The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series is definitely not one of Nintendo’s premium franchises, but the series has been going strong since its debut on the Gameboy Advance several years ago. Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is the latest entry in the series, and while it doesn’t do anything wildly innovative, it should be noted that this is the first cross-buy game released by Nintendo. Meaning that a purchase on either the Wii U or 3DS will get you a code for a free copy on the other system. Despite not doing anything particularly new, Tipping Stars still a great puzzle game that does a nice job straddling the line between fun and frustrating.

The story certainly takes a backseat in this game, but there is a simple plot for those that want it. Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline--the very same Pauline from the original Donkey Kong arcade game--and it’s up to Mario to save her. It’s a very basic plot, even for games of this nature, but Tipping Stars is all about puzzles, not a strong narrative. This is further proven by the fact that the story is resolved after beating world six, while there are still a few more worlds to traverse. There’s no problem with not having an engaging story in a game like this, since the puzzles are fairly bite-size and perfect for just picking up and playing.

Nintendo

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars has all the basic features you’d expect out of a game with Mario in it. Multiple themed worlds, bright, colorful visuals, and most importantly, fun mechanics. Gameplay revolves around getting the different Mario, Peach, Toad or Pauline minis to march to the exit of the level. The minis, which are essentially wind-up toys, only march forward in whatever direction they’re facing, so it becomes a question of creating a proper path for them to reach the exit in a timely manner. There are also plenty of collectibles in each level, so planning a route that captures all of them before exiting becomes key for maximizing your score.

You’ll want to get the best score possible in order to earn more stars, which you can use to buy parts and other minis to build your own levels. Before you get to do any of that however, you’ll need to clear at least two of the game’s nine worlds. There are a couple of hidden worlds and some bonus worlds, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to earn stars. Each world introduces a new mechanic such as conveyer belts, elevators, or springboards to add to the level of challenge. This never feels overwhelming or unfair, since the game never packs all of them into a single level, and at most you’ll be dealing with three or four different types of obstacles at a time. This makes the difficulty progress much more naturally, and chances are you won’t be stuck on a puzzle for very long.

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Once you get a grasp on the mechanics of a particular world, solving puzzles won’t take very long, even during later levels. There’s some replay value due to all of the optional collectibles in every level, but those won’t take more than an hour or two to complete. The real replay value comes from the level creator. You can create custom levels to share with others online and other players can “tip” you stars if they enjoy them. This means that you can earn stars by creating fun or challenging levels, and give them to people whose creations you enjoy as well. This seems like a great way to increase the game’s lifespan, but in reality this feature is only useful as long as there’s an online community invested in it. For a game that appeals to a more casual audience, the chances of that seem slim at best.

Overall, Tipping Stars is a solid puzzle game that’s great for playing in small bursts, but it’ll be over before you know it. That said, if you missed earlier entries, this is a great introduction to the franchise. The puzzle-solving aspect of Tipping Stars is much more involved than a typical puzzle game, and no two solutions are ever the same. This isn’t a full release Nintendo game however, so its length and lack of robust content can be somewhat forgiven. Perhaps the level editor will become this game’s saving grace. If you’re expecting a full Mario, or even a full Nintendo game experience, you’d be better off skipping this game.

This review was completed with a purchased download of Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars for the Nintendo 3DS.