Platforms: Wii U, New 3DS, 3DS, 2DS
We Played On: 3DSXL

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a straightforward puzzle platformer. You must help tiny windup dolls called Minis, each of which resembles a character from the Super Mario universe, to get to the doorway at the end of each level. There’s also a workshop mode, which allows you to make your own levels or play levels created by other players from around the world. It’s available for Wii U and the 3DS family, and if you buy it for one system, you get it for free on the other system automatically.

As a puzzle lover, I found Tipping Stars entertaining, but not especially memorable.

DK and Pauline

Donkey Kong kidnaps Pauline. This image is the only “plot” you will get out of Tipping Stars.

The Story

This is not a game that emphasizes story. There is one image at the beginning of the game (shown above) that depicts Donkey Kong kidnapping Pauline, a red-dressed woman first introduced as the damsel in distress in the original 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game. There is also a single image at the end of the game which resolves the “plot.” That’s it.

If you’ve played any of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong games before, you should be used to the Damsel in Distress trope by now. It’s disappointing that Nintendo keeps choosing to use this tired plot device again and again. Tipping Stars really doesn’t need a plot, and I would have much preferred if the game had just jumped right into the puzzles. Or, if they were going to write a story, it would have been nice to see Nintendo try something new.

First Level

The player uses the stylus to draw girders and clear a path for the Minis.

The Gameplay

Tipping Stars has a very smooth and satisfying style of play. Once awakened, the Minis will continue to walk in a straight line until they hit an obstacle. The player must use the stylus on either the 3DS’s touch screen or the Wii U’s GamePad to create metal girders, moving conveyor belts, magnetic platforms, or springboards to help guide the Minis to their goal. Often, multiple Minis will be walking around at once, and if they get separated it can be quite tricky to pay attention to them all at the same time. It’s a great exercise in multitasking, and it reminded me a lot of the game Eets Munchies.

The levels are all timed, too, and you get bonus points for finishing quickly. Plus, each level has collectable coins that provide an extra degree of challenge for advanced players. At the end of each level, you’re awarded a bronze, silver, or gold trophy.

In addition to the main game, Tipping Stars has a creator mode, which allows the player to design new levels. Players can spend stars that they earned in the main game to purchase more building materials or to tip other level creators for a job well done. This portion of the game worked quite smoothly. Since I had to play the main game to earn stars, I already had a good idea of how the puzzles worked, and of what made a level successful. So, I came into creator mode with a bunch of ideas out of the gate.

Tipping Stars bonus level

The Wii U or 3DS second screen shows only a zoomed-in portion of larger levels. Note the white bounding box in the image above.

The Takeaway

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars is a good, straightforward puzzle game. Many of the levels are very difficult, and might test your or your kid’s patience. However, this is often a good thing when it comes to puzzle games—it makes success taste even sweeter.

I wish that there had been some design element to make this title a little more memorable or unusual, but it was still a solid game. If your family likes solving puzzles together, Tipping Stars might be a pleasant way to spend some time together.

This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.