The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series has always been about ’puzzle platformer’ play, though whether the focus has been on one or the other or evenly split has varied. Mini-Land Mayhem definitely emphasizes the puzzle aspect, letting you give only the most basic guidance to a line of mini-Mario dolls (and other mini-toy versions of his friends) through a series of levels. You can tell them when to start, but after that they will go through their actions no matter what; even if doing so will mean their demise. That’s where you come in, since you can control the stage rather than the toys, manipulating events so that they make it to the exit. It’s a simple idea, but done with enough detail to keep you entertained in several short bursts... perfect for a portable game.
The game takes place over several themed ’worlds’, each divided into about ten stages. The first eight focus on teaching you how to use a new item in the world, such as how to draw bridges using your stylus or picking up springboards and placing them in better spots for the toys to leap off of. As basically mindless toys that always react to something in the same way, they need a lot of careful guidance to reach the end of each stage safely; don’t expect them to fight enemies well unless you find a slope for them to slide-kick down or a hammer to swing. Likewise, don’t expect them to avoid spiked pits or other traps on their own... it will be up to you to cover them up with bridges and conveyor belts, or other tools that vary from world to world.
Near the end of each world you will get to play two special stages; one is a ’key’ level where you have to defeat a mini-Donkey Kong blocking the exit, and after that you get to play the real highlight of the game: a boss stage against the real Donkey Kong. Much like in his arcade debut, Donkey Kong stays at the top of the level and throws barrels down to stop you from getting to him. However, since the mini-Marios have only the most basic platforming skills it’s up to you to guide and protect them; you’ll need quick wits and reflexes to create a safe path for them while also blocking the barrels. Performing well in both the regular and boss stages unlocks various rewards, including extra stages and new parts for the level builder.
Speaking of that stage editor, it is a pretty prominent part of Mini-Land Mayhem. While you do have to go through a tutorial before you can use it, the tutorial is pretty short. Once done, you can use any parts you’ve unlocked to create your own stages or you can use Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to download more levels; both the public and Nintendo can offer their creations for you to play. This will probably be a good way to extend the game’s life, since it won’t take you too long to go through the eight main worlds and three special ones when any given stage in them can be cleared in mere minutes.
Lack of length is the only serious problem Mini-Land Mayhem has, and since that can be alleviated through WFC downloads it leaves only the occasionally repetitive nature of some stages as an issue. It’s true that if you blitz through several stages in a row you’ll probably get a little tired of things, but I don’t think that’s how Mini-Land Mayhem was meant to be enjoyed. Its stages are short and the game itself is on a portable system, so it’s perhaps best as a game to play in several short bursts whenever you need to occupy a little time. With that in mind, and the $30 price being reasonable for what you get, Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem is pretty easy to recommend.