Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Plod-along puzzler
Score 6  Clock score of 6
Buy from Amazon

I've been on a puzzle kick lately. I attribute that to playing the 60 hour epic Infinite Space and having to take just as many hours coming down from that high. What I love about the Nintendo DS is its instant on/off and games like Harvest Moon: Frantic Farming or Picross 3D are perfect for jumping in and out quickly. Next up on my list of puzzlers to try was Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!, the fourth game in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series that began on the Game Boy Advance.

I actually thought that this was the second Mario vs. Donkey Kong game, believing that the DSiWare game, Minis March Again, was the first. Surprise surprise, there were two previous: Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the GBA and March of the Minis on the DS. I think I missed out on all these due to me not reading Nintendo Power for a few years, how else do you hear about these curious yet under-the-radar kind of games?

Mini-Land Mayhem pits, just like the name says, Mario against Donkey Kong in an epic struggle to rescue Pauline, Mario's original crush. Mario doesn't feel like getting his hands dirty though (being a plumber and all), so he sends a bunch of robot mini Marios to do his bidding. But they're dumb, like Lemmings, and simply walk in a straight line until they hit something and then turn around. They'll climb the first ladder they run into or trod up stairs, but that's about it.

Can Nintendo really publish four titles with this basic premise in the span of just six years? (haha, of course they can, they're Nintendo) Here's my full review of my first experience with the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series in Mini-Land Mayhem.

Mario vs Donkey Kong Mini Land Mayhem LevelGameplay: You can't have a great puzzle game without great gameplay, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with it like there is in Frantic Farming, Mini-Land Mayhem just isn't anything to write home about. The stages fly by quickly with little challenge forcing you to actually puzzle things out. New gameplay concepts are doled out very slowly (every eight stages) and are usually just variations on the same thing. The only thing I really looked forward to was the next battle against Donkey Kong.

The actual gameplay is pretty simple, you're presented with a stage that features some mini Marios, an exit, maybe some enemies, coins, parts of the level to interact with, and some other things to collect. To beat a level you need to get all the mini Marios to the exit within a few seconds of each other, so once one mini Mario walks into the exit, you've started the countdown to get the rest in quickly. Like I said in the introduction, the mini Marios are dumb. They just walk forward and will only turn around if they bump into something or someone. The first half of the 70 levels or so require little thought, just start off the Marios and make sure their path can complete.

As the game progresses, there are a few tough stages that actually had me scratching my head. These usually had the mini Marios spread out at the beginning so it wasn't just a simple task of fire and forget. The difficult stages were relatively few and far between though, and whenever it felt like they were hitting their stride on great design, there'd be another joke of a level. Due to the relatively low difficulty, I challenged myself to earn a trophy in every level which means collecting every collectable and doing it quickly. I fear without earning trophies Mini-Land Mayhem would have been extremely easy as you don't have to worry about time at all.

The Donkey Kong boss battles are pretty fun though, as it's a combination of old school Donkey Kong meeting Mario vs. Donkey Kong. You're challenged with climbing three mini Marios up next to Donkey Kong while he's tossing barrels and enemies at you. It's a frantic struggle, especially if you're going for the trophy as you can't lose a single mini Mario. The final battle in the game is pretty noteworthy too, especially for clasic gamers who remember having to spend a few minutes learning the boss pattern before even having a chance at surviving.

There are quite a few unlockable levels available along with the opportunity to replay the main stages on hard mode. I gave them all a try, but by the time I beat the game I was ready to move on.

Mario vs Donkey Kong Mini Land Mayhem Boss HammerFun Factor: Since the difficulty level never amps up during the main game, Mini-Land Mayhem becomes more of a marathon of average fun. It's satisfying to collect all the trophies by beating each stage's point threshold, but when I easily earn the trophy on my first try, it's a bit disheartening. I know that I didn't beat every level optimally, but few require you to even come close.

As I mentioned, the new gameplay concepts are generally just variations on each other. There's the ramp, the ladder, the springboard, all pretty basic stuff. While not original, my favorite item was the conveyer belt that is essentially just a ramp that can be directed one way or the other depending on which way you dragged it. The hardest level for me was a stage that featured the belts heavily along with mini Mario eating robotic Donkey Kong, so I guess I have a soft spot for the conveyor belts.

Graphics and Sound: Mario vs. Donkey doesn't take any risks on either sound or video. The game looks and sounds simplistic. There's no 3D graphics present and no attempt at any kind of unique graphical effect. Yes, this is a puzzle game and it gets the job done perfectly, but it's just kind of boring. The game doesn't use the top screen for gameplay at all except when battling Donkey Kong, which seems like a great waste. I think some of my complaints on gameplay could have been alleviated with some unique use of the top screen of the Nintendo DS.

Story: Thankfully, the developers didn't try to cram an elaborate story into Mini-Land Mayhem. Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline, Mario chases after him through an amusement park. I don't need anything else to enjoy a puzzle game.

Overall: 6

I thought I would enjoy Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem more than I did, but it just never evolved very far from where it started. You could basically place any level in any order and you wouldn't really notice a large difficulty shift, which is disappointing. I appreciate all the extra levels that are unlocked along the way, but after more than 70 stages through the main game, I was burned out by the time I got around to them. If you're looking for a decent distraction from something else, Mini-Land Mayhem will deliver, but it fails at really excelling to something great. The game is good, but if this is the fourth game in the series, color me unimpressed.