Mario vs Donkey Kong games are usually great fun to play. There have been a lot of them over the years, and the reason they continue to be fresh and sell so much is because each game experiments with a brand new concept that adds a further riff to the original formula. Mario vs Donkey Kong, as it is now, is almost a world away from the original game on the Gameboy Advance. And yet, it still remains uniquely recognizable as nothing but what it is.
Like all of its predecessors, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars also experiments with something new. However, this time, the core experiment doesn’t seem to be something within the game, but rather, something related to how they are distributed. You see, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is the first Nintendo published game (though there are more coming in the future, and third party games are already taking advantage of this infrastructure) that is Corss Buy- you purchase a copy of it on either Wii U or 3DS, and you get a copy of it on the other system for free.
It’s something we’ve wanted Nintendo to do for a very long time, especially after seeing just how good the ecosystem that Sony has built up among its PlayStatipon devices is. It also fuels the hope that a proper account system with no hardware based restrictions may be coming to Nintendo some time in the future.
Given all of that, one would say that there is an almost bested interest in ensuring that Tipping Stars is successful- after all, if it is, then Nintendo will be more likely to do Cross Buy games in the future, won’t it? But assessing the game for that, rather than for what it is or how it plays, would be disingenuous and a disservice to our readers. Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars may be progressive (for Nintendo) in terms of how it is distributed, but it is first and foremost a video game. Any assessment of it must be done on those grounds.
So, how good a video game is it then, exactly?
"It's a very simple premise, but it has potential to be really devilish, as more and more factors are thrown into the mix."
Like its predecessors, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a puzzle game. Also like its predecessors, the gameplay now mostly resembles Lemmings. You guide an army of windup toys based on the Mario universe through increasingly difficult levels, while trying to collect all the bonuses along the way, and also trying to avoid death. It’s a very simple premise, but it has potential to be really devilish, as more and more factors are thrown into the mix.
Unfortunately, that rarely happens. Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is mostly a game without teeth. Throughout the entirety of its six worlds with eight levels each, the game mostly remains easy enough that the solution becomes apparent quickly enough, with truly difficult levels only rearing their head in the last dozen or so levels. Those last twelve levels can be diabolical, and offer a hint at what this game might have been, had Nintendo not perhaps been so afraid of alienating the younger demographic (it is assumed).
The final bonus levels that are unlocked upon completing the short main campaign are harder still, and show what happens when Nintendo isn’t afraid to challenge the player. They continue to throw more and more new concepts into the mix, and create delightfully challenging courses that require every ounce of your brainpower to get through. The problem is, these levels, along with the last few levels of the main campaign, take far too long to get to, and are still outnumbered by the disappointingly easier levers in the game. Their existence also makes the squandering of all of that potential in the earlier levels harder to swallow.
"To be fair, for what it is, Tipping stars is actually great. "
To be fair, for what it is, Tipping stars is actually great- the levels, as mentioned before, might be easy for more sophisticated or older gamers, but younger gamers will lap them up. Much like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, this seems to be a game targeted chiefly at younger players, and in that context, it is a game that shines, a game that does what it sets out to do very well.
All is not lost if you’re a veteran of puzzle games, either. Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars includes a very straightforward, but robust, stage editor, that lets you make and share your own levels online. This is what adds more replayibility to the otherwise rather short game- there are countless levels to be found online, and unlike the levels that the game itself has to offer, a lot of them are actually hard, and not afraid to test your mettle.
Levels that are uploaded can also be rated by players (this is where Tipping Stars gets its name from), and getting these ‘Tips’ unlocks more tools still in the level creator workshop. It’s a great, self reaffirming process, and more than the main campaign, it adds incentive for you to keep returning to the game.
"Unlike previous Mario vs Donkey Kong games, which were mostly effortless recommendations, Tipping Stars is a game where the recommendation comes with a lot of caveats."
As a younger gamer’s first puzzle game, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars shines. Its value is enhanced further by the fact that it has a lot of content thanks to the level editor, and that it also challenges players to come up with their own creations, testing their spatial reasoning skills further still. For older players, the value is significantly less- the bulk of the main campaign is far too easy, although once it gets going, its appeal is hard to deny. The level editor creates an incentive to keep players of all ages sticking around.
Unlike previous Mario vs Donkey Kong games, which were mostly effortless recommendations, Tipping Stars is a game where the recommendation comes with a lot of caveats. As long as you keep those in mind, and keep your expectations tempered, there is no reason to not get the game at all. For what it is, Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is well made and a lot of fun.
This game was reviewed on Nintendo 3DS.
Later levels can be challenging, robust level editor with sharing capabilities, excellent puzzle game for younger players
Most of the campaign is disappointingly easy, the main campaign content can be completed in just a few hours