Five games in and you'd think NST would have run out of ways to mix Mini-Marios with Lemmings-style puzzling, but it has pulled at least one more from behind DK's bow tie for Mario And Donkey Kong: Minis On The Move.
In addition to borrowing elements from DMA Design's side-scrolling critter bloodbath, this time the developer has been inspired by Pipemania, by Tetris and probably by an incident at a brainstorming session in which Pipemania and Tetris cartridges hit the lead designer on the back of the head. We're very glad that happened - sorry about the bump - because it's resulted in another compelling, cleverly realised and challenging set of wind-up puzzles.
Each stage begins with a Mini peeking out of a pipe, on a 3D grid peppered with broken roads, spikes and even the occasional chasm. To fill in the gaps - in the opening Mario's Main Event mode, at least - you have to drag pieces from a seemingly randomised Tetris-esque pile and place them in the automated Minis' path. Things start simple of course, but before long you're contending with crossroads, catapults, conveyor belts, collectibles and other things that don't begin with 'c' - while battling the twin pressures of a time limit and the Mini's suicidal tendencies.
It took a whole paragraph to explain all that, but this is a fairly simple game in practice and even its more advanced concepts are spoon-fed to you at a reasonable pace. Mario's Main Event offers a sizeable 60 stages of tile-shuffling action - that one mode would probably be enough for most downloadable puzzle games, but after the first round of levels, three equally fully fledged game modes begin to open up.
Puzzle Palace is a less stressful, slightly more Zen affair that does away with the time limit and the falling pieces, instead tasking you with building a path from a ready assortment of materials. It's the perfect introduction to Minis On The Move's tile-based puzzling, which makes the fact that it's not available from the get-go all the stranger.
The third mode, Many Mini Mayhem, is where the game takes off its kid gloves and begins to violate the 'nothing below the belt' rule. MMM (not to be confused with 'Mmm', a declaration of delicious pie) arranges the available tiles on the game board itself, making up for it with your ability to slide them around as with so many disappointing Christmas cracker toys. However, MMM is the rare mode that does justice to the poor, mistreated sliding tile puzzle - and all it took was a little bit (well, a big bit) of pressure.
Many Mini Mayhem, you see, has you looking after several wind-up Minis, rather than just one. It's a small distinction, but it effectively doubles, or even triples your workload, forcing you to own tracks to make way for Mini 2, while remembering to keep Mini 1 from falling to its stupid doom. MMM is even more tense and uncomfortable than Donkey Kong's engagement party to Pauline and it represents Mario And Donkey Kong at its very best.
The fourth and final main mode is the aptly named Giant Jungle, which replaces the 180-odd stages of the other trio of game modes with three huge, ridiculously difficult arenas. As it turns out, constructing a railroad for a clockwork Mini is a much more troublesome prospect when the ground is the size of a chessboard and when you must collect 10 optional stars instead of three. In Giant Jungle, the finger of Father Time can be temporarily brushed aside with collectible stopwatches, but when the panic sets in - and it will - you're going to stuff up faster than Isambard Kingdom Brunel on his ill-fated Railway to the Moon.