The Mario vs Donkey Kong series of puzzle games, now over ten years old and six games in the bag, sees its newest addition return to the 2D platform style that it originally started with. Like many of the prior games, your mission is simply to get the Mario-themed clockwork toys to the door by manipulating various elements on the game screen. I gather up my clockwork toys and try not to throw them from the cot as I bring you this review.
If you ever played Lemmings, then the concept behind Tipping Stars will be immediately familiar: a selection of Minis are dotted around a puzzle screen, and it’s your job to get the toys to the goal area. The toys themselves are simple things, and once activated, go in one direction until they hit a barrier, in which case they turn around and go the other way, unless they encounter a pipe or a ladder. Usually, the “other way” leads to danger, unless you can add ladders, girders, conveyors, springs, and other elements to move the Minis closer to the goal. In some levels, you’ll be required to get a certain Mini with a key to the door first, meaning some juggling while you try to get them in the right order. Upon completion of the level, you’re awarded stars depending upon how well you did and how long you took. And that’s pretty much it.
In theory, this works fine, and the levels themselves are well-crafted enough that the difficulty curve doesn’t have too many spikes in it, like I found with March of the Minis. The problem is that each world introduces exactly one new mechanic, and pretty much disregards the other prior ones while you spend eight stages per world mastering that one new mechanic. Without actually mixing it up much each stage, it gets a little samey during each world. For instance, the first world introduces girders, and then nothing new until world two, which introduces springs. You might find one or two stages that have girders and springs, but not very many. World three introduces conveyor belts, and then you’re futzing with conveyor belts for most of the world, with one or two stages mixing in springs or girders. This feels a little like not trusting the player to learn fast enough. One nice thing is that planning your attack of a level doesn’t use any time at all, since the timer only starts ticking when you activate any portion of the level. Feel free to look at it as much as you like before you start.
In addition to the main game mode, there is also the workshop, allowing players to build their own levels. The levels can be published to the Miiverse, and theoretically players can “tip” the creators of well-crafted levels with stars (hence the name of the game, get it?). As of the writing of this review, the EU Tipping Stars Miiverse community was not open, but the cynic in me foresees that levels that reward easy stars are going to be be top of the billing, while well-crafted puzzles will be buried. It remains to be seen. Still, creating a level is actually harder than it looks. You’re given a bunch of tools, but without a background in decent level design, you’re left to flounder your way through creating your own stages, and playtesting them can take time and frustration. More tools, backgrounds, and so forth can be unlocked with stars, so creating levels that the community will like is essential to unlocking everything.
Happily, the game is cross-buy, meaning that if you own either the 3DS or the Wii U version of the game, then the other is yours for free. It comes as a code, so feel free to give it to a friend.
Tipping Stars is a fairly robust puzzle game, but the pace might be a little slow for some players. It’s perfectly at home on the 3DS, and it’s best played in short burst while waiting in queues or waiting for someone to show at a date but they’re unreasonably late, and to prevent the waiters from giving you any more pitying looks you whip out the 3DS and hope that the date either shows up or phones to cancel instead of leaving you in the lurch like this, and Tipping Stars is precisely what you need to take your mind off the horrible thought that you’ve been stood up. (Ed: Ahem.)
Overall, it’s not a bad iteration of the series; the graphics are charming and the music—remixes of familiar Mario songs—is easy on the ears. It’s fun to play, and the challenge, while initially simple, ramps up quite nicely. It’s not the kind of game that you can spend hours at a time on, though, so it’s existence is better suited to the 3DS than the Wii U, in my opinion. If you enjoyed prior games in the series, you’re going to like this, and puzzle fans should take a look at the very least. It’s lighter in content than March of the Minis, but I guess this also reinforces the core concept of the game without diluting it with countless strange minigames.
Final Score: 7 Clockwork Prawns out of 10
Developer: Nintendo Software Technology
Distributor: Nintendo South Africa
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS Family, Nintendo Wii U
Age Rating: 3+