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Hands-on with Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

SAN FRANCISCO - While the past two decades have seen Mario battling Bowser, racing karts and even exploring the galaxy, Nintendo hasn't forgotten about its Italian plumber's humble roots, scrambling up girders and ladders back in 1981's Donkey Kong arcade classic. Nintendo is returning to form with Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars for the Wii U and 3DS.

At GDC 2015, I got a chance to check out both versions of Mario vs Donkey Kong, which will be available March 5 for $20 on the Nintendo eShop. The game features art inspired by Paper Mario: Sticker Star as you guide colorful minis around the map, collecting coins and avoiding traps on the way to each level's goal. The challenge comes from strategically placed pits that need to be spanned with girders which you place by using the stylus, allowing you to cross chasms and escape enemies without falling to a spiky demise.

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While you start with just Mario, old friends Peach, Toad and Luigi make early appearances, quickly ramping up the difficulty as you frantically try to guide multiple characters through each level's series of obstacles. Nintendo wasn't shy about bombarding me with new mechanics such as menacing Shy Guys that need avoiding or crushing when you can grab a nearby hammer. Along the way, players earn stars and trophies based on performance such as time needed to complete the level and if they were able to collect all the coins.

The Tipping Stars mechanic enters the equation when users design their own puzzle levels and put them to the test against other players over the Internet. Players can buy new traps and obstacles using stars, and other players can reward creative level designers by tipping stars of their own. For those not interested in designing their own levels, giving your stars to other players unlocks collectible stamps, so everybody wins.

The game plays the same on both Wii U and 3DS; Nintendo only made the tiniest of changes in order to squeeze levels on its handheld's slightly smaller screen. Nintendo is also running a promotion where buying either the Wii U or 3DS version will get you the other one for free; if you only own one system, you can easily give the game code to a puzzle-hungry friend.

Mario vs Donkey: Tipping Stars comes with 64 base levels and another 24 that can be unlocked throughout the game. Nintendo will also be releasing two additional levels every week for the next 50(!) weeks, for a grand total of 188 levels. Despite a release just one day away, I can't wait to tear into Mario vs Donkey Kong's blend of cute, puzzle fun.

Sam Rutherford is a Staff Writer at Tom’s Guide. Follow him @SamRutherford on Twitter, and Tom’s Guide on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.