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Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Dude, where’s my Mini-Mario!

Mario vs Donkey Kong feels like a puzzle game from a by-gone era. A time when Nintendo pumped out small scale titles mixing mascots together in creative ways, something the Game Boy era had in abundance. That’s not to say these games don’t exist now, take Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker for example, but it’s certainly rare air nowadays. Modern business means big budgets and broader concepts, but occasionally you get reminded of what used to be in the best way. We may be at the tail end of a console cycle, which regularly involves filler releases just to keep the ball rolling, but Mario vs Donkey Kong’s revival from Game Boy Advance to Nintendo Switch is an old-school platform puzzle-solving venture worth taking.

Centred on Donkey Kong’s infatuation with tiny Mario toys (because reasons), Mario vs Donkey Kong harks back to the original Donkey Kong arcade era both in form and function. You’ll be guiding the moustached plumber/sports star/Chris Pratt impersonator through increasingly challenging puzzles to save the windup toys that feature his likeness, and return them to the toy factory. Doing so unlocks further puzzles and eventual boss fights with DK himself, until he slinks off to another world with even harder challenges in wait.

Each world is separated into a handful of short levels that feature two phases. The first involves finding a key to unlock a nearby door, leading to phase two where a mini-Mario waits to be saved. In-between, you’ll have to correctly solve numerous problems to avoid losing a life or running out of time, often pressing buttons in the right order and climbing around familiar foes. Rinse and repeat.

You get a life, and you get a life…

The last two levels of each world mix up the formula slightly, with the first part requiring you to guide your toy Marios back to a toy chest while picking up letters that spell (you guessed it) “toy”, before taking on Donkey Kong himself. Here, things feel even closer to the original arcade experience, where you’ll have to whack DK with certain items he throws around the stage until you can send him on his way. For completionists, each level includes a set of three presents that require a little extra time and forward thinking to retrieve. You’ll be rewarded a shiny star if you manage to bring them home, along with every mini-Mario once each battle with Donkey Kong is over.

Things start off cruisy enough, most newcomers won’t find the early levels a challenge. That’s Mario tradition, because by the end you’ll be tearing your hair out as the game design becomes bolder. Brick monsters throw obstacles down at you with abandon, levels fill with slippery ice or falling flames, platforms shift around that require precise timing to reach. Trust me when I say the opening segments aren’t a true reflection of what the game has hidden  up its sleeves later on.

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Much of Mario vs Donkey Kong’s fun comes from its nostalgia factor, referencing the arcade series’ key items, sound effects, and general flow of play. Mario’s jump is slow and a tad floaty, in similar fashion to his original design. This isn’t Super Mario Bros. Wonder, so don’t go in expecting fast traversal or an assortment of suits or items that can help Mario out in a pinch.

Mario just loves hanging around

All that said, Nintendo has seen fit to include a new mode that takes some of the frustration away from later levels, especially for younger players. This new way to play includes checkpoints and removes the ticking clock, a welcome level of approachability for those who require it, though it doesn’t remove the difficulty entirely. You can also invite a friend to help you out in co-op, which I’m sure plenty of kids will take a liking to.

Nintendo does have a habit of putting in the work when it comes to remaking games, and Mario vs Donkey is no exception. Visually it’s as colourful as you would expect, though these days it can be hard to look at a Mario game and not pine for more of that Mario Wonder charm. Still, everything here serves a purpose and fits the toy aesthetic nicely. Toy Boos and Piranha Plants, among others,  are suitably metallic and equally cute. Likewise, the soundtrack hums along with simple tunes that match the tone on screen, the occasional classic chime or Mario one-liner filling things out just as any good Mario game does.

There’s enough content here that should satisfy an audience craving another Mario experience on their Switch, though I do question whether this couldn’t have been given a slightly smaller asking price. This isn’t as long or as complex as other Mario experiences on the system, so it’s a tad disappointing that Nintendo chose to maintain the standard order of things on that front. Then again, this is a studio that’s prone to re-release its back catalogue more than once, so at least here we’re given a more upscaled remake instead of a simpler remaster.

Definitely not nipples. Nope.

Final Thoughts

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As the Nintendo Switch winds down, so too do the bigger releases on the system, but there’s a few nuggets of goodness that remain on the release schedule. Mario vs Donkey Kong can be considered one such nugget, a nostalgia trip that will keep the kiddos entertained and the older kiddos occupied for a good while. I enjoyed a chance to rediscover its style, and the modern coat of paint and new modes are welcome additions to an otherwise solid piece of entertainment.

Reviewed on Switch // Review code supplied by publisher

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review
Ape Toy Escape
Mario vs Donkey Kong remains an enjoyable platform-puzzler as it did back on the Game Boy Advance, freshened up and featuring a small number of modern and welcome additions.
The Good
Fresh new take on an oldy but a goody
New modes are welcome for all
Puzzles remain creative
A healthy dose of nostalgia
The Bad
Later puzzles can be frustrating
Old-school mechanics may cause chaos for new players
8.5
Get Around It
  • Nintendo
  • Nintendo
  • Switch
  • February 16, 2024

Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review
Ape Toy Escape
Mario vs Donkey Kong remains an enjoyable platform-puzzler as it did back on the Game Boy Advance, freshened up and featuring a small number of modern and welcome additions.
The Good
Fresh new take on an oldy but a goody
New modes are welcome for all
Puzzles remain creative
A healthy dose of nostalgia
The Bad
Later puzzles can be frustrating
Old-school mechanics may cause chaos for new players
8.5
Get Around It
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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