's also rare that you'll get stuck. Every so often you may come across a puzzle that requires the minis to hit the exit in a certain order (such as locked doors that only key minis can unlock), though this sort of thing is sporadic at best. At its core, Mini-Land Mayhem is a puzzle game that's good, simple fun, and perfect for casual play. There's also a harder "plus" mode that's unlocked once you beat the game, but it's still not going to tax your brain as much as Braid or Limbo might, for example.
Then there are the boss fights against Donkey Kong, which are an interesting combination of whatever mechanics were used throughout the world and old-school classic Donkey Kong design. You'll still use minis to take the big ape down, but now instead of simply guiding them to the goal, you have to maneuver your little wind-up doppelgangers to ladders at the top of the screen where they encounter attacks such as electric shock or bomb-hurling. Each boss stage is set up with a number of anchors from which to build your path to victory, and thankfully you're given a more ample supply of building materials so that construction doesn't become an overbearing hassle. While you're sending your minis on their mission, Donkey Kong also throws barrels and enemies, so alongside the create-your-own-route level scenarios, these stages capture a similar feel to Donkey Kong's original design. Donkey himself also switches things up a bit, occasionally hitting a button that randomly scrambles working and non-working anchor points (or in some cases reverses the direction of conveyor belts), which can obviously have destructive consequences on any potential path your minis may be traversing. Much like the rest of the game, however, the game never gets too taxing to really challenge a seasoned gamer. (If it's a challenge you're after, I suggest the Wii's Donkey Kong Country Returns.)
Some fans of Mario vs. Donkey Kong may take some issue with the fact that this new entry doesn't really offer anything new, aside from the ability to create and share your own custom levels over Nintendo's wi-fi network. You can also download levels using the service. Nevertheless, Mini-Land Mayhem is cute and charming, and surprisingly fun despite its simplicity. Between Nintendo's expected quality design and almost-equally as expected fan service, most fans of the house of Mario will likely get a kick out of this.
CCC Freelance Writer