Archives by Day

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, WiiU
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2024


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Switch Review - 'Mario vs. Donkey Kong'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 1, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Guide Mario as you puzzle your way through over 130 levels to rescue the Mini-Mario toys!

While we can praise modern games for their ever-increasing complexity and realism, we must remember that in the old days, we could be satisfied by two buttons and a d-pad. The classic Mario games are perhaps the greatest example of how complexity isn't necessary for a game to be fun. The Game Boy Advance (GBA) classic, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, certainly fell into this category. It's simple to pick up and play, but it's shockingly addictive, so it became one of Nintendo's cult classics. Perhaps it's no surprise that it is the latest in the lineup of games to get a remake.

The basic premise behind Mario vs. Donkey Kong is that Donkey Kong saw some cute Mario toys on TV and, in a callback to his girlfriend-kidnapping days, decided he had to have them and stole a bunch. It's up to Mario to rescue himself this time. That's basically the entire concept, hearkening back to the days when you only needed a greedy ape and an implausibly agile mustachioed plumber to complete the plot.

That means Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a modernized version of the original classic, Donkey Kong. Each level begins with Mario entering a stage, and then he must use his platforming skills and wits to find a key to unlock a door and collect one of the lost Mini-Mario toys. This means the game is as much a puzzle title as a platformer, challenging you to figure out the correct pattern to get through the stage and emerge with a Mini-Mario.

In keeping with the original Donkey Kong, there's an intentional stiffness to Mario's movements. Any action you take is very deliberate, which keeps the puzzle aspect of the game feeling good. Of course, Mario can jump, but he can also perform a handstand, somersault, and triple-jump, all of which are necessary to solve some of the later puzzles. Fortunately, the controls work wonderfully as designed, and it's super easy to pick up and play with a minimal tutorial.

The levels all have different gimmicks. One may have switches that open and close walls, another may have icy floors, another may have gusts of wind that can be used to transport yourself, and more. Each level gains its own increasing complexity, but the game never becomes too punishing. At its heart, it is a puzzle game that kids and adults can enjoy, complete with a new casual mode where dying has reduced drawbacks.

In addition, there are two other kinds of stages that serve as a "boss fight." One is a take on Lemmings, where you need to guide a small army of Mini-Marios from one side of the stage to the other, doing your utmost to keep all the shockingly fragile children's toys intact. The other is straight-up boss fights against Donkey Kong, which usually take the form of simple arcade challenges. In both cases, they're a welcome diversion from the main gameplay. In fact, I was left wanting more Lemmings-style stages. There's something rather addictive about having to keep an army of little dumb guys alive against their better instincts.

Fortunately, the level design is excellent. Each stage is genuinely fun to explore, and each gimmick is well executed. There was never a point where an obstacle annoyed me, and no stage overstays its welcome. The game was originally designed for a handheld system after all, so it's perfectly designed for pick-up-and-play gameplay. There are two new worlds, Merry Mini-Land and Slippery Summit, but they fit in naturally with the overall design of the original game. If anything, my only real complaint is that the two new worlds feel a tiny bit easier.

If there's only one core complaint about Mario vs. Donkey Kong, it is that it isn't exactly packed with content. Even with the bonus levels, you can probably run through the entire game in an afternoon. There are time trials and challenges to engage in once you've finished the main game, but if you're not into those arcade-style challenges, then it's going to be a very short visit. That isn't much content for $50, especially since the general complexity of the game isn't much different from a $15-$20 indie title.

The game does look great, but it is also a bit basic. The graphics use the same bright, colorful and somewhat generic designs of Mario characters that a lot of recent games do. It's a little disappointing compared to the wonderful redesign that Mario Wonder pulled off, but like the rest of the game, it's an example of how simple doesn't necessarily mean bad. The soundtrack falls under a similar category; it's not a standout, but it's perfectly fine for the job.

Cost aside, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a perfectly delightful, charming and enjoyable puzzle-platformer that doesn't overstay its welcome. Taken entirely on its own merits, it is an excellent game that is a perfect mix of platforming and puzzle gameplay. It doesn't break any molds, but it provides an excellent arcade-style experience with minimal muss and fuss. Only its short length keeps it from being a strong recommendation, but if that isn't a flaw to you, then pop it into your queue.

Score: 8.0/10

More articles about Mario vs. Donkey Kong
blog comments powered by Disqus