Whatever happened to good old fashioned crime and punishment, eh? You've done a crime: you do the time. Simple, straightforward and fair (you don't want to get locked up? Don't commit a crime!) These days though, it's not like that: do a crime, and more often than not you won't find yourself banged up, you'll end up doing some kind of community service, or perhaps get sent away on holiday for 'retraining' or 'finding yourself'. What has the world come to?
Why am I ranting against the liberalisation of the legal system you ask? Well, it seems that even videogames are now 'soft on crime'. Take this situation: in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, the felonious ape Donkey, annoyed at not being able to buy himself a fab new Mini Mario toy, commits a spot of breaking and entering at the Mario Toy Company and steals a bunch of the little fellas right off of the production line. Of course, he's pursued and eventually caught by our hero Mario, but does Donkey's B&E and 'taking without consent' land him in pokey? No, he actually ends up with a job at the toy factory! I ask you, what kind of message is that sending to today's youth, eh? Needless to say, the lenient treatment of Mr Kong doesn't make him a better ape, as proven when, at the grand opening of the Mini Mario-themed amusement park 'Super Mini Mario World', Donkey flips out, kidnaps Mario's gorgeous lady-friend Pauline, and imprisons her on the roof of the theme park building!
Which means, of course, that it's up to our Mario to once again (in a plotline very reminiscent of Mario and DK's very first appearance in the arcade game Donkey Kong) to chase the ape up through the various levels and rescue the girl. Only this time, he's not doing it alone. No, whereas in the original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong the Mini Marios were the rescuees, this time they're the rescuers, as the plucky plumber sends a veritable army of them into the building to track down the damsel in distress.
What this equates to, on the surface, is a game that appears to be a lot like Lemmings, in that you're directing the actions of a bunch of little people who don't really think for themselves, and will quickly land themselves in trouble if left to their own devices. Unlike in Lemmings though, the Minis, despite the title, don't just mindlessly march through the level. Instead, you can direct them individually with the stylus to start, stop, turn, jump and perform various other actions (some of which reveal themselves as the game progresses). You also - with each successive level - need to manipulate the environment around them, operating lifts, utilising and redirecting Warp pipes, hitting switches, activating conveyor belts... the list of interactive features seems to go on and on, with each new level more complex than the last.
The game - thankfully - eases you into the action in a nice, measured way, so to begin with you only have to worry about very small, simple levels and just a few Minis to command. As you move up through the game though, the levels get bigger - it's not long before the single-screen levels evolve into wider ones that you need to scroll horizontally through using either the d-pad or the A, B, X and Y buttons, and fairly soon after that you're dealing with levels that scroll both horizontally and vertically, making it far more tricky to keep an eye on the actions of all your Mini Marios. Fans of previous Mario platform games will be familiar with many of the hazards, bonuses and enemies that the Minis come across, and with nine stages on each floor, and nine floors (plus the roof) to contend with, there are plenty of stages to challenge even the most puzzle-minded gamer.
As with Lemmings, you don't actually have to save all your Mini Marios on each level (and as the game progresses, you'll find this harder and harder to do) but it's worth persevering, and even repeating a stage or two where you've lost any of the little fellas, because at the end of each floor you must face Donkey Kong in a one-on-one battle, where the Minis that you've successfully guided home over the preceding nine stages act as ammo for a dual-screen shootout. Needless to say, as you proceed higher through the building, the 'end-of-floor' battle with DK gets subsequently tougher.
There's actually very little about this game that I can fault. In fact, I can't really think of anything! The only problem I had with it was a stylus sensitivity issue when I was trying to tap the bottom-right of the screen, and it turned out that I simply hadn't calibrated my stylus properly on initial set-up. In fact gameplay-wise, I'd have to say that this title is perfectly suited to the handheld. It makes excellent use of the touch-screen interface, and the level design is such that you can pick it up and put it down whenever you like, making it perfect for playing on the move. The fact that you get as long as you like to peruse each level before the action starts, and that you can start and stop your little Minis at will, means that the action can be as frenetic (you get big score bonuses if your Minis never actually stop moving and you complete the level quickly) or as carefully studied as you like (if you get confused, simply halt all Mini Marios in their tracks and take your time to study the level again) making it perfect for all ability levels.
The wealth of levels on offer promises excellent longevity, and this is only increased by the inclusion of a 'Construction Kit' option that allows you to design your own puzzle-packed levels for testing yourself or for challenging your friends with. Add in the two-player Wi-Fi option and what you've got here is a brilliant game, and one that is an absolute must for all DS owners. Quite simply: if you've got a DS, get this!