Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge Review (Wii U/3DS)

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, er, Mini Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge is the latest in a long line of puzzle platformers developed by Nintendo Software & Technology.  While it may look similar to the previous games in the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong (M v DK) series, don’t be fooled. This time, the hook is amiibo connectivity. You’re not just solving puzzles with mini-Mario, but with Donkey and Diddy Kong, Bowser, Luigi, Toad, and Peach too. Despite the proliferation of Mario vs Donkey Kong games in the last decade, this is actually a better game than you think, boasting enough smart puzzle solving to justify its tantalizing price of free.

Going back to 2006’s Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis, this side series has been cemented as a Lemmings-style puzzle game about guiding characters to an end goal. That thesis still applies here, with levels offering variables as to how you get your figures to the goal. There are girders you can stretch to make a patch or blockade, bounce pads, and warp pipes to move around the level among your tool set.

Amiibo Challenge is still, at it’s core, that same Lemmings-alike game, but where the usual Mario Vs. Donkey Kong game has you guide multiple toys to the goal, here you have only one character to “control” in a level (tap on them to make them move, tap again to speed up). This does help make the game easily comprehensible for those who thought the multiple Mini Mario figures were too much to operate to safety.

The main amiibo characters that make use of Mini Mario & Friends, and the catch-all Mini Spek

Any amiibo figure is compatible, but only ten specific Mario-related figures will unlock all the content that the game has to offer. You’ll unlock ten worlds of levels based on a specific figure via amiibo Doors in the basic set of levels. In each character’s respective world, the puzzles make good use of the different character’s abilities and play to their gaming history. So, Mario can wall jump to inaccessible areas,  Yoshi eats enemies, Bowser can ground pound thick blocks, and so forth. Of course, this means a character like Diddy Kong can only be in Diddy Kong’s respective levels, otherwise they’re unbeatable. The myriad of levels also present a decent challenge, particularly if you want to get high scores and collect all manner of Amiibo Tokens.

And then there’s the extra Star World stages that test your reflexes and multitasking skills like never before, as you come to juggle multiple pieces of parts (warp pipes, bounce pads, girders). These levels are densely packed, so good luck with that, as they’ll require countless retries.

The visuals, living up to the standard Mario vs Donkey Kong style, are a colorful-but-clinical representation of the Mushroon Kingdom. They’re functional but nothing special. More of a treat is the music, a symphony of remixes inspired by classic Mario games. Listen for tracks that riff on Yoshi’s Island and Super Mario Galaxy in particular. Given that amiibo Challenge was built on web framework technology and has to run identically on both the Wii U and 3DS, its visual presentation is not particularly surprising.

If you’re wondering about which version of amiibo Challenge to play, it’s a matter of preference. Do you want the portability of the 3DS or to savor the high definition visuals on the Wii U? Unfortunately, if you want to play both versions, there is no way to transfer your save back and forth. So if you start on the 3DS, the Wii U’s save file exists in its own little bubble. If you don’t mind playing both versions, amiibo Challenge is not a terribly long game, but replaying difficult levels a second time through might not be to your taste.

And while amiibo Challenge is free-to-download, it’s not technically “free”. You need an amiibo at $12.99 a pop, and above all, you’ll need the Mario-related amiibo to unlock everything. You can play the main stages with any old amiibo, but accessing all other levels requires characters like Mario and Donkey Kong. The odds are, most newcomers to amiibo won’t even have certain now-discontinued characters, especially not the rare Rosalina and Luma figure. The game’s purchase model mainly benefits early amiibo adopters, giving them something to do with their collections.

Every and all amiibo can be used in the core levels of Mini Mario & Friends

You may have skipped out on past Mario Vs. Donkey Kong games, but don’t be so hesitant on this one just because it looks so similar. If you already have lots of amiibo, Mini-Mario & Friends: amiibo Challenge offers a well-rounded package of puzzles and levels for a free download, some of them highly clever. The clever use of each Mario-series amiibo with their own special powers is enough to make you forget about the game’s sterile visuals, but not forget the catchy soundtrack of remixed tunes.

If you’re a die-hard amiibo collector, this game should be a no-brainer use of the toys. For those who haven’t taken the full plunge on Nintendo’s figurines, amiibo Challenge isn’t quite so essential to your own collection.

Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge Review (Wii U/3DS)
Mini-Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge is one of the better uses of Nintendo's amiibo figures, albeit derived from an existing puzzle game series. For a free download, there's plenty of puzzles to solve. The one caveat? This is recommended for die-hard amiibo fans to get the most value.
The Good
  • Clever puzzles
  • Fair use of amiibo
  • It's a free download
The Bad
  • Very similar to past games
  • Sterile art direction
  • It's not literally "free"
7.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)
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Editor-in-Chief (Former)

A man with a plan. My favorite video game franchise is Pokemon, but his favorite video game is Resident Evil 4. I can also tell you trivial cartoon factoids.