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by Marty Demarest & r & & r & Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he full title of Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis is a bombardment of Mini Marios marching in the form of repeated letter 'M's. Perhaps someone thought it was a clever name. Mmm -- sounds like satisfaction or a pleasant buzz. Once the opening sequence stops, Mario -- he of the single capital 'M' -- winds up a toy. Donkey Kong, Mario's longtime rival, does the same. The two clash, and for the rest of the game the dinky mechanical Mini Marios are tromping their ways across the screen.





Mindless little automata that the Mini Marios are, they require a frustrating amount of supervision, even when I'm only in charge of two or three. Once started with a tap of my stylus, they progress resolutely in one direction. Buzzing like a row of miniature army men, they walk until they bump into something. Then they switch direction and buzz the other way. A swipe across them with my stylus and they turn in that direction. A swipe upwards and they jump.





The puzzles in March of the Minis are glorified mazes through which I must navigate my cadre of wind-up Marios. Unlike the top-down mazes of tradition, these mazes are made of scaffolding and moving platforms -- elevators, conveyor belts and sliding doors. Stacked over and around each other, interspersed with moving walls and wandering enemies, the mazes become miniature obstacle courses.





And so the Mini Marios march across the screen, scattering themselves and being scattered by the machinery of the game. Giant colored springs spring the Mini Marios up the scaffolding and gravity drops them down. Plants pop out of pipes to spit fireballs and wind-up Donkey Kongs bounce my Mini Marios away as I try to steer them to the escape route of each level.





Instead of using the two stacked screens of the Nintendo DS for puzzle-placement, however, the top screen is used to keep track of my measly score. The mazes sprawl in every direction -- not enormously, but enough to make steering the view a part of the game. When three Mini Marios start to walk like clockwork, and I'm spending my time poking buttons on another part of the screen, the game's frantic pace becomes frustrating, not fun.





THE GOOD: Scads of puzzles mean that owners of Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2 will never lack for something to do. Not only does the game feature dozens of different mazes, but it also has a build-your-own puzzle feature. While this opens up the possibility of permutating the same sorts of puzzles over and over, it also turns the game into Mini Mario maze-making toy set.





THE BAD: The puzzles become frantic scrambles to keep the wind-up Marios going in the right direction while navigating a tiny view screen full of obstacles. Instead of using my thumb to move the characters -- and they are almost always moving -- I devote that important digit to sliding the viewing frame around the action. My stylus draws the lines that are supposed to direct the Mini Marios, but it begins to feel like touch-typing instead of puzzle solving.





THE BOTTOM LINE: Mini Marios marching like minute militant machines makes for a monotonous and mild mindbender.

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