Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars Review

There has always been a demand for puzzle games. Whether it’s retro puzzlers like Tetris or Dr. Mario, or titles from the recent resurgence of easily accessible brain teasers like Angry Birds or Candy Crush, there is no shortage of options within the genre. Nintendo has once again resurrected the 1981 classic arcade game, Donkey Kong, and brought to life some of the most beloved video game characters of all time in a simple, easy to grasp puzzle game. But with so many competitors available right at our fingertips (and often for free) on our phones and tablets, is Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars a puzzler worth having around?

At its core, Tipping Stars is a fairly simple game that more or less shares the same premise as previous entries in the series. Nintendo has reached back in time to recreate an experience that mixes the classic puzzle-solving action of the original Donkey Kong with a new look and modernized features.

The object is to get mini versions of Mario, Peach, and others to the door at the end of each level, with awesome classic Mario and DK music urging you on. The player, using the Wii U Gamepad or 3DS touchscreen, must add and remove girders, springs, conveyor belts, and other items to reach the goal. There are coins scattered across each level as well, and if you want to get the highest score possible, you must get all the coins and reach the finish line in a timely manner. At the conclusion of each level, your score is calculated and you are rewarded with one to three stars, depending on your performance. Where do the stars come into play? We’ll get there.

One aspect that adds a fair amount of challenge in each level is that, usually, multiple minis must exit via the same door, and they all need to go through it at more or less the same time. You only have about four seconds to get all those minis through the door, and if you don’t, then you lose. This requires a certain amount of planning, quick reflexes, and proper execution in order to succeed at each puzzle. Even still, you’ll likely find yourself breezing through most of the puzzles in World 1, and probably most of World 2 as well. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get three stars on the majority of the early puzzles. But around Worlds 4 and 5, things definitely start to get tricky – and infuriating. I haven’t rage quit as hard as I did during Tipping Stars for quite some time. Because if you mess up just a little bit, you will probably fail the puzzle, and there’s nobody to blame but yourself.

Due to the simple nature of the game, it doesn’t take very long to beat, and tends to get fairly repetitive at times. An experienced puzzle gamer could probably finish the main game mode in around four to five hours. Or, if you’re like me, it’ll take you a bit (or a lot) longer. Tipping Stars has six worlds, with eight levels in each. Each world not only has a varying theme, but also adds a new item or device to help you traverse across the various levels. There are also a fair amount of bonus levels that add extra items and techniques to solve the puzzles. But perhaps the real gem of this game is the Workshop mode, where you can create your own custom stages and share them with other players. This is where the stars that you worked so hard to earn come into play.

When you first start out in Workshop mode, you have all the tools you need to make a great puzzle – and nothing more. You can spend your stars to unlock more customization options like new characters, different modes of play, and so on. Your creations are really only limited by your creativity, which, in my case, is a pretty severe limitation. Once you’ve created your puzzle masterpiece, you can upload it to the Miiverse for other Tipping Stars players to try out. Each time somebody plays your level, you get one extra star. And, if your level is good (and you have a bit of luck), other players can ‘tip’ you some stars in order to help you unlock better items. We haven’t really seen this level of Miiverse integration in any Wii U game so far, and there are already some great custom levels available. It will be very interesting to see what kind of custom levels show up in the Miiverse community in the coming weeks and months.

There are a few minor differences between the Wii U and 3DS versions, but nothing major. I noticed that a few of the levels had slightly different designs between the two versions, but nothing that really changed the overall result of each puzzle. But I prefer the 3DS version over the Wii U version for a couple reasons. The controls are completely touchscreen-oriented, and it felt awkward and uncomfortable to hold the Gamepad in one hand while solving the puzzles for any extended period of time. It felt much more natural to use the 3DS, even though there is no 3D in the game whatsoever. Furthermore, Tipping Stars just feels like the kind of game that you want to take on the go so you can quickly play through a level or two if you have a few spare minutes. The Gamepad doesn’t offer that kind of portability, and Tipping Stars feels like it is tailor-made to be played on the 3DS, with the Wii U support just being an afterthought.

There is certainly no shortage of content in the game, and for what it gives you, the price is pretty fair. Tipping Stars is only available through the Nintendo eShop, and costs $19.99 USD. And, as an added bonus, Tipping Stars supports a cross-buy feature, so you get both the Wii U and the 3DS versions. But keep in mind that, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t support cross-save, just cross-buy; your Wii U save file and your 3DS save file will not the shared. But how does Tipping Stars stack up next to other options for portable puzzle gaming?

For me, there are obvious similarities between Tipping Stars and iOS and Android games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope. While each of the three games vary in style and gameplay, they each are easy to understand but difficult to master, and they all utilize a three-star rating system depending on your success in each level. So, is the $20 worth it when there are so many free puzzle games available? I would say so, mostly because of Tipping Stars’ Workshop mode. I can’t wait to see what kind of insane custom creations show up on the Miiverse. In the end, if you’re a fan of the Mario vs. DK series, or a fan of puzzle games in general, Tipping Stars won’t disappoint. It may not be great, but for $20, I’d say it’s worth it, especially when you get two copies.

Entertaining, but short and repetitive

If you're a fan of the series or puzzle games, you'll enjoy the newest Mario vs. DK title


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