Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem has a bit of an identity crisis. The Nintendo DS adaptation of the whimsical, animated blockbuster movie is a cleverly designed puzzle game in which you usher supervillain Gru's helpful servants through a series of treacherous obstacles. Unfortunately, the process of actually completing these devious levels may be far beyond the reach of its target audience. The challenge quickly ramps up once the fundamentals are established early on, and most of the game comprises tricky trial-and-error tests that can be maddening to finish if don't have a lot of patience. The careful planning and perfect timing needed to pass levels is compromised by the touchy controls, which don't always respond with pinpoint precision. Players looking for a serious head-scratcher will find plenty to like in Minion Madness, but it will be difficult for everyone else to get sucked into this game.
The story follows the exploits of Gru as he attempts to thwart his archnemesis Vector by using his army of loyal minions. Each world is composed of eight levels, and after you complete a section, you get a cutscene that fills in a few more details of this tongue-in-cheek plot. However, the story is conveyed in such a utilitarian way that it's difficult to enjoy the humorous proceedings. A still image is displayed on one of the screens and a wall of text on the other, but without any animation or voice acting, there isn't any charm. In fact, the license isn't very well realized in any part of Minion Mayhem. The in-game visuals are bright and cheery, but they lack any endearing touches that could have given this game a personality. Because the presentation is serviceable but uninspired, it make it difficult to appreciate the humor or be distracted from the sometimes overbearing difficulty.
The levels in Minion Mayhem are made up of 2D obstacle courses in which you must get past locked doors, spiked pits, and all sorts of other traps to be successful. You don't have direct control over you minions; rather, you tap them to make them start walking and then manipulate the environment to get them to a specific place. For instance, you may need to trigger a spring that rockets them up in the air or tap a button to extend a drawbridge. Each minion has a unique special ability as well. Sumo minions automatically dispatch enemies they come in contact with, driller minions burrow through the ground, gravity minions can walk on the ceiling, and other types of minions boast their own specific talents. When the minions bump into a wall or each other, they turn around and continue walking straight ahead until they die or reach the exit.
Because you have so little direct control over the actions of your minions, you have to carefully plan your strategy before you set them in motion. It's satisfying to correctly read the layout of the land and guide your minions through these deadly traps. But it can also be incredibly frustrating to mistime one of your taps and watch in horror as your minion marches toward a fire trap with no way to save it from its imminent death. Keeping track of all of your bumbling minions is a herculean task, and it can be aggravating when you're trying to deploy a bridge in one part of level but you need to trigger a trampoline to rescue another minion at the same time. The extreme coordination you need to make sure all of your minions are performing their proper duties is compounded by a pesky clock that makes the whole endeavor even more frantic. You only have 90 seconds to pass each level, and it takes a lot of trial and error to make sure everything runs smoothly and efficiently.
If all of this sounds chaotic, then that's because it is, but that doesn't mean there isn't fun to be had. There is a feeling of great triumph when everything clicks and you successfully make your way past a level that was giving you fits earlier. Most stages can be completed with careful consideration and lots of patience, so it usually only takes a few attempts before you understand the main problems and figure out a way around them. The later levels present serious roadblocks though, and can be maddeningly hard. However, even after you have everything running like a well-oiled machine, there are still a couple of issues that stand in your path to success. The controls are not always responsive. For instance, tapping the button to make a bridge roll out doesn't always register, and because one mistake can lead to a failed mission, it's troubling when you do everything correctly but still end up on the losing end. Also, certain stages mess with your view, randomly rotating the screen or forcing the camera to gyrate obnoxiously. This makes a hard game needlessly more difficult, and it's rather nauseating to boot.
If you can look past Minion Mayhem's issues, there's a good deal of content here. Achieving high scores on levels opens up bonus stages, and it is fun to go back to previous levels to perfect your actions. But it takes a lot of dedication to become that proficient at this challenging game. The iffy controls and sharp difficulty curve make this a tough game to get into, hiding the well-designed puzzles behind a cloud of issues. If you relish a serious challenge in your puzzle games, Minion Mayhem can be fun when everything comes together, but expect to face many frustrations along the way.