Consider the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, from Nintendo, to be the thinking person’s Super Mario Bros. It features miniature versions of familiar characters—such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Princess Peach—as well as elements borrowed from the characters’ respective series: pipes that transport Mario from one place to another, power-ups that give Mario special powers, etc. The big difference for players, however, is that the Super Mario Bros. series traditionally relied on dexterous thumbs and twitchy reflexes for success. By comparison, the latest in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars, is more of a puzzle game, and one that emphasizes strategy over button-mashing (although there are moments in which split-second timing is necessary).
Each level in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars consists of multiple stages, and the goal is to guide a pair of Mini Marios—or a Mini Mario plus Mini Princess Peach or another Nintendo character—to the exit. Naturally, there are plenty of obstacles, including spiky floors, Shy Guys, even Donkey Kong himself, who doesn’t throw barrels this time so much as Mini Mario! Players get to survey the landscape, and then using either the Wii U touch pad or the 3DS stylus, can tap on strategic points to raise, lower, and extend girders to act as bridges and ramps; make trampolines appear and disappear; and more before sending Mini Mario on his way. A requirement for victory is getting the entire team to the exit, which sometimes means starting the Minis at different times or from different points on the screen. However, some care is needed, since all of the Minis must reach the exit within a few seconds of one another, or it’s game over.
Despite the trickiness, the action itself—at least during the first few levels—rarely lasts more than a few minutes, so it’s easy to brush off any setbacks and start again. There is also significant fun beyond the core game, as players can create their own levels and share them, even between the Wii U and 3DS versions. Overall, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars may be more puzzle-oriented than what some Mario or Donkey Kong fans fancy; nevertheless, it features the kinetic action and lighthearted animation that Nintendo is known for, making it highly inviting for Nintendo aficionados in a more contemplative mood.