The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series has been a steady, if unspectacular stalwart of Nintendo’s handheld output for more than a decade, and over that time it has established a distinct personality. Its newest entry may have seen a Wii U release alongside its portable version — but Tipping Stars is a game perfectly suited to gaming on the go.
At its core, Tipping Stars is a riff on Lemmings; players are tasked with helping simple-minded robots (based on characters from the Mario franchise) towards the designated stage exit. Once they start walking, they won’t stop, so expect to use a variety of tools to manipulate their environment into a safe, walkable path.
These tools can range from a simple girder that acts as a bridge or a makeshift blocking wall, to jump pads that will propel characters between elevations and across gaps. The iconic hammer power-up even makes an appearance to rid the robots of the influence of a villainous monkey.
The game’s biggest deviations from the Lemmings formula is that no amount of lost walkers is acceptable. Of course, there’s far smaller quantities of character to look after in this game, but combined with the fact that each of the minis in play needs to reach the exit within mere seconds of each other to avoid failing the stage, the experience can be quite punishing at times.
Even as early as World 2, stages start getting rather long. Frustrations arise when characters are traveling around the map, but aren’t even on the same screen — and if any of them fall afoul of an obstacle, it’s straight back to the beginning of the stage. This isn’t a terribly difficult game for the most part, but certain levels can work the player’s nerves.
However, aside from the odd difficulty spike, there’s a well-considered level of challenge at play. While it’s no struggle to pass most levels, the real meat of the game is earning the full three stars in each stage. This requires perfect control of the minis, as rather than heading straight for the exit, the robots will need to venture around the entirety of the map collecting coins and medals — and all under time constraints.
The three-star system will be very familiar to anyone who plays mobile games. It works well here — so well, in fact, that it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see some reworked version of Tipping Stars among Nintendo’s first run of smartphone releases.
A truly vast amount of content contributes to the game’s pick-up-and-play nature. Scores of highly replayable levels make for a very solid foundation, but there’s endless possibility for creative players to use the intuitive stage designer to create and share their own content. This tool is really very simple to use; I’ve found similar modes in other games to be rather unwieldy, but here I was putting together my own challenges in a matter of minutes. Here’s hoping level creation is just as well realized in Mario Maker.
This isn’t a game that’s designed for ten-hour gaming binges. Instead, it’s far more suited to fifteen minute bursts here and there. It’s a puzzle game that’s meant to be picked at, rather than obsessed by. This isn’t a criticism, as it seems that the title has been designed with this sort of player engagement in mind.
It does, however, prompt questions of the game’s price. Tipping Stars occupies the awkward space between the pricing of a retail release and a downloadable, and despite offering up masses of content, it’s a little too simplistic to fully warrant its cost. In fact, this is a rare situation where players might prefer to buy more levels as DLC further down the line, rather than pay for so much content up front. There’s even a case for it to be a free-to-play experience in the style of the recently released Pokemon Shuffle.
Tipping Stars may not live up to the standards of Nintendo’s all-time classics, but it’s certainly an above-average puzzle game. If the core gameplay gets its hooks in, it can be difficult to pull yourself away — but a high price point might be the biggest drawback of an otherwise solid title.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is available now for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Game Rant reviewed the 3DS version.