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Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem - DS Review

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem

DS | Nintendo | 1 Player | Out Now
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24th January 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

I am a big fan of the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong game on the Game Boy Advance. 'Till this day, it's still one of my favourite puzzle-platforming experiences for a handheld system. Since the original release, though, Nintendo has brought this series to the DS with additional games that offer a different take from what was first seen in the original experience. The previous two titles in the series (on DS and DSiWare respectively) were fun, but they honestly didn't envelop me as much as the original game. Really, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is not dissimilar from what was seen in the last two titles. For better or worse, Nintendo has decided to stick with this trend, so rather than fight it, I tried hard to embrace what the latest release had to offer. As it turns out, it's a highly-accessible game that will surely be sought after by a wide array of age groups.

    The game uses the setting of an amusement park to serve as an overall theme for the levels you'll encounter. Story is kept to a minimal here, and for all its intent and purposes, this is a good thing in this scenario. Out of anger over his inability to obtain a special prize at the Grand Opening of the park, Donkey Kong decides to kidnap Pauline and explore the park on his own terms. And in a predictable feat of bravery, Mario gives chase in hopes of catching up to his foe and rescuing the damsel in distress. 

    From the Title Screen, you can choose the Main Game option and select your personal profile; select Construction Zone to access the level creation area; or head to Options to toggle settings and view unlocked movies in the Gallery. First impressions may lead you to believe that the game is retrospectively small in content when it's exactly the opposite. Each world you encounter in the game is based off of a different attraction that serves as the entire theme for the levels within. For example, the backdrop of a haunted house is used in the 'Warped Mansion' area, a classy tea cup ride for 'Teatime Twirl', and a large Ferris wheel for the 'Super Skywheel'. Upon first glance, a stage like 'Sandstorm Steps' may seem out of place. But seeing a coaster in the background wind around a large pyramid helps carry the theme even in these instances, ensuring that none of the attractions feel out of place.

Your goal in each stage is to guide all the Mini-Mario's to the Exit Door without having them sustain damage. Each of them must exit the level within a set time frame, activated once a Mini-Mario passes through the aforementioned door. This calls for good planning on your part because if just one toy misses the time-locked opening, you'll be forced to try again. Thankfully, the game timer won't begin until you tap one of the toys, so you can get a good look at the entire level using the D-Pad, taking all variables into consideration before you get started.

    Each puzzle makes use of a simple set of tools that allow you to control the direction in which each toy travels. Understanding the way and the order in which the toys interact with said tools becomes more and more important as you move to later worlds. Just about every stage has red square rivets, fixed in place outside gaps and at the edge of ledges. Out of all the interactive stage elements, this is the most basic and the most frequently-used. Using the stylus, you can connect two rivets together to create a steel frame that can act as a bridge or a protective wall. At the bottom of the touch screen is a box that indicates the number of connecting items you can use. To add more to your supply, you can either break a link between two rivets, or have the Mini-Marios gather special red pick-ups. 

    Serving a similar purpose, blue rivets can be connected together to create ladders. There are also purple conveyor belts that force movement depending on the direction you slide your stylus when forming the link. Both of these also have their own respective pick-up icons for the Mini-Marios to collect. Other tools players can make use of include pink and yellow springs, and movable green pipes. You won't be exposed to these all at once, though. Each attraction or world will add a new variable into the equation, first presented through a quick animated sequence at the start of a new area. The gradual introduction of new elements adds some nice variety to the puzzle mechanics just as the player begins longing for something more than just creating steel frames.

In addition to new tools and items, the presence of enemies and traps is another variable that pops up during your adventure. Much of your encounters with evil menaces are limited to just Shy Guys, Thwomps, Pokeys and Piranha Plants. After a while, you begin to notice that even when puzzles implement this feature, they don't become crucial elements to the solving of puzzles. Usually they're just there to make your life more difficult, but as a whole, the enemies don't become a challenging hurdle until you reach the 'Cosmic Adventure' attraction. 

    There are also two types of Donkey Kong toys that serve a more considerable threat to reaching the end of a level. Circus Kongs repeatedly juggle any Mini-Mario toy that makes contact with it. They can only escape this endless cycle once you create a platform for the airborne toys to land on, or another Mini-Mario comes along with the double-hammer item to stun it for a short while. Capture Kongs are a bigger obstruction to watch out for. If a Mini Mario crosses its path, the gorilla will stick it in a sack, trapping it until you use the hammers to knock it out. Each of these elements serve their respective purposes well, but some may find themselves just a bit disappointed that these are the only enemies that appear from the Mario universe.

    Aside from the standard stages, each attraction also features two special stages that vie for something different from the norm. The 4th Level in every world introduces players to special Capsule Toys that contain miniaturized versions of Pauline, Princess Peach, Toad and Donkey Kong, each with their own marked Exit Doors. I personally found these stages really enjoyable to play. Additionally, the 8th Level in each world has players guiding a Mini Mario equipped with a golden key to a locked door. More planning is involved than in the normal bunch since you need to ensure the special Mini-Mario reaches the Exit Door first with the other toys trailing right behind him. These were pretty fun too, even challenging in some scenarios.

The final level in each of the main attractions is a boss fight against the big guy himself. Each DK Level differs depending on the attraction you're in and the elements you were exposed to in the stages leading up to the battle. In just about all of them, you'll need to create bridges to lead the Mini Marios up to a platform where they can activate three switches that will win them the match. After completing the DK Level for Attraction 8, you'll unlock the Final Ferris Wheel battle where you'll use cannons to aim at the big guy as he spins 'round and 'round on the large ride. Overall, these boss fights were nice ways of extending the new concepts introduced in each world, and while not all of them provided a lot of challenge, they were still enjoyable nonetheless.

    In the way of collectables, each area has a mix of small and large coins, in addition to Mini Mario Cards and blue M-Tokens. If so much as one of these hasn't been collected at the conclusion of a level, even if you got a fast time, you won't be able to reach the score requirement for the Golden Trophy. Not only do these Trophies give you something to strive for in all stages, but they are also the key to playing any of the Expert Levels later on. Beyond just serving as a means of increasing your score, the Cards and Tokens also serve an important purpose of opening up more goodies. Collecting all nine Mini Mario Cards in an attraction will unlock a decent world-specific mini-game where you can create slides to lead falling toys to corresponding boxes at the bottom of the screen. M-Tokens, on the other hand, open up Special Levels located at the 'Rainbow Summit'. As you can see, this game encourages a lot of collecting and unlocking, and this does much to encourage moderately-high spirits within the player, keeping them motivated practically the whole way through.

    After completing the Final Battle against Donkey Kong and seeing the Ending sequence, players will unlock Plus Mode, which carries the same amount of attractions with the same number of stages but offers a more challenging, more varied experience. In summary, then, you can easily observe that there's a lot to do and much to look forward to in this game. For me personally, I did have some moments where I was addicted to playing the game, but these were usually short-lasting. I felt the game lacks a level of challenge that meets up with some of today's what I've come to expect - or at least, for half of the game's length. Thankfully, Plus Mode makes up for this as do the multiple variations on the main concept that are gradually introduced. Don't let this sway you though. I can see the vast majority of people just falling in love with how easy the game is to control without ever becoming frustrating.

What makes the game five times more replayable are the level creation and sharing features found in the Construction Zone. You could spend hours in this aspect of the game alone because it's just that enjoyable. They start you off with four tutorials under the Level Creation 101 that get you in the mindset for creating unique, working puzzle concepts. When creating a level for the first time, you'll need to select from a list of rules and templates before proceeding to the editing stage. Once you do arrive there, it's hard not to notice just how user-friendly everything is. Along the top you have a bar which displays all of the different menus you'll need to access to get your level up and running. This includes construction tools, characters and pick-ups, a move tool, an eraser, and a rotate function. The top right of the touch screen shows the amount of memory you have to work with, and underneath that you'll find Undo and Redo buttons. Once you've included all the required elements, you can press the Start button to Save and test out your new creation before naming it. 

    You can choose from one of multiple sharing features to get your new puzzle in the hands of those looking for a new challenge. Using DS Wireless Communications, you can broadcast it to nearby DS system owners, or even receive their creations. If you feel others can benefit from playing your level on a larger scale, you can head online using Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. On the main online menu, the latest news items of interest are displayed on the top screen, including new challenge competitions. From this main hub, you can share your levels with others, apply a favourite tag to your most-liked puzzle creators, or download puzzles others have made. There's also the Challenge Center where you can grab templates provided by Nintendo to create a new level, one that you feel best suits what Nintendo is looking for. You can even judge other people's levels or view entries from past challenges for possible inspiration. The online competitions may not be as much fun as the ones found in WarioWare D.I.Y, but it still adds yet another significant layer of replay value all the same.

    When it comes to the look and feel, everything looks more polished than what was seen in the last two releases. The music is also stronger with some really pleasant sounds, variations on the game's main theme which change depending on the attraction you're visiting. For instance, the theme for Teatime Twirl sounds more cheery and orderly than Cosmic Adventure which carries a slower, sci-fi feeling. The soundtrack even includes new renditions of songs from the original Mario vs. Donkey game, and even Super Mario Bros. 2. They're not going to get you jumping and down or anything, but it's hard not to pick up on the inspirations behind some of these songs. Good effort all around, I'd say.

Honestly, I'm a little worried about where this series will go next. The last three releases have more or less offered near-identical experiences with relatively few major adjustments. I doubt I'd personally feel as enthusiastic about the series if only minor changes were made to the formula a fourth time. Now having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if this series made its way to the 3DS. While I did appreciate the nice change of pace offered by the Capsule Toys and other elements, I still really miss the mechanics from the original GBA title. But looking at it for what it is, Mini-Land Mayhem is an undeniably good game.

    It's hard to find fault with a game like this. Yes, the game still revolves less around Mario, and more on guiding the Mini-Mario characters. And yes, it's mostly an expansion of March of the Mini's. But I highly doubt either of these truths will stop anyone from experiencing this title. Mini-Land Mayhem is a more polished, more varied, and ultimately more enjoyable form of what was seen in the last two releases in the series. The new touches on the gameplay will especially please those who may feel the formula is getting a bit tired. Even if the difficulty never reaches a high point, the game balances frustration and challenge quite well, with next-to-no frustration to be had from this charming title. For the price it's being offered at, I strongly feel there's more than enough content to convince anyone that they're getting their money's worth. Although the future of this series is a bit uncertain, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is a great DS title that will be loved by younger and older audiences alike.

26/30 - Very Good

Gameplay 8/10 - Great accessible mechanics, new elements gradually introduced, Capsule Toy stages are a definite highlight, boss fights are also good
Presentation 9/10 - Looks more polished, pleasant music that even takes inspirations from older Mario titles, surprisingly challenging puzzles, lots of charm
Enjoyment 4/5 - Really user-friendly to get into, rarely ever frustrates, more or less an extension of the last title, may feel a bit tired to some
Extra Content 5/5 - Plenty of stages to clear and things to collect, Special & Expert stages, level creation/sharing gives this package lots of replay value

Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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