Developer: Nintendo Software Technology

Publisher: Nintendo

Platforms: 3DS, Wii U

Genre: Puzzle

Players: 1

Completion Time: 5-10 hours

Release Date: 03/05/15


Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

Tipping Stars is pretty standard puzzle-game fare... not that there's anything wrong with that. It doesn't do anything particularly original or noteworthy within the bounds of its genre, nor even in comparison to the previous entries in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, but the content it does provide is solid and reliably entertaining. The player's task is to guide a series of wind-up toys (bearing the likeness of one or more of the various denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom) through a maze of obstacles, with the ultimate objective being to sluice them all through the stage exit within relatively short succession of one another. Touching a toy activates it, after which its movement becomes automatic, and the only way to direct its course is through indirect manipulation of its environment. By tapping or drawing on specific parts of the level, the player can construct girders, toggle the direction of conveyor belts, fire cannons, place springs, and manipulate the entry and exit points of certain warp pipes. Other objects and obstacles can only be activated when the mini-Marios, -Toads, -Peaches, etc. come into contact with them directly; these include colored switches, which toggle the solid/transparent state of like-colored blocks, and the hammer, which allows the toy wielding it to wage an invincible sortie against otherwise lethal legions of Shy Guys, Pokeys, and Piranha Plants.

There are roughly 90 pre-made levels provided by Nintendo to test the player's puzzle-solving prowess, and while each of them is good for a few minutes of diverting fun and mild intellectual stimulation, and some are certainly more challenging than others, none save a few of the endgame puzzles is particularly brain-bending or uniquely clever or really all that memorable in any way. If the pre-designed stages were the limit of the game's content, I would be reluctant to declare it worth the $20 price of admission. Fortunately, I am able to forgive the somewhat forgettable nature of these stages, since I think most of them were deliberately designed to serve as simplistic prototypes--friendly examples arranged to show off the game's various puzzle mechanics and, thus, equip the player with the knowledge and inspiration needed to employ them in his own creations.

The Workshop, where players can build their own stages using all the objects encountered in the pre-made levels, and the Miiverse Community, which enables the sharing of these levels with other players online, are where the game's true appeal resides. I have already sunk well over 10 hours delving into Tipping Stars' simple yet effective creation suite (twice as long as I have spent playing through the game's official content), and I am reasonably proud of the five miniature masterpieces I have contributed to the community of user-generated puzzles. Granted, level editors are kinda my thing, and the one provided in Tipping Stars is very nice. It's no Little Big Planet, mind you, but every enemy and obstacle encountered in the pre-made stages is available for use in the player-created levels. And while I enjoy games like the aforementioned Little Big Planet, which provide their users with a near-limitless palette of gameplay styles and artistic tools to facilitate their creative visions, sometimes too many options can overwhelm the prospective creator. The quantity and diversity of tools at the creator's disposal in Tipping Stars rest within what I would consider a nice Goldilocks zone--not so immense as to stifle the creator's creativity with indecision-inducing overabundance and foreboding learning curves, yet neither so little as to oppress his individuality and render his creations meaningless.

"The quantity and diversity of tools at the creator's disposal in Tipping Stars rest within what I would consider a nice Goldilocks zone--not so immense as to stifle the creator's creativity with indecision-inducing overabundance... yet neither so little as to oppress his individuality and render his creations meaningless."

The community-sharing aspect of the game warrants further mention, as it is a specific feature of this system that lends its name to the game's somewhat peculiar subtitle. Whenever a player completes one of the game's stages (either the official Nintendo-designed levels or those generated by other users), he earns between one and three stars, depending on how quickly and thoroughly he conquered said stage's conundrum. Then, upon finishing a level created by a fellow user, should the player deem the amount of amusement it provided worthy of his generosity, he may delve into his star-laden coffers to bequeath a modest tip upon the deserving designer. Stars can be spent by their lucky recipients to unlock more features in the Workshop, and while most of these additional purchases are optional cosmetic stuff (e.g., new stage backdrops, or wind-up toys based on other Mushroom Kingdom characters), it's still a nice touch to give budding designers further incentive to create more compelling content.

I should append the concessional "in theory" to the end of that statement, for whenever a reward is involved, the online community is bound to find a way to exploit it. The custom-designed puzzle you spent hours honing to painstaking perfection will in all likelihood get lost in a sea of "Free Stars" stages, where the designer chose to expend only enough effort to place a mini-Mario two steps away from the goal. Still, if you find a level you particularly enjoy, you can save it and follow a link to other content generated by the same user; and in the 3DS version, there is even a way to use the system's streetpass capabilities to swap links to your favorite stages with others locally. So, the potential is definitely there for the lovingly crafted fruits of your genius to achieve the dedicated fanbase they deserve.


  • An excellent level-editor, which allows players to design their own puzzles and share them online. There are more than enough tools available to facilitate the creation of some truly inventive and challenging user-generated content, while at the same time not so much as to overwhelm the user with too many options.
  • The approximately 90 pre-made stages consist of reliably entertaining, if somewhat standard puzzle-game fare.
  • The pre-made stages only truly start to get interesting as endgame approaches.
  • The more engaging user-generated content tends to get buried beneath a mountain of self-solving stages, because apparently the point of the game is not to test one's puzzle-solving prowess or creative potential, but to be the first one to amass enough stars to purchase that completely superficial Gold Mario sprite (yes, this is the bitter appraisal of an author whose collective works accrued a whopping total of TWO "yeahs!").

The game's greatest appeal is to content-creation enthusiasts: fans of level editors will be quite happy sinking countless hours into creating their own puzzle masterpieces. Fans of the puzzle genre in general will probably find plenty to enjoy here, though they shouldn't expect anything mind-blowingly innovative. It's a safe pass for those already indifferent to the genre, as they will likely find nothing to merit a change of heart.

*: too long; didn't read (but I'm actually literate--pahlease! omg**! seriously!

**: ow, my groin!