FEATURE: "Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move" Review

Smart, addictive puzzler action that gives you a lot for very little

When it comes to gaming, I'm okay with spending money. I've understood for a long time that it's a very expensive hobby, from building a gaming computer to buying necessary peripherals like arcade sticks or just plain keeping up with new titles (I buy the vast majority of games I review for Crunchyroll--this particular one was a review copy). Now, I've said before that the length of a game doesn't matter as long as it's replayable, but there's a lot to be said for a title that gives you a hell of a lot of content for a tiny price tag.

 

Along with turn-based strategy games, puzzlers are one of the most addicting and replayable genres on handheld systems for me, because--like my favorite genre--they're focused on perfection instead of just "finishing the story." Ever since the GBA's excellent Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Nintendo has put together a series that rewards quick reflexes and sharp thinking, now going digital with the eShop-only Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move.

 

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Minis on the Move doesn't appear to offer much at first--similar to classic puzzle game Pipe Dream (or Aqua Blooper Piper if you were a Mac kid), a Mini-Mario will move along a set track, and it's up to you to make sure they make it safely to the goal. Pieces are pumped out one at a time in a five-piece queue, but new elements like bombs, a handy trash can for unwanted pieces, and Mini loops are gradually introduced, then incorporated into puzzles for added challenge. The game has a pretty gentle learning curve at first, but as you go on it can get pretty vicious, dumping you into puzzles that require last-minute improvisation and speedy stylus work.

 

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Get far enough into "Mario's Main Event," and you'll start unlocking more modes, each one taking the game's familiar template and tweaking it just enough to create an entirely new challenge. Puzzle Palace only gives you a set number of pieces to build a path for a Mini, while Many Mini Mayhem has you deal with a set board, multiple runaway Minis, and the ability to rotate specific pieces. Finally, Giant Jungle lives up to its name, ditching the single-screen puzzles and making you work on a bigger canvas, combining elements from the previous three modes and working at a more hectic pace.

 

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Along with the main game, there are a selection of mini-games where you'll launch Minis at targets, dodge Bullet Bills, and more. All in all, there are just under 200 separate puzzles and faster-paced mini-games to work through, and while the first dozen or so puzzles are easy, the challenge--and that drive for perfection I was talking about earlier--will keep puzzle fans playing for a long time.

 

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The only problem I've really come across deals with postgame content--the mini-games themselves are fun, but don't warrant much revisiting after you've tried them once or twice. While the main game's puzzles can get fiendishly clever and sometimes frustratingly difficult, it takes a while to gain any steam, leaving more experienced puzzle gamers to go through the motions for what feels like ages.

 

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If Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move was a full, $40 retail 3DS game, I'd tell you it wasn't worth the cash, to just wait it out for a sale or play one of the excellent previous installments. But at ten bucks, it's a steal, and offers a nice, solid handheld brain-teaser between big-budget heavy-hitters.

 

REVIEW ROUNDUP

+ Puzzles are easy to pick up, but very hard to master

+ Variety of puzzle modes change things up and keep the gameplay from getting stale

+ Cost-to-content ratio is unbelievably good--ten dollars for about 180 puzzles and mini-games

+/- Steady learning curve eases less-experienced players into tougher puzzles, but can be a little too easy for longtime gamers

+/- Mini-games are fun and fast-paced, but quickly lose their charm

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