The grand opening of the Mini-Land amusement park is set to be a monumental day. The sun is high in a cloudless sky, the roller coasters are glistening with fresh WD40 and pesky Bowser is nowhere to be seen. To really make it a day to remember, Mario invites his girlfriend Pauline along as the guest of honour. Pauline? While this floozy might have been on the scene back when he was still known as Jumpman, that doesn't excuse the fact that our Italian plumber is courting Peach these days. Inviting his old flame as an honorary guest is one thing, but Mario really takes the biscuit when he decides to give out dolls of her to Mini-Land's first 100 customers. Rub it in Peach's face why don't you. Anyway - Mario's questionable morals aside - it's all set to be a stonking day. Things go swimmingly right up until the 101st customer rolls up: Donkey Kong, no less. After queuing for all that time, he's not too chuffed about being jipped of a doll and, in a haze of anger, decides to take the next best thing: Pauline herself. Karma's a bitch, eh Mario?
Although it's fine for Mario to run off with another woman, it's not OK for DK to run off with his, so Mario rounds up the little clockwork dolls he's made in his own image (vain much?), and sets them to work getting her back. So, not only is he a cheating narcissist, he's also too lazy to rescue Pauline himself. Thankfully, the puzzling on offer in Mini-Land Mayhem! is of a high enough calibre to forgive the Italian stallion for his two-timing shenanigans almost entirely. I still feel sorry for Peach though, poor girl.
Of course this isn't the first game to feature the little clockwork plumbers. The Minis made their début in Mario Vs Donkey Kong 2, which Mini-Land Mayhem! shares much in common with. Giving the wind-up chaps a quick tap with your stylus (there's typically two or three in a given level), will set them off on an infinite march in the direction they're facing. They'll turn the other way if they hit a wall and only stop once they reach their destination; a little wooden door with a star on it. Using just the touch screen, the idea is to safely guide the little fellas from their starting position to this door. By drawing bridges, making ladders, placing springs, moving pipes and changing the direction of escalators, players must guide each Mini safely through the level.
It's not just Mario, either. Latter challenges start involving others from the Nintenverse: mini-Toad, mini-Peach and mini-DK characters all have their own doors to get to. Things naturally start off fairly tame, but by the sixth or seventh world you're often juggling two or three different characters whilst dealing with the other numerous mechanics the game has introduced. It requires forward thinking; a plan of action to get each Mini to its door whilst collecting any coins and cards along the way. The timer doesn't start until your stylus hits the screen, so having a plan of attack in your head is crucial if you intend on getting that trophy to prove you've 'aced' the level.
The rescue mission is staged over ten areas of the park, from steely hills formed from roller coaster rails, to haunted mansions and playgrounds populated with spinning tea-cups. Each area boasts nine levels, with a bonus tenth unlocked after you collect the letters M-I-N-I-M-A-R-I-O from the other nine. At the end of each area, Mario catches up with DK, who sits atop various structures in a similar fashion to how he did back in 1981. DK's not just lobbing barrels anymore, though. Now he chucks bombs, tiki-tiki blocks and even shy-guys at the Minis, which can be only be avoided through careful placement of bridges. By creating a route to his perch, your clockwork soldiers will detonate bombs/throw rocks/send a lethal bolt of electricity to knock him out. Do it three times and job done, with DK running off and you moving on to the next area.
After each of these boss fights, new parts for the rather brilliant Construction mode become available. Here, players can create their very own levels which can then be shared with friends over WiFi. Designing a level is a puzzle in itself, as you have to be able to complete it with a trophy in order to upload it. The simple drag, drop and rotate interface makes it rather easy to throw a level together, but for those with vision, the editor allows the creation of intricate and incredibly formidable puzzles. The main game is decent enough in size, but those with a desire to stump their friends and a penchant for level design will undoubtedly find Construction mode the biggest time sink Mario Vs Donkey Kong has to offer.
Like its predecessor, Mini-Land Mayhem! is a thoughtful little puzzler combining traits from the original Donkey Kong with tower defense-esque strategising and buckets of Nintendo charm. It's one of those games that can quickly get stuck in your head if you let it. I couldn't sleep the night after playing for the first time; a little procession of Marios, with little bridges and ladders to traverse, were marching about in my imagination. Any mechanic that buries itself in your brain to this extent is the sign of an addictive game. I doubt its release will generate much of a buzz - especially with the 3DS on the way - but anybody who gives it their time will likely fall for its endearing aesthetic, intuitive UI and robust puzzles.