Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis Hands-On
We play through the first few worlds of this stylus-powered platformer from Nintendo.
Clockwork Mini-Mario toys are so desirable that, in 2004's Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy Advance, the titular ape stole an entire factory's supply after realizing that they were out of stock in stores. In the upcoming DS sequel to that game, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, Mario has made so much money with his line of miniature toys that he decides to open a Super Mini Mario World theme park. The grand opening, as seen in the game's intro movie, is an extravagant celebration with plenty of familiar faces in attendance, but it all goes horribly wrong when an enraged Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline and takes her to the top floor of the park. Your mission, predictably, is to rescue her. Less predictable, though, is the fact that you won't be assuming control of Mario--rather, you'll be in charge of a small army of his wind-up toys.
Super Mario Mini World is composed of eight or nine themed floors, and on each one you'll find nine levels and a boss fight. Your goal in each level is simply to get all of your Mini-Marios to the exit within a time limit, and as you avoid all manner of traps and enemies en route you'll be able to score bonus points and unlock minigames by collecting gold coins and such. The gameplay is somewhat reminiscent of Lemmings--once you set the Mini-Marios in motion they'll just keep walking and walking until they bump into something, fall off something, or worse still, get killed by something. The only instructions that you're able to give them using the stylus are move left or right, stop, and jump. The game isn't nearly as simple as those controls make it sound, though, because you're also able to manipulate environmental objects such as blocks, switches, elevators, conveyor belts, warp pipes, and faucets.
In the early levels, many of the puzzles involve using moveable "pink blocks" to build bridges over hazards. Placing pink blocks is as easy as tapping the screen in the space where you want them to appear, but the catch is that you need to take blocks from another area of the level before you can use them. This makes some of the puzzles quite tricky because your Marios rarely all start at the same point in a level, and while you can certainly deal with getting them to the exit one at a time, you won't score any bonus points for speed if you play that way.
As you progress through the game, you'll be introduced to lots of new hazards and environmental features, and you'll even find power-ups that grant your Mini-Marios some familiar abilities for a short time. Hammer and Sunflower power-ups, for example, can be used to destroy or incapacitate enemies, but in March of the Minis there are often far more ingenious ways to deal with or even utilize your adversaries. Shy Guys, for example, make excellent moving platforms over floors of spikes if you stand on their heads. Many enemies can also be taken out of the equation simply by manipulating the floors, walls, and elevators around them. In one of the levels that we played, for example, a nasty-looking lobster was patrolling close to the exit and making it impossible for our Marios to reach it. Using an elevator switch on the touch screen, we were able to transport the lobster to another part of the level where it posed no threat.
After beating all nine of the levels on a themed floor, you'll have to face off against Donkey Kong in a boss battle of sorts before you're able to move to the next level. The boss battles that we've played to date involved firing Mini-Marios from a cannon on the touch screen in an attempt to hit DK on the upper screen. In the first boss battle, Kong was moving between three windows and tossing bombs and barrels down toward us. When launching our finite supply of Mini-Marios one at a time, we not only had to aim for the correct window, but also make sure that none of our clockwork cannonballs came to an untimely end after colliding with one of Kong's projectiles. The second boss battle played out in much the same way, except that the only way for us to cause Kong any harm was to rebound our Mini-Marios off walls and land them on palm trees so that they could drop coconuts down onto his moving platform. It sounds a little complicated, but the gameplay, while quite challenging, is extremely easy to pick up.
In addition the story mode levels included in the game, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis boasts a level editor tool with which you can create new levels to share with your friends using the DS's wireless capabilities. We look forward to bringing you more information on the game as soon as it becomes available.
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