Image: Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Mario veterans will recognize the quirky, cartoony and friendly world in "March of the Minis," but if you're new to the series, there's not much of a ramp-up time.
By contributor
updated 9/29/2006 9:18:21 PM ET 2006-09-30T01:18:21

Longtime Nintendo watchers are familiar with Mario, the company's iconic video game character. In its latest action/puzzle game for the DS handheld system, "Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis," the world-famous plumber teams up with another beloved character, Donkey Kong, for fantastic fun and adventures suitable for the whole family.

"March of the Minis," rated "E" for everyone and priced at $34.99, is the latest in a long line of games featuring the unlikely duo.

Historically, the two have been at odds with each other — Mario usually has to save the day because of something Donkey Kong has done. (This, of course, begs the question: Why does Mario keep hanging out with the giant troublemaking ape?)

This time around, things go awry at the opening of Super Mini Mario World, a theme park showcasing Mario's line of miniature wind-up toys. Donkey Kong offers a mini DK toy to Pauline (the girl he kidnapped in the original Donkey Kong arcade game) but she prefers the mini Mario toy. (And who can blame her? Kong did kidnap her!) This enrages the big ape, and he kidnaps Pauline (again) and runs to the top floor of the amusement park, scattering mini toys along the way.

Mario veterans will recognize the quirky, cartoony and friendly world in "March of the Minis," but if you're new to the series, there's not much of a ramp-up time. To save Pauline, you'll need to collect as many toys as possible on your way to the top floor. And getting to the top means navigating through maze-like rooms with fanciful, fire-breathing obstacles, and utilizing anything you can — elevators, springs that shoot you high up into the air, and even other mini toys — to propel you around.

Scattered around these rooms are coins and cards that you pick up by walking over them. Your score increases with each coin gathered and if you collect enough cards you'll unlock whack-a-mole style mini-games.

Nine rooms in, you'll come to a boss battle with Donkey Kong. He'll pop his head out a window and rain objects down at you, and you'll shoot toy Marios at him.  Hit Donkey Kong enough times and he'll run away, leaving you to start the whole process over again. Don't hit him enough and the game is over.

As you work your way through the game you can unlock maps, which are customizable levels you can play. Did you think the last level needed a second elevator or more coins? Add them! Then use the DS's Wi-Fi capabilities to share your new level with others. The Wi-Fi also allows you to compete with your friends via a ranking system. Get ranked #1 and bragging rights are yours.

The DS's dual screens are put to good use with the top one displaying the timer and  your score, leaving the bottom screen uncluttered for the action. The bottom screen is also touch sensitive, and you control all the toys movements by sliding the DS's stylus across it. Sweeping left will make a toy go left, and tapping the screen will make it stop in its tracks. It sounds easy because it is. But complications arise as you move up in levels, and the amount of toys and obstacles in each room increases. And remember, they're wind up toys. They'll wander around bumping into things and each other, and getting into all sorts of trouble if you don't keep on top of them.

The music consists of arcade-style "Mario" tunes, and if you close the DS's cover while playing, Mario will have some comments for you. All this adds to the light and fun feel of "March of the Minis," and helps make it a great on-the-go game.

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