Mario vs. Donkey Kong – Review
Follow Genre: Puzzle platformer
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Tested on: Switch

Mario vs. Donkey Kong – Review

Site Score
Good: Perfect for short pick-up-and-play bursts
Bad: Plays things too safe
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(1 votes)
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VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

It’s a very busy time for fans of the Mario series and its various spin-offs. Within the last six months, we’ve seen the release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Super Mario RPG, and WarioWare: Move It, and now another game joins this lineup. A remake of the 2004 Game Boy Advance classic, Mario vs. Donkey Kong reignites the eternal rivalry between Nintendo’s two most famous characters. Can Nintendo keep up its winning Mario streak with this puzzle platformer?


Mario may officially be a plumber, but we’ve seen him take on various other jobs, from doctor to Olympic athlete and everything in between. In Mario vs. Donkey Kong, he’s the CEO of his own toy company that produces popular Mini Mario toys. When Donkey Kong sees a commercial for the Mini Mario toys, he instantly becomes enamored with the tiny figurines. Unfortunately for the ape, the toys are sold out everywhere. So what does he do? Raid the Mini Mario factory of course! Donkey Kong steals the factory’s entire stock, and now it’s up to Mario to recover the stolen Mini Marios!


What can we say about Mario vs. Donkey Kong’s visuals that we haven’t said in our previous recent reviews of other Mario titles? Nintendo has established a signature look for the modern-era Mario games, and Mario vs. Donkey Kong fits right in here. The game makes use of the same 3D models we’ve seen previously in other games, and of course, everything has been optimized to run buttery smooth on the Switch. Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a good-looking game, although it doesn’t carry the same sense of *ahem* wonder in the visual department that a certain high-profile Mario platformer did a couple of months ago.


The same high level of polish that we see with the visuals is present in the audio as well. The music is catchy, albeit not as memorable as some of the more well-known Mario tunes. A particularly nice touch is that certain audio cues were taken from the original Donkey Kong arcade game, although the majority of the tunes are original compositions. It’s possible -likely even- that the music here are straight-up orchestrated versions of the GBA chiptune music, although we don’t have the original game on hand to compare. As for voice acting, Kevin Afghani continues to be practically indistinguishable from Charles Martinet as Mario’s new voice, but as you’d expect, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue here.


Just like with his job record, Mario certainly isn’t a stranger to video game genre-hopping. That said, we’d argue that out of all the spin-offs that he has appeared in, the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series is perhaps the closest to the classic 2D Mario platformer action we’ve come to know and love. That’s not to say that this is a straight-up 2D platformer, as Mario vs. Donkey Kong is all about puzzle-solving. However, many of the mechanics here will feel instantly familiar if you’ve ever played a 2D Mario platformer… which we assume is pretty much anyone. Taking control of Mario, you’ll need to navigate a series of very short levels, within a time limit. In the majority of these levels, your aim is to set free one of the Mini Marios that Donkey Kong stole. In addition to these ‘standard’ levels, there are also levels where you need to escort your previously freed Mini Marios to a toy box, face off in a boss battle against DK himself, or guide a single Mini Mario carrying a key to a door.

Running, jumping, and climbing with Mario may feel instantly familiar, but there are a couple of key differences compared to the mainline Mario games when it comes to navigating. Mario can’t dash, ground pound, or wall jump. He can still double jump, although this requires a summersault, launching from a handstand position. While walking on his hands, Mario is immune to debris falling from above. Perhaps the biggest change to the core Mario mechanics is how Mario deals with enemies. Rather than jump on them haphazardly and defeat them, you’ll need to carefully time your jump so that you land on their heads. You’re able to ride them, or pick them up from underneath and throw them. Since there are no powerups or coins to collect, and 1-up mushrooms are relatively rare, Mario does feel a lot weaker here than in other games, in Classic mode especially. In this mode, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an unforgiving game, and a single mistake typically means losing a life. Fortunately, the only real penalty is that if you run out of lives, you’ll have to restart a level from the beginning, rather than midway from the checkpoint if you have reached this. While a roadblock obstacle can become annoying if you keep dying from it, the game doesn’t punish you all that much.

The main campaign sees the mustachioed plumber chase his ape rival across eight worlds (up from the original six). Completing this unlocks so-called ‘plus’ and ‘expert’ variants of these worlds, so you’re looking at over 130 levels to complete. The majority of the levels follow a similar structure: in the first half, Mario has to locate a key and use it to unlock a door, which acts as a checkpoint. In the second half, a Mini Mario is waiting at the end of the level. If Mario can reach it, the level is successfully completed, although you won’t achieve a perfect rating if you don’t also pick up the gift boxes scattered across the levels. Usually, figuring out how to get to these isn’t all that difficult, but the tight time limit and occasional precision platforming required to actually grab them can add quite a bit of challenge.

Fortunately, there are ways to make Mario vs. Donkey Kong less daunting for younger or less experienced players. In recent years, we’ve seen Nintendo add easier modes to their first-party titles, and here the aptly titled Casual mode pulls out all the stops to make Mario vs. Donkey Kong as stress-free as possible. This mode removes the time limit and lets Mario take several hits rather than instantly lose a life when he makes contact with an enemy or obstacle. There’s also a two-player option available, both in Casual and Classic mode, which adds Toad as a playable character. On the other side of the coin is Time Attack mode, where players who are looking for a more challenging way to experience Mario vs. Donkey Kong can try to beat their own speedrunning record.

This all adds up to a fairly sizable package, and rightly so, given that Nintendo puts Mario vs. Donkey Kong in the same price class as much more substantial titles like Detective Pikachu Returns or Bayonetta 2. Still, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that Mario vs. Donkey Kong is in a different league altogether. The game feels structured for short bursts of pick-up-and-play action rather than lengthy gaming sessions. In this regard, it feels right at home on the Switch in handheld mode as it’s a great title to get some gaming in during your lunch break or daily commute. However, not even the addition of two additional worlds and more challenging modes can hide the fact that this is essentially a twenty-year-old GBA title. Mario vs. Donkey Kong doesn’t feel particularly new or innovative, and perhaps plays things a bit too safe. While it is a good game as is, it’s simply outclassed by more modern Nintendo titles. Perhaps the biggest issue that Mario vs. Donkey Kong faces is that it’s wedged in between so many high-profile Mario titles releasing in a short time, that it doesn’t really have ample room to shine.


In a vacuum, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a good game, great even, that meets our expectations but doesn’t exceed them. Nintendo sets such a high standard for its first-party titles that this remake of the beloved GBA classic simply pales by comparison. With Princess Peach Showtime, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD still on the horizon for this year, Switch owners have plenty of Mario goodness to choose from. While Mario vs. Donkey Kong should be somewhere on that list, it’s not good enough to be your first choice. Mario vs. Donkey Kong isn’t a must-have title, but you won’t regret picking it up either.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
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Mario vs. Donkey Kong - Review, 9.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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