Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is the sixth entry in the Mario vs. Donkey series. As such, Nintendo has decided to add in some fun social elements to the title to liven things up.
Tipping Stars is a simplistic game with a single-minded objective of getting your characters — adorable toy versions of Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong and Toad — safely to the exit door.
As in any puzzle game worth its salt, however, the complexity comes from the often ingenious level designs that stretch your brain while actively fighting against your success.
The game starts off pretty simple: you control two toy Marios and must create ladder paths to access new areas while avoiding spikes and the occasional enemy. The trick is that the characters must be in close proximity to one another, as the door will lock after a period of time.
To form ladders, though, you must pay a certain cost; each path requiring a certain amount of units to complete which you acquire more of either through erasing existing paths or collecting girder items.
Springs also require players to remove existing ones to gain that new item for latter use. There are also plenty of other items such as conveyor belts, ladders, large Donkey Kongs, and more which necessitate strategic use to maneuver around the stage.
Using these items tests your reflexes and thinking power; sometimes you must wait for the toys to cross a platform then immediately break it down to create a new one before they fall or change direction, change the direction of a conveyor belt on the fly to ensure that the toys walk in a certain direction.
This leads to one of the other tricky game mechanics — the fact that your toys will continuously and only walk in one direction until they hit an obstacle or an item forces them the opposite way. This means that players must actively consider which direction the toys will face at different points while navigating the stage.
As the game unfolds, new items, toy characters, enemies that can either be ignored or defeated, locked exit doors and unique challenges appear gradually, letting the player adjust to new situations accordingly.
There are even “boss battles” with enemies that move around the screen and dealing with their movement patterns are incorporated into the stage itself. These stages are quite fun, as the toys must defeat the boss before escaping that level.
A cool mechanic in the title is that players can also take as much time as needed actually planning out the path since the time limit doesn’t start until you tap the toy to activate it. However, once activated there is no way to stop time again (you can pause the game normally but the menu obscures the screen).
This works quite well, as it forces the player to both plan ahead before time starts as well as think on the fly when the timer activates.
Of course, there’s an incentive to keep players coming back for more: collecting both stars and golden trophies. One of the former is received for each rank you gain upon completing level, up to three per stage. The latter is the reward for reaching the highest rank, gold, which is accomplished by collecting every item and beating any foes with the Hammer power-up.
Overall, the single player mode in Tipping Stars is quite fun, with very well designed levels and excellent touch screen controls that never fail. With the Wii U version, you can only use the Gamepad to play, eliminating the need to switch viewpoints. The 3DS version requires players to focus on the bottom touch screen as well, as the top screen only shows a static image of the full stage. much like the Wii U version.
Other than single-player, there are three additional modes called Bonus, Workshop and Community. Bonus mode allows players to unlock additional levels based on the number of gold trophies you receive. These bonus levels allow you to earn even more stars.
Next is Workshop, which is the stage creation feature. You can build your own stages using the same tools and items found in-game. It’s deceptively simple yet can be very layered. It took me over a half an hour to make one measly stage, especially since your stage must pass certain criteria to be shared with the community.
This is where Community mode comes in. Basically, this is the social feature that lets you share your created levels with others so they too can enjoy them, also providing community feedback via the commenting system.
If players enjoy your level(s) enough, they can tip you with stars (hence the name “Tipping Stars”). By tipping, you receive specials stickers that can be used for comments. Your stages can also be shared in the Miiverse community.
Finally, there’s another great feature that Nintendo has including with Tipping Stars: cross-buy support. This means that if you buy the Wii U version, you’ll receive the 3DS version and vice versa.
Although this is a great value on its own, I do wish Nintendo considered making the title cross-play as well, this way players could share their same stages and rewards between the two games on a single account.
Naturally, the visuals are as cute and colorful as you’d expect from any Mario title, while the remixed music from both the Mario and Donkey Kong franchises are nearly guaranteed to send you into nostalgic fits at times.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a nice, low-budget title that delivers on the fun factor in spades. The puzzles are well developed and offer challenge without high levels of needless frustration. The extra modes offer re-playability and interacting with the community is actually really fun.
While some gamers might be put off by the relatively low amount of content and all-around simplicity, for its price, including the aforementioned cross-buy, the title is worth its value in stars.