Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review Image

Mario vs. Donkey Kong has been an absolute barrel blast to play. The return of the classic Game Boy Advance puzzle-platformer was yet another unexpected surprise shared in last September’s Nintendo Direct, and, two decades on, its old-school rivalry reignites.

After Donkey Kong becomes transfixed by an advert for the Mini-Mario toy while flicking between TV channels, he charges off to his local Toy Store to buy one. Heartbroken to arrive to witness its owner plaster a Sold Out sign over the must-have product, his only other choice to get his hands on them is to steal them directly from the Mario Toy Company factory. Unhappy with Donkey Kong’s actions, Mario gives chase to track him down and get them back.

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Nintendo Software Technology is behind this wondrous remake, transforming the puzzler from its 32-bit origins into a sumptuously magnificent high-definition outing that offers the perfect test of your deductive puzzle-solving smarts on Nintendo Switch.

Before you begin your efforts to recover the stolen Mini-Marios, you will need to choose between two play styles: Casual, which is recommended for players who want a more relaxed game; or Classic, which is recommended for players who are looking for more of a challenge. It is unhelpful that the game doesn’t explain the differences between the play styles beyond these minimal descriptions, but selecting Casual lets you take damage six times – a bubble returning you to the safety of a nearby checkpoint flag – before you lose a life while also removing the pressure of the timer constantly ticking down.

Whether you opt for the heightened challenge or not, Mario vs. Donkey Kong delivers non-stop surprises as you progress through the Levels in each of its Worlds. Hurling trash cans to eliminate patrolling Shy Guys, spinning on wires to fling you to greater heights, clinging on to a cymbal-clashing monkey’s tail to carry you over treacherous spikes or using Warp Boxes to rapidly teleport you across a stage. There is continuous reinvention on display in an experience that regularly succeeded in subverting my expectations, as someone who had never tackled the original game.

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Every World – from the industrial Mario Toy Company to the fairground-inspired Merry Mini-Land to the icy Slippery Summit – is made up of six puzzle levels that each has two stages to overcome, another in which you must guide the rescued Mini-Marios to gather Letter Blocks before collecting them up in a Toy Box and a climactic confrontation with Donkey Kong. His defeat sees him flee to the next World, to which you continue to relentlessly pursue him. Reach the game’s credits and you will unlock a self-explanatory Time Attack mode, and “Plus” Worlds that present you with more devious puzzles to overcome. There’s more than enough content, which, as you progress, will rack your brainpower as new gameplay mechanics are thrown in.

The moustachioed plumber’s fluidity of movement in the game’s 2D puzzle space is a joy to experience, too. From the Backflip to the Handstand Double Jump or Two-Handed Climb, Mario’s undeniable athleticism comes to the fore in ways we don’t usually see in his side-scrolling adventures, as you work to scoop up hard-to-reach presents before reaching the Mini-Mario to achieve an elusive Perfect rating for each level.

With its chance to meticulously craft this remake, the developer has also been able to add the chance for you to team up with friends and family in a two-player co-op mode. This sees the second player join in Mario’s puzzle-solving as Toad, although offering a helping hand comes at a cost adding in more obstacles for you to overcome – retrieving a Silver Key now required to unshackle a padlock that now finds itself wrapped around the exit door.

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With a jubilantly toe-tapping soundtrack, a welcome overhaul to its colour-infused escapades and even Charles Martinet’s ever-familiar voice behind its portly multi-talented star character, this is a faithful remake that never fails to raise a smile from a team that has approached its revival with meticulous care.

Even 20 years on, Mario vs. Donkey Kong’s ingenuity in its puzzle design shines through – its Toy Box delightfully crammed with surprising gameplay elements that I haven’t seen in the puzzle genre since. Now that Mini-Marios are a hot ticket product once more, we can only hope that we won’t have to wait so long for another fun-packed puzzling adventure for the whole family.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo

Total Score
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