The Many Games of Mini Mario

This month, Nintendo is releasing Mario vs. Donkey Kong.  It’s a re-release/remake of a game on the Game Boy Advance that came out about 20 years ago!  It’s also the first appearance of the Mini Mario characters, an army of little wind up Mario toys.  These little guys would go on to star in their own series of spin-offs.  But those games kind of all run together because many of them look and play similarly.  So I thought in honor of the new game’s release, I’d go over each one and see what makes them special, if only for a little bit.  This Mario vs. Donkey Kong series also has quite a few games in its belt, more than what you might think.  And the history of these games stretched back farther than what you might expect, too!  So let’s check ‘em out!

Donkey Kong (Arcade)

OK so I had to start out with the original arcade game, since all of these other titles are built upon it in some way.  Without this game, you wouldn’t have the others.  Of course, you could pretty much say that about any Nintendo series not being around without the success of this history-making classic.  I won’t go into this game too much, we already know how important it is, but just keep in mind that the gameplay style of this one is important for the others.

Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

All right, so no Mini Marios yet, but we have to talk about this one, too.  Many folks called it “Donkey Kong 94” or Donkey Kong GB,” but the title still just says “Donkey Kong” on the box and title screen.  This game is probably one of the best arcade updates, even to this day.  And I’d say it’s probably the second best Game Boy game ever.  The only one that’s above it is Link’s Awakening, my favorite Zelda game.  So what makes this game so special?  Well I’ll go over that right now.

First of all, when you start out, you play the first four levels of the original arcade game.  Some may even think that’s all there is.  The levels are redesigned to fit the small screen, but they still work.  But after you beat the last of the four levels, it starts up again with 100 new levels.  Many of these are more puzzle oriented, where you have to figure out get to get a key to a door.  But it still plays like Donkey Kong.  Every four levels you even get to do a more action oriented stage where you just try to get to the top where DK is.  Just to mix things up and keep it from getting too tedious.

The other neat thing about this game is the controls.  It still feels like Donkey Kong where you walk a bit slower and don’t jump as high.  But they’ve added a lot of new moves to keep Mario nimble.  You might think that Mario 64 was the first game to feature that iconic triple jump and backflip, but no, it was here first!  You can also do a headstand to kick away objects from above, and more!  This is also the first appearance of DK with his necktie, not Donkey Kong Country.  And they’ve added stuff from other DK games, too.  Like the vines you can climb from DK Jr.  Jr. even shows up in some levels to help his papa out, and one of the last levels is a recreation of the final level from Jr. except that instead of uncaging Donkey Kong, you’re caging up Jr. so he doesn’t cause more trouble for Mario!  They also have arcade style intermissions that explain level features and gameplay quirks.

So yeah, this is just an amazing game that you really should play if you haven’t already.  Try to see if you can play it on the Super Game Boy SNES attachment, as it adds some neat new things to that.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA)

Now this is the first game to have Mini Marios.  It’s also the one that’s going to be remade on the Switch.  The Switch version has improved graphics, two player co-op, new levels, and other things.  It’s seen as kind of the spiritual sequel to the Game Boy Donkey Kong, as they both play similarly.

So the story goes that there’s a new Mini Mario wind up toy that is advertised on TV, and DK wants one.  But they’re sold out, so he gets mad and steals all the ones from the factory, and now Mario must chase him down to get them back.  Most of the levels play like the ones from the GB DK game, where you have to get a key to an exit.  But in a few levels, you must control Mario to manipulate switches to guide the Mini Marios to an exit as well.  You can then use the ones you’ve saved to toss at DK in a boss battle.  The more you have, the easier the battle is.

This game is really good and I can understand why someone might like it more than the GB DK game, but for me, I still like the other one more.  I can’t put my finger on all the reasons why, but one is that in this one, Mario has less momentum and starts out running at full speed, which kind of messed me up sometimes since I played the GB version to death.  I’m still on the fence if I’m going to get the remake right away.  It costs less than most Switch games, but not that much less, so it’s still a bit high to pay for a 20 year old remake.  So I may wait and get it for my birthday or Christmas.  But I could always change my mind and get it earlier if I feel like it.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis (DS)

All right, this is where the series goes into full blown spin-off territory.  It’s also the first appearance of modern day Pauline!  In this one, the Mini Mario toys have gotten so popular that they have their own indoor theme park now, and have included other characters like Mini Peach, Mini Toad, and Mini DK.  At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Pauline picks a Mini Mario over a Mini DK, which makes DK jealous.  So he kidnaps Pauline and takes her up to the top floor of the tower.  But instead of saving her himself, Mario gets the Minis to do it.  No wonder why Pauline’s not his girlfriend anymore!

So when the DS first came out, many of the games had to use touch screen controls, and this one is no exception.  You don’t directly control the Minis, but you can swipe them left or right to make them move, tap on them to stop, swipe up to climb ladders, etc.  You may think you can just make them all stop except for one to make things easier, but there is a time limit and you get bonuses for getting them all to the door at around the same time, so it pays to multitask.

This is where a lot of people stopped liking this series as much, since it’s such a departure and all of them from here on out kind of look the same.  But I still liked them.  I’m a big fan of Lemmings and that style of gameplay, so I still enjoyed these.  I would say this is the first Lemmings style Mario game, but it’s actually not.  See side note below.

Side note: Mario & Wario (SNES)

All right, so this one is actually the first Lemmings style Mario game, but it has nothing to do with this series.  I just wanted to talk about it because I’ve always wished it would come out over here.  It only came out in Europe and Japan.  In the game, Wario has put buckets over Mario and friends’ heads so they can’t see where they’re going, and you control a fairy named Wanda as she creates blocks and things so the gang can wander safely to Luigi, who removes the bucket.  This game used the SNES Mouse, so that may be why it didn’t come out over here.  But I had the mouse since I got Mario Paint, so I really wished it came out over here since I really like Lemmings style games.  It would be cool if Nintendo would re-release this one and tweak it so it doesn’t use mouse controls.  The other interesting thing about this game is that it was made by GameFreak, who would later go on to make a little series you might’ve heard of called Pokémon.

Minis March Again! (DSiWare)

This is actually the only game with Mini Marios that I haven’t played.  It was just a download title on the DSi, and it was basically just a level expansion pack as it was just more of the same from the last game.  I can’t remember why I never got this one, since I still liked the series a lot.  But maybe it was priced too high or maybe I had other games to play at the time, so I never went back to download it.  But that’s OK since it’s just more of the same from a game I’ve already played.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini Land Mayhem! (DS)

So this one looks just like the others, but there is a major gameplay difference.  You don’t control the Mini Marios at all, they just march on their own.  But now you use the touch screen to move around blocks and girders to create paths for the Minis.  You have a limited amount you can use, so you have to have some strategy.  This time, the Mini Land theme park is selling limited edition Mini Pauline toys.  DK cuts in line to get one, Mario doesn’t let him have one because they’re sold out, and DK goes on a rampage and kidnaps Pauline again and runs off.  So Mario hops a train with some Mini Marios and goes after him again.  One thing I like about some of these games is they use some pretty obscure Mario tunes that you don’t hear as much, like the main level theme from Mario 2.

Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move (3DS)

From here on out, the games are just download only.  And Minis on the Move actually plays a little different, too.  Not a lot different, but a little bit.  Since this is on the 3DS, now you view the action from a side and top down isometric view, and you create paths for the Mini toys kind of like how you would in a Pipe Dream puzzle game.  You may have noticed that the “vs.” is gone from the title.  That’s because there really isn’t a story in this one.  You just get the toys from point A to point B and that’s it.  Out of all the games on this list, this one is pretty forgettable for me.  I know I downloaded it and played it, but I don’t even remember if I beat it or not.  You’d think I’d remember it more, since I also like Pipe Dream style puzzlers.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars (Wii U)

This one looks and plays like the others, but the big draw here is you can design your own levels.  You can then upload them and play others’ levels as well.  If you like them, you can give them stars, which is where the “Tipping Stars” in the title comes from.  I wonder if Nintendo was using this as a testing ground for Super Mario Maker.  I bet it was!

Mini Mario and Friends: Amiibo Challenge (Wii U, 3DS)

The final new game in the series was free to download.  But in order to unlock all the levels, you had to scan different amiibos of Mario characters.  When you did, you’d get some new levels and could play as a mini toy version of that character.  Each one usually had some kind of special skill or gimmick in the stages.  A lot of people probably complained about how most of this game was locked, but I consider it as kind of a reward for people who diligently collected the amiibo figures, like me.  I actually reviewed this game in full when it came out, so if you want more details on it, click on the link here.

And those are all the games!  One last interesting thing that I THINK I read somewhere is that most of these games from the GBA one out were made by an American division of one of Nintendo’s development teams, so that’s neat.  Anyway, in the comments section, let me know what you think of these games! Later!  –Cary

One Response to “The Many Games of Mini Mario”

  1. I loved Mario vs Donky Kong. I’m a fan of the lemmings and I remember playing this one a fair bit.

    Strangely, I thought I played it as one of the first ones I played on the gameboy pocket. I couldn’t afford a Gameboy when they were out, but I was in grad school when the pocket came out so I got one for my birthday… makes me wonder if I’m remembering the Donkey Kong game on my pocket…

    In any case, big fan of Mario themed Lemmings…

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