Release date: April 2016
Format: Digital download (eShop)
Other platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Price: FREE (requires Amiibo)
In the last Nintendo Direct, we got a glimpse of Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge, a free download coming to both the Wii U and the 3DS. It seemed cool but I’d more or less forgotten about it until I saw some of my Australian Twitter friends talking about it this morning (I think it came out in the US last month some time, but as is typical for Australia, we get it later). Given that I have quite a few Amiibo and the game is free, I decided I might as well give it a go.
There are only ten characters whose Amiibo are compatible with the game, but it doesn’t matter what series Amiibo you use (eg. the red-based SMB, the black-based SSB Mario, Doctor Mario or 30th Anniversary 8-Bit Mario Amiibo will all work exactly the same and let you play as Mario). The compatible Amiibo are Mario, Donkey Kong, Peach, Toad, Luigi, Bowser, Rosalina, Yoshi, Diddy Kong and Bowser Jr. If you have an Amiibo that is not listed here, you can still play the game (tapping your Amiibo will give you a little walking cube character called Mini Spek), but you will only be able to progress through the basic levels and will be unable to access any character-specific levels. Amiibo are usually around $17 RRP, but a lot of large chain retail stores have had recent Nintendo clearances, so you can often find them for $10 if you really want one.
Once you tap your Amiibo into the game (you will have to register an owner and nickname for it if you haven’t already done so), the character takes on the form of a little wind-up toy. Tapping on the toy will start him or her walking in whatever direction they are facing, and you need to use the stylus (or your finger) on the GamePad’s touch screen to collect and place environmental elements (such as pylons and bouncing pads) to guide the character through the level so they can collect coins and Amiibo tokens and make it to the exit, avoiding enemies, bottomless pits or spiky traps. Each character also has a special skill, like Mario’s wall-jump, Diddy Kong’s ledge grab and Yoshi’s ability to eat enemies, meaning that a lot of the basic levels can be played in different ways if you use a different character. The more coins you collect and the faster you make it to the exit, the higher your score, which can potentially earn you a gold trophy for that level.
Some levels have two exits; the normal door with the red flag, and another door with a character’s face. If you can make it to the character door with that character, you will unlock a set of levels that can only be accessed by that character. The levels require that character’s special skill to access and complete, so you won’t be able to enter with another character. The design of these levels will immediately be familiar to anyone who has played that character’s previous games. For example, Donkey Kong’s levels are themed around Donkey Kong Country Returns and feature a lot of blast barrels, while Luigi’s levels are based on Luigi’s Mansion and rely on moving torches around to stun Boos and reveal hidden blocks. The levels generally only take a minute or two to complete, but some require you to move the camera around as the levels can take up more than one screen worth of space, so a bit of planning is sometimes necessary to determine the fastest way to get your character where it needs to go.
There are about ten basic levels which can be accessed by any character (including Mini Spek), but each character has four exclusive levels, meaning that if you have at least one Amiibo for each character, you have about fifty levels in total to play through (plus another ten or so in the final world, which can only be unlocked after clearing all the basic levels and by collecting Amiibo tokens). I think it would be great if an update let us play levels with characters from other franchises – like Zelda and Pokemon – down the track, but it’s probably not going to happen.
For a free game, Mini Mario & Friends: Amiibo Challenge is actually pretty good. It’s not really worth going out and buying an Amiibo for it if you don’t already have one, but for those who do own a few of Nintendo’s toys-to-life figurines, it’s a fun way to get a bit more use out of your collection.