Review: Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem
If you’ve ever missed the days when before Bowser, when Donkey Kong was Mario’s greatest adversary and you had to move Mario through a series of ladders and platforms to get up to him and save Mario’s then-girlfriend, Pauline, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem for the DS was made for you. And for those who’ve never played the original Donkey Kong games, this DS crossover sequel is just as fun an experience, with a gameplay style different than much of what’s currently out there.
The Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series has existed since the Game Boy Advance, and while Mini-Land Mayhem doesn't do anything much different than the last MvDK game for DS, this sequel retains the fun and challenge of the series with new puzzles and ways to interact with the environment, including a level creation mode akin to Littlebigplanet's Play, Create, Share philosophy.
The story harkens back to when Mario was still carpenter, before he was made out to be an Italian plumber. He has opened an amusement park and his brunette girlfriend Pauline is giving out autographed photos of herself to all the toadstool people. Being a huge fan, Donkey Kong arrives but is devastated to find she’s all out of photographs, so he kidnaps Pauline herself instead. Mario chases Donkey Kong through the amusement park’s eight themed sections employing wind-up mini Mario toys to work their way toward Donkey Kong in each area as Mario re-routes the pieces of each area in order to aid the wind-up minis.
In each level, you must drag construction beams between rivets with the stylus. When you’re ready to start a level you can tap a mini to wind them up, however, once you start a mini you can’t stop him, and you’ll have to rearrange the environment around them accordingly within your allowed number of beams. You can route the minis to collect items that give you more beam length or you can remove an already placed beam by tapping on its rivet, giving you the opportunity to use that length of beam somewhere else. As the game goes on you’ll use conveyor belts, ladders, spring boards, and the infamous pipes to move the toy Marios from their starting point to a door that ends the level. And just to add to the challenge, once one mini enters the door any other minis will have a short period of time to follow before the door locks and the level is failed. Though the game has a Lemmings feel to it, it more largely resembles the PSP’s echochrome, having you manipulate the world around your mindlessly marching toys.
The levels start off very easy, but each world builds upon the principles of the previous one with new tools and ways to travel, becoming more and more complex as you go. With only the occasionally tricky level, it’s a game children may find thought provoking but adults may be disappointed to breeze through. The maps never get very large, but even in their concise layout they remain fun.
For variation, sometimes a door is locked and one of your mini Mario toys has the key. The trick is to plan your minis’ moves so that the Mario with the key will approach the door before the others, unlocking it for the rest even if he didn’t start out in the front of the line. You’ll also encounter Donkey Kong robots that throw the mini Marios into the air, and typical Mario series enemies that cause you to lose the level if they destroy even one mini toy. They can be avoided in some cases or defeated by picking up the classic Donkey Kong mega hammer item and bashing them. You’ll even have to maneuver rotating canons reminiscent of the barrels that shot the Kongs to higher platforms in Donkey Kong Country. Later levels will have you re-routing other mini toys as well, representing Toad, Peach, Pauline, and even Donkey Kong, with the goal of getting each of them to their respective doors – but without the time limit on getting everyone to the exit at once.
But you’re goal is not just to get to each level’s exit; you want to collect regular coins, special coins, and cards along the way. Each card has a letter on it, and by collecting them all within a world you will unlock a bonus level that will earn you more special coins. These blue coins will allow you to unlock a multitude of levels in Rainbow Zone, a collection of side levels that are separate from the main story and have stricter rules.
The boss levels are actually old-school Donkey Kong levels with a Mario Vs. Donkey Kong twist. Donkey Kong is on a platform above with Pauline held captive, and as he throws barrels, bombs, or enemies down the screen you have to build a path for your minis to get up to a switch or bomb near Donkey Kong without getting hit. Getting to all three will cause Donkey Kong to hurry off, taking the kidnapped Pauline to the next world. During the fight, however, he will sometimes stop throwing bombs or enemies down the map to do a stomp that will disable some of the rivets you may have been using to build your way up to him, and because there is no jump button in the game quick building becomes a necessity.
Completing words will also unlock elements of them for Mini-Land Mayhem’s online component: the Construction Zone. Construction Zone is a level creation mode with an easy-to-follow tutorial. As you progress through the main game you’ll unlock more of the level creator, allowing you to build your own levels and share them via the Nintendo Wi-Fi network, including the ability to download levels created by others. Most other games’ level creation modes are too complex for children, but the ease of the tutorial and the simplicity of the tools make it a viable option for those kids who have the attention span to build. And even if you’re an adult who’s always wanted to try level creation and never has, this one may be a great starting step, and one you can take with you on the go.
Being a Mario game, there are lots of charming little things in the game that will make you smile, especially if you’re a fan of either the Mario or Donkey Kong series. The music is one: each level has a re-recorded version of an old theme as the soundtrack, like the theme from Super Mario Bros. 2, or the Donkey Kong Country theme. These familiar tunes add an extra layer of cheer to an already enjoyable game. And Nintendo wanted to continue your positive feelings toward the game even after you put the DS to sleep by having Mario yell things like, “Ow! My head!” or “Hey! Come back-a here!” as you flip the DS closed.
Once you’ve completed the main story Plus mode is unlocked, allowing you to replay the entire game on a higher difficulty. This mode changes the rules of each level, adding multiple mini characters to levels that otherwise did not have them and asking you to have them enter the exit door in a specific order, for example. It would have been a great mode to have the option of playing from the start – sort of the “adult mode” to the normal difficulty’s “kids mode” – but the normal difficulty is entertaining enough to make even older players want to push through to Plus mode.
Mini-Land Mayhem’s difficulty is set to an even balance between the inexperienced and experienced gamer, but even when it may feel too easy it retains a constant level of fun. It’s a game that will teach kids to plan several moves ahead while making sure adults’ minds don’t get rusty. Pick this one up either for yourself or your family. It will pull you in with its simplicity and keep you coming back for just one more level.