If Nintendo has made one thing clear in the last few days, it's that they're dead serious about making eShop a real contender as the consumers preferred purchase outlet. To help them along the way, Nintendo is enlisting the help of their greatest mascot, with the eShop exclusive title Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move.
It's a risky business move to be cutting the retail chains out of this one, and by extension, a portion of their own sales. At the very least the puzzle platformer is looking good, and just may be what some need to get people on board with 3DS digital distribution.
Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DS eShop)
Minis on the Move is broken down into four main sections: Mario Main Event, Puzzle Palace, Many Mini Mayhem, and Giant Jungle. As the name implies, Mario Main Event makes up the core of the Minis on the Move experience.
While it is the latest of many games in the Mini series, Minis on the Move eschews quite a bit of the series tradition. Most notable is that you are no longer stretching tiles to get your minis from point A to B. This go around has you dragging and dropping directional squares to fill on a grid, similar to the hacking in BioShock. Remember, the Minis act autonomously, so once they start moving, you had better keep up or you'll see them fall off the edge or through a misplaced square.
Levels start out easy enough. Just drop the correct directional tiles to guide your mini to the exit, lest their suicidal selves walk off the edge of the map. Before long you'll be introduced to new mechanics, like bombs that will let you destroy tiles and replace them with more useful ones, and junk tiles that will give you a magic tile you can point in any direction, though at the cost of three of your tiles in reserve. All told, there's quite a bit of micromanaging going on, and you'll have to be quick to keep up.
From here, everything is a variant on the Mario Main Event formula. Giant Jungle plays exactly the same way, acting as a blitz mode where you have to keep picking up more time and coins for the highest score. In Puzzle Palace, you have a finite number of tiles that you'll have to make do with. And in Many Mini Mayhem, all of the grids are already filled in, but some have to be rotated to direct multiple minis at different starting points to the same end point. Again, each of these modes operate on a simple mechanic, but they ratchet up the challenge in some truly mind bending ways.
Helping this too is the 3D effect. While the puzzles I played didn't make any particular use of the 3D to solve challenges, unlike past games the world is entirely modeled in 3D with a top down view of the action. While the default view is from the side, you can use the triggers to switch angles, which I found to help quite a bit when keeping track of all the Minis in Many Mini Mayhem. If you're adverse to using 3D then, you could always use the bottom screen's mini map.
Of all of Mario's offbeat activities--karting, golf, starring in RPGs -- Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem has been hands down my favorite. Much like his platforming adventures, the concept is so simple, but manages to serve up some truly ingenious moments of puzzle goodness. Minis on the Move aims to offer same, and does it pretty well.