Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem

Spring 2011 Video Games
Ages: All Ages
Price: $29.99
Gaming System: Nintendo DS

The original Super Mario videogames in their heyday were all about navigating Mario and his friends through obstacles and enemy-ridden landscapes by running, jumping, bopping, swimming, throwing apples, launching fireballs, etc. Mini-Land Mayhem is a little different. In this multi-level puzzler platform game, players set Mario and friends in motion and then manipulate the landscape to get the characters from one point to the next. And, never is it a straight line. If there's a rationale for calling this an educational game, it's the creative manipulation of elements in the environment.

The game starts with a skimpy plot: Donkey Kong shows up at Mario's theme park and kidnaps Pauline with Mario hot on his tracks. From that point on, it's all point-A-to-point-B puzzles that start easy and grow progressively harder and larger. Good news is the in-game Help mode and Mini Guide really is helpful when you're stuck.

In each puzzle, tap the Mini Marios once and off they go, requiring you to keep a step ahead of them in altering their paths by tapping rivets to remove or stretch girders over pits, or build slide-down girders, or activate conveyor belts and position springs. It's sort of Mechanical Mario. Longtime fans will recognize the warp pipes and ladders that transport characters up or down platforms. Gold coins and mini cards are here and there to be collected-adding to your score toward beating levels and earning trophies.

At times, this game feels a little like busy work. Multiple Mini Marios (and in later levels, Mini Toads, Mini Princesses and Mini Donkey Kongs) go slow-mo in a row, bumping into walls and making 180-degree turns like lemmings. But the graphics are decent for a tiny screen and it's all more fun and addictive than you might think.

For players intrigued not just with playing but creating new levels, the Construction Zone provides editing and building tools and adds more learning to the "Mario vs. Donkey Kong" equation. Players can even share their creations online.

Overall, this Mario incarnation isn't exactly a full-blown educational game, but it is loads of fun and thought-provoking through every step of the way.

Don Oldenburg   ©2011 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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