The feud between Donkey Kong and Mario has been tumultuous to say the least, with a list of offences that would raise the eyebrows of many a policeman. Kidnapping, assault with a hammer, littering (barrels everywhere!); we thought Nintendo was a family orientated brand! Despite coming together every now and again for a (Super Smash Bros.) brawl, things seemed to have calmed down somewhat lately, with Donkey Kong focusing less on kidnapping, and more on torturing unsuspecting gamers with rock-hard platforming titles.
This brings us nicely to the Nintendo DS title Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem. It all starts peacefully enough, with Mario opening up a theme park and offering the first 100 entrants a free Pauline (Mario’s girlfriend) doll. As luck would have it, Donkey Kong turns up just as doll number 100 is given away, so he graciously accepts he won’t be getting one, and heads home…nah, just kidding, he flips out and kidnaps the real Pauline. That ape has issues. Rather than go in all guns blazing (or hammers swinging) Mario enlist the services of a bunch of mini Mario clockwork toys. One can’t help but feel that Mario is starting to get somewhat fed-up of rescuing damsels in distress.
For those who have never played a Mario vs. Donkey Kong game, they are in a very similar vein to the Lemmings franchise. Every level sees you trying to guide the mini Mario toys to the exit whilst avoiding all kinds of obstacles. As the levels progress, the ante is upped with the addition of more mini Marios to control, various enemies, and baffling puzzles.
You have no direct control over the minis; rather you provide a safe passage by way of the DS’ stylus. This involves all manner of things; from adding and subtracting steel girders to act as bridges/blockages, to directing the minis to ladders and warp pipes. As well as being the general overlord, you must also have a keen head for resource management, as every item you place in the game world has a limited supply.
For example, the gap the minis are approaching might require six units of steel girder, but you only have six in total and three are already being used up as a blockade elsewhere. Do you redirect the minis or remove the blockade which will bring your unit total back up to six? Well? Think quickly, here comes a pit of spikes! At the end of every world is a boss fight against Donkey Kong, and these hark back to the NES days as you set the minis off up ladders and vines to tackle the big ape, whilst he chucks barrels down from on high.
This really is the meat of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, but it plays incredibly well. Every level is just about the perfect length, meaning you can dip in for a quick go or sit down and have a proper session. At the end of every level you are given a high score, and if you’ve really aced it you will be given a trophy. This adds a nice touch of longevity for those who simply have to be the best. Collecting tokens scattered throughout the levels will also unlock special stages, which are designed to put you to the test. The main difference with these stages is that you have no choice as to when the mini Marios start marching, as the computer sets them all off at once. Deft stylus work is a must.
Also thrown into the mix is a ‘Construction Zone’ level editor which features some interesting online implementation. Completing the various tutorials will see the Construction Zone open up in its entirety, allowing players to create their own masterpieces. If you so wish you can then share these levels online. To add to this, Nintendo will be issuing challenges to players to create levels using set rules laid down by them. You can download these to play, and vote on which on you thought was best.
A special mention also needs to go out to the soundtrack – it’s fantastic! Every level has a remixed version of a classic Nintendo song, and it never fails to raise a smile. Fans will be in their element.
There are a couple of negative points that need to be flagged up, unfortunately. What Mario vs. Donkey Kong really lacks is a ‘speed up’ button for your minis. There are times when you really just want them to move faster, as they trundle along for what seems like a lifetime. It sounds like such a minor quibble, but it can get surprisingly irksome. Repetition does raise its ugly head, although it’s more noticeable during extended play sessions. The game is also very similar to previous titles in the franchise, and whilst this won’t be a problem for series newbies, it’s a little disappointing for the rest of us.
- Lots of content
- Great soundtrack
- Interesting online section
- Construction Zone
- Repetition can set in
- Brings nothing new
Overall Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is a great little puzzle game. It’s not a revolution, or even an evolution, but there is a stack of content plus an online mode that will last as long as its community does. Good stuff.