Mario vs Donkey Kong

Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Nintendo surprised many fans this past September by revealing several new projects, including Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Three remakes of three Mario titles were surprising but not unexpected since remakes are all the buzz right now.  

The history of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series traces back to the original Donkey Kong game released in 1981. The game featured Jumpman, who would later become the iconic Mario, attempting to rescue his girlfriend from the giant ape Donkey Kong. This game began the long-standing rivalry between Mario and Donkey Kong. 

A long-standing rivalry returns 

Over the years, the two characters appeared in various games, and their interactions evolved. The specific Mario vs. Donkey Kong series as a standalone franchise started with the game Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Game Boy Advance, released in 2004. Unlike the original Donkey Kong arcade game, this title shifted the focus from confrontation to puzzle-platformer gameplay. 

Just like the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Advance, DK has stolen all the Mini-Mario toys, and it is up to you, as Mario, to bring them back home. There are eight worlds to play through with over 130 levels and new features like local co-op, where one player controls Mario and the other Toad. A casual mode allows you to play without concern about losing lives, so you’re taken back to a checkpoint if you hit an enemy or obstacle.

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The gameplay of Mario vs. Donkey Kong revolves around guiding miniature toy versions of Mario through a series of increasingly complex levels. The controls are simple and responsive, allowing players to navigate the minis through hazards, collect coins, and reach the goal. The game cleverly introduces new elements gradually, ensuring players have time to master each mechanic before facing more intricate challenges. 

One of the standout features is the introduction of the Mini Mario toys, each possessing unique abilities that players must strategically utilize to overcome obstacles. The puzzle design is both inventive and challenging, requiring a mix of precision and quick thinking to guide the minis through each level successfully. The variety in gameplay mechanics keeps the experience fresh and engaging throughout the adventure.

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an excellent puzzle game

The level design in Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a highlight, offering diverse environments and challenges. From traditional platforming elements to intricate puzzles that require careful planning, each level feels thoughtfully crafted. The difficulty curve is well-paced, allowing players to gradually acclimate to the game’s mechanics while presenting increasingly complex puzzles as they progress. Two new worlds, Merry Mini-Land and Slippery Summit, have been added and are a highlight as they are the most creative of the eight worlds by adding tons of environmental challenges and obstacles.  

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There is also a Time Attack Mode, Plus Levels and Expert Levels, which seasoned players might find of interest and are unlocked once you’ve cleared the game.  

The thematic variety in the levels keeps the experience from becoming repetitive. Players will navigate toy factories, jungles, and even atop moving platforms to pursue Mini Mario’s salvation. Including boss battles adds an extra layer of excitement, requiring players to apply their acquired skills uniquely.

Minor changes to the formula make Mario vs. Donkey Kong better. In previous entries, you had a score counter required to earn the gold star in each level. Nintendo has done away with the score counter here and now asks you to find all the presents in the level to earn your gold star. It is a small but welcome change that removes the need to aim for a specific score. Thankfully, the change isn’t too bad either, as the puzzles are challenging, and you need to use your head to solve puzzles.

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong includes a Classic and Casual Mode as a welcome change. The former feels and plays like the original years ago, offering a decent challenge. The latter feels suited to younger players, with the timer removed entirely from the stages and more invincibility bubbles added to bypass hazards and enemies.  

Every level starts simply enough as Mario climbs obstacles to gather presents spread out over levels. About two-thirds of the levels feature Mario finding keys to unlock various doors that move you forward. The latter sections then take a turn and focus on Mario gathering the Mini-Mario toys Donkey Kong dropped after he swiped a bunch of them from the factory.

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The most significant change in Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the aesthetic. Pixels are replaced with brilliant cutscenes, and it works a lot better; overall, the upgrade in graphics is impressive. Many early levels feel like the original, but some excellent flourishes set them apart from their predecessors, and Mario has a few tricks to help navigate each level.

Gameplay primarily involves activating switches to turn on different coloured platforms. Each level typically has two switches next to each other, and the colour-coding system is relatively simple. The platforming component sections are not particularly challenging.

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Along the way, various familiar enemies stand in your way, and you must either pick them up and throw them at others or use them to move forward to cross gaps or trigger traps. Most of the time, while you’re playing, you’ll slowly realize this is an experience meant for a handheld, and the gameplay reflects that notion, too. It’s simple, and it’s geared towards a younger crowd.

Levels are short and sweet, with many having the same goal of reaching the end. Without overthinking it, later levels introduce a challenge, and you’ll likely lose a few lives.

Verdict

Mario vs. Donkey Kong has a lot of exciting puzzles to explore, and fans of the original will find excitement in the remake. With a welcoming difficulty curve, reworked graphics, and expanded gameplay, Mario vs. Donkey Kong kicks off the Switch’s seventh year with a bang.

Recommended

[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: Switch

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Summary
While the early levels may seem relatively easy, the difficulty level ramps up in later worlds. Mario vs. Donkey Kong's Jazz inspired soundtrack adds to the overall experience.
Liked
A faithful remake at its core
Gameplay holds up but considerably simple in 2024
New levels are great and offer something different to the original
Didn't Like
Simple gameplay that may not be for everyone
Identity issues between what genre it wants to be