Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2
Posted 29 Mar 2007 at 18:41 by Mark Cullinane
|"The Mario motif is a reassurance of distinguished game design from Nintendo, but what marks its importance is how it reworks conventional gameplay."|
There are many reasons why the DS has managed to outshine Sony's PlayStation Portable thus far. In my book though, I've always believed that the main reason for the continued success of Nintendo's dual-screened handheld is that it knows exactly what portable games are all about. They're not about vast 3D worlds, interminable loading times and pixel-perfect ports from home console versions. They're about pick-up-and-play fun, accessible, quick and addictive designs. The DS' roster of such titles is already bulging, but it's time to add Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2 to that list.
Anyone who remembers the entertaining Mario Vs. Donkey Kong back on the Game Boy Advance a couple of years back will surely have been looking forward to this one- the smart level design, coupled with Mario's responsive controls and acrobatic moves endeared the original title to many. It may come as a suprise then, to learn that for the sequel, NTSC (developers of Metroid Prime Hunters, amongst other titles) have dramatically altered the formula beyond recognition. It makes for an entirely different experience- one that some, but not all, will prefer to the original.
Describing Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 as a platform game, or even as a puzzler, is just plain inaccurate. What it is though, is an unusual amalglam of the two, with a dash of Lemmings on the side.
The game doesn't actually feature Mario, but rather the wind-up mechanical Mini Marios, first seen in the original game. The primary aim, in true Lemmings style, is to guide them across a series of obstacles to the level's exit. The real twist, though, is in the controls- because Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 is entirely controlled via the DS' stylus. You don't actually have direct control over any of the characters in the game- rather you interact with the Minis by prodding them with your stylus. A quick tap will wake up the Mini Mario from its mechanised slumber. A sideways swipe of the stylus left or right causes it to move in the desired direction, while an upwards swipe will make it jump. The controls are elegant, simple and effective. You'll be controlling multiple Minis simultaneously, and although things can get hectic, the controls are rarely an issue at all. The levels are filled with an array of typically devious obstacles, of course- including lifts, pipes and moving platforms, not to mention numerous enemies that result in immediate destruction of your Mini on impact. You can also use the stylus to interact with many of environmental obstacles to help guide the wind-up Marios to the exit, whether its activating lifts, or turning water pipes.
Presentation-wise, its no surprise that March of the Minis scores highly- this is coming from the team behind the technically excellent Metroid Prime Hunters after all. A series of high-quality FMVs intersperse the action, and although the story is pure Mario fluff, it's great to see a developer go all-out with such high production values. The in-game graphics are eye-pleasing, too: simple, colourful and entirely consistent with the game's light-hearted theme. Each world boasts a different environment, with different types of 'puzzles' and enemies in each. Thankfully, NSTC have seen fit to jettison the pre-rendered characters from the original game in favour of traditional sprites. There's nothing here graphically that wouldn't trouble a Game Boy Advance, but that never has been the point of the DS. Audio-wise, the compositions are a little different to the standard Mario platforming fare- more upbeat, though considerably more cheesy. There's little to love, though little to hate either. The sound effects, though, are pin-sharp and fulfil their purpose effectively. In an amusing touch, closing the DS' lid results in an intentionally muffled voice sample of Mario shouting at the player. Great stuff.
One of the most impressive aspects of the title is that while it remains a single-player only experience, NSTC have ensured that March of the Minis offers a surprising amount of longevity. There are over 100 levels on offer, not including boss fights. But it is the winning combination of the high-score incentive, customisation and sharing options that really set this title apart.
The game's relatively easy difficulty level is counterbalanced by the emphasis on high-scores, which will keep the hardcore happy. Even the most inept of gamers will have little trouble breezing through the majority of the levels on offer, but the real challenge here is to achieve gold medals, with speed, item-collecting and number of Mini Marios saved being the determining factors when your points score is tallied up at the end of each level. Getting all gold medals is no easy task, and trying for a higher score is compulsively entertaining.
The inclusion of a level editor is another pleasing addition. The stylus input makes designing your own levels beautifully intuitive. Progressing through the game gives you access to more and more 'pieces' to use in the level editor. It's a fine diversion that is welcome to see. Of course, designing levels wouldn't be all that exciting unless you were able to send them to others, right? March of the Minis allows players to send and receive levels via local wireless, or through the Wi-Fi Connection service. Even better is the ability to download extra levels off Nintendo themselves- a rare example of the Big N offering downloadable content to games.
All in all, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2 is a well-rounded package, but it is by no means perfect. Yet, the game does very little wrong per se- it's solid, entertaining stuff. But perhaps that's all it is.
It's fun, but not rip-roaringly brilliant. It's original, but not ground-breakingly so. The concept is sound, and so is the execution- but it's just not hugely exciting.
Mario Vs. Donkey Kong 2 is the very definition of ideal handheld fodder. It's not essential by any means- rather, it's the sort of title you'd buy during a drought of decent games, or just for passing the time on journeys. It's a title much more suited to short bursts rather than sustained periods of play. It's hard not to like March of the Minis- but it's not easy to love it either.
N-Europe Final Verdict
An accomplished, feature-packed puzzler-cum platformer that feels right at home on the DS. Not essential, but you won't regret the purchase.
Great touchscreen controls
Plenty of content
Not as fun as you might think
No multiplayer modes at all