In true Nintendo fashion, their first full on foray into cross-buy purchases wouldn’t have been right without team captain Mario front and centre. When you purchase either the 3DS or Wii U version of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, you’ll receive the other version for free. Interestingly for Nintendo, this will probably work in reverse for them compared with Sony, as there are far more owners of their 3DS handheld than their maligned home console.
The obvious hope is that such promotions will drive people to purchase a console that they’ve already built a library for. Of course, the big question is whether Tipping Stars is the kind of game you’d want to own two copies of in the first place.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars sees you attempting to lead diminutive clockwork versions of your favourite Mario world characters through various 2D levels, using the Wii U or 3DS stylus to move sections, place items and collect power ups to enable those characters to reach the end of level exit.
The game’s initial levels feature extendable girders that you can draw between points, either across gaps filled with spikes, as ramps to other levels or as walls to pen your mindless clockwork Marios in as you work out your next move. It’s a simple and effective puzzle dynamic which players young and old can grasp with ease, and though it’s not necessarily always the most challenging solution getting your characters to the exit, extra longevity and difficulty can be found in attempting to earn gold trophies which require you to collect all of the coins in a level, and within a tight time limit.
Each world, of which there are eight, introduces a new element into the mix, from springs that send your character bouncing about the level to moving platforms and magnetised walkways. As you progress you have to put more and more of these elements to use in order to reach the level’s exit, with the difficulty level slowly increasing through the game’s main campaign. Unfortunately the main batch of levels probably won’t last you all that long, as even though a number of them required multiple retries in order to work out the solution, it still wasn’t that time consuming.
Intentionally or not, Nintendo seem to have aimed squarely for a younger gamer with Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, and I would imagine a 10-15 year old should find the puzzles satisfying. Anyone younger would struggle with the more challenging puzzles while adults will likely breeze through all but the toughest of them. I didn’t find it particularly frustrating, and levels restart swiftly following each failure so that thankfully it feels like less of a chore, but I do think a younger player will get the most out of it.
Despite the short duration of the main levels, you can also unlock 24 bonus levels by achieving gold trophies in the campaign. Not only are these levels harder, but the tighter requirements to unlock them make it a much more involving experience.
Perhaps the best feature in terms of longevity though is the Workshop mode, which allows players to become puzzle designers themselves, using all of the components available in the main game to craft them. The level editor provides you with some templates to get started if you’re a newcomer or you can just begin work on your own.
It’s a great system, being both straightforward and deep, and with a bit of consideration you can create some fiendish levels of your own which you can then share with the community who can then rate your work, or tip you stars. I should note that for whatever reason I was unable to connect to the online community during my time with the game, but hopefully this was either an isolated problem or Nintendo will be able to remedy it swiftly.
Some parts of the editor are locked away in the workshop store, which thankfully isn’t full of microtransactions. Instead you use stars which you gain from completing levels in the main campaign to unlock them, further pushing you to aim for perfect scores as you progress through the game.
Graphically, Tipping Stars won’t be winning any design awards, but it is inimitably a Nintendo game being both bright and colourful. There are some nice flourishes too such as the animation of the clockwork Mario as he uses a key to unlock a chained door, or being able to see the toy-esque leg joints of a Circus Kong when you’ve knocked him over. Musically there are some playful ditties which manage not to distract or aggravate, though they’re not as bold or characterful as those often found in the Mario franchise.
The game is more or less identical on both the Wii U and 3DS, though the Wii U’s visuals are crisper and the extra screen real-estate makes it a little easier to navigate. Fundamentally the main game is better suited to being played on the go so the 3DS version is likely to be the preferred option, whilst the Wii U is more comfortable to use when you’re designing a new level. Of course, lucky owners of both consoles don’t have to worry which one to pick up thanks to the cross-buy option.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is an enjoyable and involving puzzle game, particularly for younger gamers, which despite its relatively short campaign has a number of tricks up its sleeve to guarantee that you’ll be returning to it many months later. The level editor is a great example of empowering players with clear and solid tools, which allow you to to work creatively and effectively without being hampered by overly complicated systems.
Versions Tested: Wii U & 3DS