Same Old Wind-Up
Man, I wish somebody would make a worthy modern successor to the Lemmings series. Until then, all we’ve got is Mario vs. Donkey Kong . Originally, this puzzle series played out the ancient battle of plumber vs. great ape using miniature wind-up toys, but even that simple premise has mostly been put by the wayside as Nintendo churns out same-y sequels once or twice a generation. 2013’s Minis on the Move was a refreshingly novel series entry, but this year’s Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a return to the same old, same old.
Basically, you’ve got a few wind-up toys based on Mario franchise stars, and they have to navigate a maze in order to get to the exit door. Being wind-up toys, they have no brains and simply walk forward until they hit something, at which point they turn around. Thus, you have to use your stylus to manipulate objects in the maze so they’re able to exit safely. You’ll have to collect and place jump pads, conveyor belts, and other tools while also ensuring the minis don’t fall into spike pits or get clobbered by any nearby enemies.
Simply getting your minis to the exit is often quite easy and awards a bronze trophy. It’s more challenging (and the only way for most adults to avoid being bored silly by the main levels) to attempt to collect all the coins scattered through the levels and get your minis to the exit in a timely manner. Doing that awards a gold trophy and extra stars, which serve as currency in the level creation and sharing part of the game.
Level creation is clearly the game’s focus, as the main levels feel generally uninspired. Most (save a few stacks of bonus levels) aren’t very difficult, and there just aren’t enough of those joyous puzzle-solving moments when you defeat a challenge and get that satisfying, “click.” Instead, most of the challenge is in tapping or dragging things with a stylus fast enough to carry out the simple plan needed to complete the level. That’s not particularly satisfying.
I found more entertainment in making and playing custom levels, which is quite simple to do. The level creator provides most of the basics to start, but charges stars for more complex tools like multiple exit doors marked for specific miniatures. The best way to collect lots of stars is to upload a level and hope that other players “tip” you stars to convey their enjoyment. You gain Miiverse stamps by tipping others, so there’s an incentive to do so, though I anticipate a dearth of tips as soon as most regular players have completed their stamp collections.
Once you’ve unlocked what you want, designing levels is easy and intuitive. Level pieces are simple to place and manipulate, and you can’t share your level until you have successfully completed it while gathering all collectibles. It’s also relatively quick and simple to browse and play user-created levels, but as with many games like this, the sorting options are insufficient. The only way to sort is by popularity. There isn’t even an option to indicate difficulty level, so dead simple levels based on popular topics like “Flappy Mario” tend to float to the top. Still, some users have done some impressive things with the simple tools at hand, making me anticipate what we’ll see when Mario Maker comes out.
Unusually for a Nintendo game, Tipping Stars suffers in the production department. The graphics are nothing particularly special and the music sounds like Mario themes infused with the soulless cheer of the tunes that play while you’re standing in line for rides at Disneyland. Most unforgivable, at least in the Wii U version of the game that I played, are the loading times. Even playing the offline levels requires waiting far longer than you should for brief levels that use simple assets.
The best part of playing Tipping Stars is finding a devilishly clever community-made level to enjoy, but is that good enough? The basic gameplay in this entry just seems uninspired, especially its main campaign. It feels like Nintendo’s famed devotion to fun first is simply missing from the game, which merely ports a too-familiar formula to new devices. It’s time to just let these lemmings jump off the cliff.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.9 Graphics
On the upside, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything by playing on the Wii U GamePad. 3.5 Control
The level creator is easy to use, but the stylus controlled gameplay isn’t anything particularly special. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Mario meets the music of Disney’s teacup ride. 2.5 Play Value
Letting players create their own fun is all well and good, but the base game itself is lacking. 2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best