Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Buy More amiibo!
Nintendo created amiibo, figurines of Nintendo characters that can be scanned into games to unlock features, to compete with other “toys-to-life” games such as Skylanders and Disney Infinity. While amiibo are nice collectibles, they are rarely used in an engrossing way. Nintendo’s first game requiring amiibo, amiibo tap: Nintendo’s Greatest Bits, was nothing more than glorified game demos. Its second foray was Animal Crossing: amiibo Festival, which merely used the figures as board game pawns. Neither of these titles even came close to matching the thrill of competitors’ games in which scanning a toy allowed you to play as that character throughout the game. Finally, Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge arrived onto the Wii U and 3DS as a third attempt at being an amiibo-required game as well as a sequel to the long-running Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.
Although Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge plays similarly to previous entries in the MvDK series, the catch is that this game requires amiibo to play as certain characters. In fact, until you scan an amiibo, you can’t even get past the title screen. Upon starting the game, you are greeted with the character whom you’ve unlocked through your amiibo. If you use a compatible character, which includes 10 Mario and Donkey Kong series characters (sorry Wario fans!), then a robotic Mini version of him or her comes to life. If you scan any other amiibo aside from these choices, you instead activate Mini Spek, a plain robot who doesn’t unlock any exclusive content. Note that any version of a character’s amiibo should work. For instance, Yarn Yoshi, Skylanders Hammer Slam Bowser, and 25th Anniversary Mario unlock their corresponding Minis.
Regardless of which character you’ve chosen, core gameplay is similar: Guide Minis to their destination using the touch screen. The Minis move on their own, and you can’t actually control them aside from tapping them to give them a speed boost. Instead, you control elements within the stage by touching them with your stylus. For example, you can make platforms and walls by connecting two ends of a girder. You can also tap objects to activate or deactivate them, which may look like rearranging springs to help bounce Minis upwards or configuring where pipes lead Minis. Resources are limited, so you will have to deactivate some objects before you can activate others, or collect more girders/springs along the way. Minis are always on the move, so the challenge is in solving the stage’s puzzles while ensuring that your Minis are always on a safe and correct path. Each of the dozen base game stages introduces a new element that you must learn how to effectively use. However, none of these core elements are novel for anyone who has played any previous game in the franchise. The uninspired gameplay will do little to impress series veterans.
The real fun comes in using the special amiibo characters. Each character (except Mini Spek) has a unique ability. For example, Yoshi can eat enemies, Mario performs wall-jumps, Bowser can do a butt-stomp, and Bowser Jr. can travel on spikes using his Clown Car. During normal stages, these abilities will only really help you get collectible amiibo cards. Each card can only be collected by the character who’s pictured on it, so it’s usually obvious where you can use your special moves. It makes these unique attributes feel like afterthoughts as opposed to true game changers, at least during the base game. This decision is a result of requiring that any character can beat every level. I would have liked it if they had instead implemented multiple routes, making characters stand out while still allowing completion with any character. However, this game instead opts to present a simpler stage layout with one equally accessible path. Besides gathering cards, amiibo characters can also go through doors with their picture displayed. These doors take you to the most exciting part of the game, the exclusive character worlds.
Each door takes a character to a set of four levels that only he or she can enter. Although these levels are gated off unless you have certain amiibo, they lead to the most entertaining moments in the game. These exclusive stages incorporate characters’ abilities more seamlessly than in regular levels. Not only that, but each exclusive world introduces brand new stage elements that are only found within its 4 levels. These new features are fresh and exciting, changing up gameplay drastically. They also fit within the world’s theme, usually referencing the character and the games they hail from. For instance, Yoshi’s (Island) World has eggs that can be fired and ricocheted off walls, Luigi’s (Mansion) World includes Boos and blocks that can be made transparent by lighting or blowing out candles, and Rosalina’s (Galaxy) World features Pull Stars that bring her into their gravitational pulls when activated. Even Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong borrow mechanics from the Donkey Kong Country series such as Blast Barrels and Mine Carts. Each stage builds upon its own mechanics as well as the elements established in the base game for some of the most clever gameplay seen in the series yet. Although I’m not the biggest fan of Minis games, I had genuine fun learning these new mechanics and integrating them with characters’ abilities.
All of this fun comes at a price, however. Although the game is technically free-to-download, you must have the appropriate amiibo to play with particular characters. One Mario series character will unlock a dozen levels in the base game as well as his or her exclusive world. After beating everything, you technically don’t need to enter any level you’ve previously completed aside from collecting amiibo cards and going through character-specific doorways. This means that each amiibo from here on out will only unlock 4 levels. Although they’re fun levels, the low amount of content you unlock with each figure hardly justifies their purchase. Additionally, you have to manually scan in an amiibo every time you want to switch characters. This tedious action prevents you from just borrowing an amiibo to unlock stages once. You essentially have to own the amiibo or persuade an extremely nice collector to lend you their precious figurines. This makes the price to value ratio utterly ridiculous considering how expensive they can get.
It would have been preferable if this game had a standard eShop price that included all levels. At the very least, it would have been nice if the base game was included as a free-to-play demo with amiibo unlocking the more interesting features. As it stands, this game is simply not accessible for many people who don’t have the required amiibo, which is a shame considering how entertaining it can be.
Graphics and Sound
The game has a simple 2D artstyle that looks very similar to previous MvDK games. In fact, this game doesn’t look that much nicer than its DS entries. Both Wii U and 3DS versions have similar graphics with Wii U producing only slightly better graphics. In both versions, you can see the whole screen on the top screen (or TV in Wii U’s case), but it can end up looking very tiny depending on how big the stage is.
The music is similar to previous affairs as well, with reused tunes making up the base game’s soundtrack. The real treat lies in the character exclusive stages, where remixes of popular songs play from Super Mario Bros. 2, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country, and other Mario series games. Sound effects are all appropriate as well, with plenty of mechanic and robotic noises.
The base game, not taking into account amiibo exclusive stages, is only about an hour or two long. Each character-exclusive world adds another 20-30 minutes or so to the overall time. Stages are meant to be replayed for high scores and gold trophies, which ask players to collect all the coins and beat the stage in the fastest possible time. You will have to revisit stages with certain characters to collect amiibo cards to get 100%. Depending on how many of these cards you collect, you may also find some hidden bonuses that extend the life of this game and utilize the exclusive stage mechanics in even more novel ways. Overall, this game is fairly short, even with every stage unlocked.
Mini Mario & Friends amiibo Challenge is an interesting amiibo-requiring installment that ultimately fails to live up to fans’ expectations of what an “amiibo game” should be. As its most positive aspect, the stages that amiibo characters unlock contain some of the most engaging mechanics seen in any Mario vs. Donkey Kong game. However, as fun as the exclusive stages are, this experience is hardly in the same domain as games like Skylanders that truly incorporate its toys in a compelling way. Instead, this game is merely pay-walled by these pricey figures yet offers so little in return. If you don’t have any amiibo, there’s no need to even download this game. If you have at least one of the amiibo, you can play the simple base game, more so if you have a compatible character. However, getting more figurines for this game alone is hardly a justifiable purchase. Those who already have a complete compatible bundle of amiibo will find a decently fun game that acts as more of a bonus for having such a hefty collection.
What are your thoughts on Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge? What do you think about the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series in general? How do you feel about this game requiring amiibo? What are your thoughts on amiibo and what should Nintendo do with them? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Note: The copies used for this review were the Wii U and 3DS versions. Every compatible amiibo was used for this review.