Thankfully, Mario and Donkey Kong worked out their differences so we could all play this lovely game.
Mario and Donkey Kong's rivalry has evolved over the years. In the early days, Mario fought against the big ape by completing platforming challenges in the classic Donkey Kong and its follow-ups, Donkey Kong '94 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Somewhere along the line, Mario started using robotic mini versions of himself (and eventually others) to combat DK's machinations in a Lemmings-style fashion. After wrestling with the monkey for a few more years, they reached some sort of agreement and worked together to solve puzzles in Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move for the 3DS eShop. The game marks the third complete series shift, and this time, the result is basically Pipe Mania on acid.
The basic gameplay premise is that you have to lay out square panels to lead Minis through different grid-based stages. It isn't just that simple, though. You can place bombs to blow up panels, manipulate certain panels to change their direction, and even enter a frantic screen-tapping sideshow to give yourself more time. You even have the carrot of collecting three medals along your path for full completion of each level.
The main game is split into four similar yet very different types. Mario's Main Event is the introductory mode in which you guide a Mini around stages by placing tiles that are generated over time in a sidebar. That sidebar can only fit five tiles at once, and if it overflows, you lose. Being careful about not backing your Mini into a corner is also important, since if they fall off the stage, it's game over.
My favorite mode was definitely Puzzle Palace, as it is the most structured. You are given a set number of tiles that you have to use to lay out the ideal path for your Mini. Many Mini Mayhem features multiple Minis, and you have to move the panels that are already on the grid to succeed. Each of those three modes contains 80 levels. The final one is a big one: Giant Jungle. While it only includes three stages, each is absolutely massive. For example, you have 10 medals per level instead of the three in the other levels, and it scales more than appropriately for the increase.
The greatest part about each of the four main modes is that they all play to different strengths and preferences. I prefer determined puzzles, so I dug the Puzzle Palace stages, but if you like the challenge of negotiating a huge environment, multiple characters, or juggling two tasks at once, then you might prefer one of the other ones. The varied play styles make it incredibly addictive; I often would bounce between the different modes when I got frustrated or tired of one. Still, the overarching mechanics are all very similar to each other, and the experience does get a little stale over so much similar content.
The mini-games also add to the heaping amounts of variety in Minis on the Move. Four are included and they each have a few stages each, though the focus is much more on high scores than completion. Two of the games rely on using the touch screen as a reel; one is a literal fishing game, while the other tasks you with twisting a knob to raise and lower a platform that Mario is on. The reel control on the touch screen is really frustrating, especially in the fishing game, so much so that it is sort of like the analog stick disasters of early Mario Party games.
The other two mini-games – one being a shooting gallery and the other being kind of like Boom Blox – make for the best use of 3D as a gameplay mechanic I've ever seen. The shooting gallery features three distinct layers that the targets move around in, and with the 3D on, it is infinitely easier to aim. In 2D, the other one was borderline impossible to aim your arcing shot to blow up the collection of cubes on the touch screen. It was only when I turned on the 3D that aiming was a breeze and my skill at the game improved dramatically. While none of these mini-games are lasting experiences on their own, as a side to Minis on the Move's stellar main modes, they are all welcome even if some of them are poor.
By itself, across more than 180 stages, Minis on the Move is a very lengthy experience. If you aim to see everything the game has to offer, get ready to sink a minimum of 10 hours into it. That is without factoring in the dynamite level creation and sharing tools. Level creation has been a staple of the Minis games, but it has never been this intuitive and easy to do. You can lay out your own dastardly levels using the same grid you play the game on, with one of the most instinctual level creators I've ever seen. You can also easily share your creations online.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move is a fresh take on a series that seemed routed in a certain style of design. It is a top-shelf downloadable experience that is even better if you like Pipe Mania (or Pipe Dream or the hacking game in BioShock or whatever you know it as). While none of the individual modes would stand up as a central attraction, the whole experience makes for one fantastic eShop game.