Review: The classic feud goes download-only
Whenever Nintendo launches a new piece of hardware, it is usually up to them to set the standard for games released on that hardware. While the DSi might not be an entirely new system, its new games on demand service has once again forced Nintendo to set some trends. So far it's been high-concept puzzle games and repackaged casual software but the company's new release, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Minis March Again marks a turning point for DSiWare. By being an almost complete sequel to the five year old Mario vs. Donkey Kong franchise, it is the biggest, most fully featured, and quite possibly best downloadable game for the third iteration of Nintendo's unstoppable handheld.
By being somewhat of an extension of the DS game Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Minis March Again falls somewhere inbetween Mario vs. Donkey 2.5 and and Mario vs. Donkey Kong 3. The entire series is a puzzle-oriented take on the original arcade game that brought Nintendo to the west. In that game, Mario risked his own life to save his first love Pauline from DK, but in this game the player uses the titular minis to do the job for him. Minis are robotic dolls resembling Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants that must be guided to the exit in time. Once activated, they begin to move in a straight line and cannot be stop. It is the job of the player to use everything in the environment from blocks to springs to make sure the minis reach their destination. Often times it is smart to plan out a strategy and build your path before turning on the minis but sometimes it is necessary to modify levels on the fly leading to frantic fun but sometimes frustrating experiences, even with the precision of the stylus.
The gameplay has often been compared to another game about guiding hapless underlings: Lemmings. While that is true, Minis March Again has a sizeable amount of Mario influence as well. As the game goes on, more and more puzzle elements are layered on top of the basic game and many are based on classic Mario concepts. Warp pipes transport minis across the stage, mini Donkey Kongs carry blast barrels and boss fight are ripped straight out of Donkey Kong Jr. Minis March Again continues the proud tradition of applying the Mario aesthetic to a new genre.
While the gameplay of this DSiWare game isn't too different from its DS counterpart, the sheer amount of content still makes it a full game in its own right. The game is based around an elevator motif with Mario and the minis moving up different floors. Each of the four floors has eight levels, a boss fight, and an unlockable level making for 40 initial levels. After beating the game with a high enough score another building is unlocked with 40 remixed levels and a rooftop as well as a basement area with 12 completely new levels a piece. So while the levels may be brief, at least there are 104 of them. Also, you can create your own levels in the construction yard using anything seen in the main game, but sadly not the DSi camera. These custom levels can be traded over wi-fi and up to 140 can be stored at a time. The mind-bending and addictive gameplay combined with the amount of content to explore makes you grateful that this game is always in your DSi.
In terms of presentation, the Mario license is in full effect in Minis March Again. The 2D visuals are bright and cartoony. The minis themselves are charming, smoothly animated little caricatures of Mario and his friends. The locations are based on Mushroom Kingdom locales and the graphics clearly illustrate how the puzzle mechanics work. It looks like Mario vs Donkey 2 which is fine but even that just looked like a cleaner version of Mario vs Donkey Kong on the GBA. The music tracks are pulled from a wide selection of Mario games including Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64 and even Donkey Kong Country. While the songs have been changed slightly the audio, much like the visuals, don't stand out too much.