When the Minis Go Marching In
Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pauline are back together for the first time since Donkey Kong for Game Boy released in 1994. Donkey Kong has once again kidnapped Pauline, this time at the opening of Super Mini Mario World. As Donkey Kong makes his getaway in an elevator, Mario is too slow to reach the doors in time. Mini-Marios were lauded for their cuteness during the release of the original game, and Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 takes control out of Mario's hands and focuses on the toys themselves. As the Mini-Marios mindlessly journey through the floors of Super Mini Mario World, many other wind-up toys may help the Mini-Marios on their way.
Players should note that the Mario vs. Donkey Kong name is misleading since the game plays totally unlike its predecessor. Though it's been compared to Lemmings numerous times, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 actually plays like a more complicated version of an obscure old Mario game, Mario & Wario, which was a mouse-based Super Famicom game that only saw release in Japan. It also has some similar aspects to the classic Lost Vikings except that you do not control the Mini-Marios directly. Indeed, the Mini-Marios are directed using the stylus, and certain environmental objects such as temporary walls and switches are also manipulated in this manner. The Mini-Marios must reach the exit while navigating through an obstacle course without being destroyed by enemies or hazards. The toys will continue marching forward until directed otherwise, so care must be taken since the little guys are quite fragile.
Simply clearing a level is normally a very easy task, and if your goal is to clear levels as fast as possible, even with its 80+ levels, the game will only last a few hours. However, the real genius of the game lies in its scoring system. Points are awarded for time remaining and collecting coins as expected, but major bonuses are awarded for saving all of the Mini-Marios, chaining, and completing the level in a non-stop fashion (letting the Mini-Marios walk freely rather than directing them to stop and wait). Chains are formed when Mini-Marios reach the exit in quick succession. Even more bonuses are awarded if a Gold Mini-Mario is the last one to exit the stage. At the end of each stage, all of the bonuses are tallied and a total score is given. Depending on the score, players may be awarded with bronze, silver, or gold stars. Stars are required to unlock certain parts of the game. Thus, careful and ingenious planning is sometimes required in order to achieve the most optimal score for a level. Even with good planning, precise timing is critical in many levels.
Each stage also includes a card. The collection of all cards on a floor unlocks a whack-a-Shy Guy minigame for that floor. Completion of these minigames in turn can unlock other goodies. At the end of each floor, a battle versus Donkey Kong ensues. Mini-Marios are launched out of a cannon and must deal damage to DK. The number of available Mini-Marios players can shoot is dependent on how many Mini-Marios reached the exit for that floor.
The game also includes a highly anticipated Construction Zone, a level editor. The drag-and-drop interface of the level editor works very well and includes some very nice effects. Sets of objects based on each floor in the main game become available once that floor has been cleared. Sadly, level designs are not unlimited and only a certain number of objects may be used on a given stage. Levels can be shared through local wireless or over Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. However, to receive files, you must add a friend with a friend code and vice-versa, which means that players won't be able to browse just anybody's levels. Even worse, only one level can be downloaded at a time, and the entire connection process must be restarted. Files can be stored on Nintendo's servers, however, so both players do not need to be online at the same time.
Interestingly, the credits for the game contain a couple of categories not normally seen: interns and contractors. Unfortunately, this was evident in the game; some of the level design feels a bit amateur. Of course, with Wi-Fi level sharing, an endless supply of levels is good compensation. Even if you don't have friends to receive files from, Nintendo is releasing new levels of their own design, with a new level available each week. The brevity of levels makes the game good for quick pickup, play, and clear a stage sessions. Overall the game has a certain charm, and a great presentation.
If you were expecting more of the same after Mario vs. Donkey Kong, then keep in mind that this game is nothing like it. However, if you appreciate action games with major puzzle and strategic elements, then March of the Minis is for you. In particular, the game is perfect for those interested in level design.
Pros & cons
Review by MEGAß¥TE, 10/07/2006