Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (Wii U eShop, 3DS eShop) Review

The embargo for this next game has just lifted as of the time of this posting. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars takes the series to new territory-- cross-platform play and cross buy functionality. Is this new frontier for the series a bold enough one to make buying either the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS version worth it? Let's find out with my review.

Reach for the Stars

At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) last year, Nintendo unveiled a Mario vs. Donkey Kong prototype that used a set of game creation tools known as the Nintendo Web Framework. The purpose of the framework is to allow developers to craft games using non-complex coding and programming languages. What this means for those of us who understand Layman's terms the best is that the Wii U has software tools that enables game creators to make games more easily. Nintendo's pet project to show off this framework is a new entry in their long-running Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars. Even though a lot of Tipping Stars is more of the same, do the added new features make the game worth buying?

The thrust of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is to guide a series of miniature wind-up toys modeled after Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Donkey Kong, and Pauline to a door serving as the goal of each level. Some levels have just one door. These levels require all available figurines to enter it within a set amount of time after the first has entered, otherwise the door will lock shut, having you fail the level. Other levels have multiple doors modeled after each figurine which they have to go into. There is no real semblance of a story to go through, so the primary motivation for succeeding in Tipping Stars is to simply see more puzzles.

Properly placing red girders is "key."
Of course it's not as simple as getting your set of wind-up Marios or whoever from point A to point B. Along the way are obstacles, enemies, and hazards that impede your progress. Combine that with the fact that to get a much coveted gold trophy you need to collect all of the coins and finish the level within a serviceable amount of seconds for a helpful time bonus, and you have a game that can be mighty perplexing and involved. It can sometimes feel akin to rubbing your stomach and patting your head simultaneously.

World four introduces pipes into the fold.
With the game primarily played on the Wii U GamePad (the TV screen shows a view of the entire level), touching and manipulating the environment is what is needed to help your crew of miniature Mushroom Kingdom stars from their beginning positions to the goal. Moving red girders from one place to another, tapping blocks to remove them from one area of the level so they can be set at another, placing springs for the minis to be launched on, and organizing pipes to transport the minis to and from various locations are all means to assist your crew of wind-up toys in reaching the goal of each level.

Discovering the proper path for your minis
to follow can take some trial and error.
There are eight worlds in this latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and they each introduce their own set of obstacles and enemies to contend with. Each new obstacle is implemented into the game at well enough of a pace that you're constantly learning and mastering mechanics simultaneously. You seldom ever feel cheated because you didn't know what an obstacle did. Instead, the quick cutscene that starts each world shows the primary obstacle of that area in action, which is mighty helpful. You get a general idea of what is to come and what to expect.

At the same time, you can also know what obstacles are to come if you've played previous games in the series because many are taken directly from past Mario vs. Donkey Kong games, some of which are implemented in the same exact numbered world. For instance, world three, much like the Nintendo DS's Mini-Land Mayhem's world three, introduces conveyor belts that automatically move the cast of minis in one direction when stepped on. A button in levels can be pressed by your stylus to alter the direction that these conveyor belts flow. This is all the while world four, you guessed it-- just like Mini-Land Mayhem, introduces pipes into the fray. It's a bit disappointing that the majority of obstacles and new level mechanics are just relics from past games.

Nope. Not going to make an "it's a jungle
out there" reference. Not going to do it.
Getting gold trophies in Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars's levels is what completionists like myself strive for, and it's enjoyable to find the optimal route to take in a given level to obtain all the coins and reach the goal in the fastest amount of time possible. Gold trophies not only give you three stars (more on those later), but they also unlock secret bonus levels that much harder than what is in the standard set of eight worlds. The more gold trophies you earn, the more bonus levels are unlocked.

You can use the analog stick on the GamePad
to scroll around larger levels.
By far the feature that will give you the most longevity out of this latest Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the ability to create your own levels. You're given a blank canvas save for the required assets of one figurine, a special Mario medallion, and the exit door. You can resize the level's horizontal and vertical boundaries either by placing objects outside of the level's boundaries or by moving a small box in the top right corner of your level.

You're given a huge toolkit of level objects to work with. Everything from the levels made by Nintendo themselves for Tipping Stars is fair game to work with. A number under each object shows how many of that object your can place. The finger icon on the top menu allows you to move around already placed objects while another icon gives you the ability to flip an object on your level. Erasing is as easy as tapping the eraser icon and then touching what you'd like to remove. If you make mistake, you can tap the undo or redo icons, which allow you to go back or forward a fair amount of steps to fix short term and slightly long term mistakes.

The level creator menu is quite intuitive.
When you're satisfied with your level, after naming it and selecting a preview photo for players to see on the level select menu, you need to play it. During your attempt, you're required to collect all of the coins in the level and safely make it to the goal. You're unable to share your level until you're able to complete it. Then, with a simple Miiverse post, your level gets posted to the Community section of the game. It can thus be played on both the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS versions of Tipping Stars.

One of my own levels, Pipe Problem.
Be sure to check it out and more under "Phil32".
Players can "yeah" your level, write comments, and, as the subtitle of the game suggests, "tip" up to five stars to a given creator. These stars you earn can go to buying exclusive themed level pieces and backgrounds to make your levels all the more original in design and aesthetics, including an ultra-expensive New Super Mario Bros. 2-inspired gold set. Tipping stars to creators is encouraged as you unlock one of many Miiverse stamps by doing so. It's a smart way to get the community engaged in critiquing user levels, and even if you don't have a creative bone in your body, you can at least have a near limitless amount of new levels to play from creators around the world and from Nintendo themselves.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars offers cross-platform play and cross buy. That is to say that if you buy either the Wii U or Nintendo 3DS version, you get the other for free. While this sounds like a fantastic deal, consider this. Either version will set you back $19.99. When compared to a past download-only entry in the series like Minis March Again, which was only $9.99, the price of Tipping Stars is double Minis March Again. This means that you're essentially paying for two copies of a game akin to Minis March Again, which isn't that special of a deal. If only Tipping Stars was priced at $9.99 like Minis March Again would there actually be a big savings here.

With double the price of the last downloadable Mario vs. Donkey Kong games and few new features to make the price worth it, it's hard to fully recommend Tipping Stars at full price. There is indeed plenty of content and replay value to be had, but it's all coated under a layer of sameness. As a product all to itself, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars delivers clever puzzles, plenty of challenges for the reflexes and the brain, and loads of longevity for creative types to create their own levels. If the aspect of having new levels created by the community or by your own is something you can get behind, then Tipping Stars is a good pickup. It just depends on whether the price of entry appeals to you or not. For many, it decidedly may not.

[SPC Says: B-]

Second Opinion:

I pretty much agree with Phil's review of the game. It's a safe yet fun level-pack sequel that utilizes almost all of the same gimmicks that its DS predecessor, Mini-Land Mayhem, did. The one thing that was truly new in the brief time I had with the game was in each world's eighth level where one of your Minis would be possessed. The goal in these levels was to save your friend by smashing the controlling mechanism with a hammer and then making your way to the stage's end. It's just a shame that there wasn't more unique elements included in the package because I thought Mini-Land Mayhem did a good job at doing things differently enough when compared to March of the Minis and Minis March Again.

And then there's the cross-buy feature. It sounds great when you first think about it, that you can buy both versions of a game for the same price, but the issue here is that the price feels like it's twice as much as you should be paying. At $19.99, we're talking about a decent-sized investment into a title that you may only want one version of. If you are one of those people that only want to play it on the Gamepad or the 3DS' screen, then you're out of luck. It's a double or nothing purchase where you get a code for the system you didn't purchase the game for. Sure, you can have two versions of the same game if you want or even give the code to a friend or family member, but again, not having that option to purchase the game at a reduced price for a single platform just strikes me as odd.

Moreover, with Minis on the Move being $9.99 in the shop, Tipping Stars just feels like it isn't delivering the same bang for your buck. If you are one of the people that loved Mini-Land Mayhem and don't mind the asking price, then by all means, go for it. It's a fun re-entry into the 2D style of gameplay that the series has recently been known for, and Nintendo themselves will be adding 100 puzzles over the course of the next year to play. If you're one of the people on the fence about this title and have no interest in owning the game on two platforms, then you might want to think about whether a $20 expansion pack sequel is worth it. Because of this, it's real hard for me to justify the price of admission to Nintendo's first foray into the world of cross-buying and much rather would've preferred having the choice of purchasing one version along with the double or nothing strategy they're going with. As it stands, I have a feeling more people will go with neither than both.

[Bean says: D+]

Both Nintendo 3DS and Wii U review copies provided by Nintendo.

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