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Mario vs Donkey Kong Review

Back in the Toy Box

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There have been some captivating rivalries in the gaming landscape - from Ken vs Ryu, Solid Snake vs Liquid Snake, to Sonic vs Knuckles. However, perhaps one of the longest-running rivalries that predate all the way back to the arcade cabinet era of the 80s is the bad blood between Mario and Donkey Kong. Nintendo still likes revisiting the moustachioed plumber feud with the primate, as their rivalry captured players' imaginations. The recently released Mario vs. Donkey Kong for Nintendo Switch is a remake of the Game Boy Advance classic of the same name, and even though the glossy new graphics are visually appealing, the title struggles to stand out in the Switch catalogue.

Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)

The plot remains unchanged, is relatively simple and allows you to jump into the gameplay within a few minutes. The story opens with Donkey Kong relaxing on the sofa, idly watching the television, until he stumbles across an advert promoting the shiny new Mini-Mario Toys. This advert (presumably breaking several commercial advertisement laws due to its loudness and brightness) influences the impressionable ape to dart out to the nearest store. To his dismay, all the Mini-Mario Toys are sold out. In a rage, Donkey Kong (now a victim of mass consumer capitalism) breaks into the Mario Toy Factory and steals all the Mini-Mario Toys for himself. Mario sees Donkey Kong run off with the toys and wastes no time trying to stop his monkey business.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a 2D puzzle platformer, and the majority of the gameplay will rely on you utilising Mario's platforming skills to solve puzzles and pick up Mini-Marios Toys that Donkey Kong has dropped in his franticness. There are eight worlds, each with six primary levels with the same format: retrieve a key, unlock a door, and then grab the Mini-Mario Toy. The first few levels are pretty easy to solve, like swinging from ropes to reach a specific location or jumping on colour-coordinated switches to turn blocks into solids or blanks. Later down the line, some are a tad more challenging as there are multiple layers to the puzzle, but nothing astronomically difficult. One that distinctly stands out is in World Four (Merry Mini Land), where you have to throw a spring jump onto a flower fan that will make the spring jump rise and land on a higher platform. These puzzles make it ideal for younger players, where this might be their first puzzle experience.

However, figuring out how to solve puzzles is not the only thing the renowned plumber will have to worry about, as many dastardly hazards stand in his way. The hazards are often the best part of the level, as they would make you have to confront a particular type of enemy, like using a rhino foe to bypass spike obstacles. Mario will also need to avoid environmental hazards relating to that world theme, such as fireballs flying out of the lava.

Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)

One of the game's biggest issues is that Mario's movement feels rigid and stiff, which makes the title feel very outdated. Given how much effort was spent on the visual upgrades, it's disappointing that the same level of care wasn't put into the controls. You can jump, crouch, and grab environmental objects like trashcans or even some kind of enemies like Shy Guy. But the one movement that stood out like a sore thumb was the handstand. In this position, you become impenetrable to falling objects like bricks as they can't hurt you. This was a bit of an odd choice even back on the GBA, but at least the game system had understandably technical limitations, and you are trying to make the game as engaging as possible, but seeing this mechanic on the Switch feels outright silly.

After the fourth level of a world, Mario can turn the tides of fortune in his favour by completing an extra stage. All you have to do is catch a key floating around the level and check to see if you can snag any other extra lives along the way – it really is easy peasy. This mini-game differs from the GBA, where the original would present you with a mini-game after levels, and on top of this, it was an entirely different mini-game that involved matching cards. The new mini-game with floating keys fits the game's theme more, but it would have been nice to have more chances to play it.

There is a good variety of worlds to work through, each with its own personalised gimmick. For example, Donkey Kong Jungle has a forest backdrop and will have to navigate snapping Piranha Plants and vine-climbing crocodiles, whereas the Spooky House, a clear reference to Luigi Mansion, inhabits mechanical windup Boo Toys, which is somehow cute and humorous. There are two brand new level worlds from the original, expanding the primary campaign and giving returning players something new. To their merit, the new worlds, Slippery Summit and Merry Mini Land, are some of the more unique and challenging in the game, so they are great additions.

Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)

Mario vs. Donkey Kong has two playable modes: Casual and Classic. You can switch between both of these modes whenever you want. Casual Mode doesn't involve Mario trading in his boiler overalls for informal attire, even though that would have been fun to see; instead, he gets five bubbles that protect him from hits, along with removing the time limit restraint. As you would expect, Classic Mode keeps to the more traditional formula of one hit, takes one life away, and has the additional layer of difficulty with a timer counting down.

Depending on your mood, you can take on the puzzling conundrums with a friend in couch co-op, with everyone's favourite Mushroom Kingdom resident, Toad. Control-wise, the red Toad moves exactly the same way as Mario does, but in a peculiar choice, you can only play multiplayer in Classic Mode. The reason is presumably so the levels do not become too easy, but they are not too challenging anyway. People mainly engage with the Nintendo multiplayer to play with family, especially younger members, where you can assist. This directly goes against teaming up, and weirdly, you might be better off playing in single-player, where you can pass the controller to each other and avoid eating through the lives.

After successfully clearing the levels in a world, Mario will have to complete a special level before heading to the boss fight. This level will have all the Mini-Mario Toys collected in the world make a guest appearance and physically follow Mario as if he were a Marta they worshipped. At different points in the level, there will be letters that spell out the word TOY, and you need to get the Mini Mario Toys to walk through the letters. The Mini Mario Toys may have a lot of passion for Mario, but they needed more common sense and dexterity as they cannot use essential items like ladders. These levels can be very annoying and get old quickly, as you will have to lead the toys to things like switches to make areas and platforms available for them. Even though the Mini-Mario Toy level was a nice idea in principle, it feels very awkward to play. It didn't serve any purpose other than to make Mario potentially contemplate taking out a restraining order on the miniature stalking toys.

Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)

After the toy saga, it's on to the main event, fighting the red-tie ape, Donkey Kong. The battles require Mario to pick up an item like a barrel and hit the enraged monkey several times until he gets overwhelmed and eventually flees with the remaining Mini-Mario Toys. Sometimes, there are environmental hazards, like giant snowballs that fall from the sky, but these segments are not too complicated, and once you get the gist of what you're doing, you will get through it quickly.

The main campaign has eight worlds, which should take most players around 3-4 hours. After you have completed this, you will unlock a Plus Mode, where you revisit each world again, but each level theme is reconceptualised and has brand new puzzles. For instance, the first world, Mario Toy Company, takes place outside the building, but when you repeat the area in Plus Mode, the level takes place in the actual building itself. After you have completed this, which should take another 2-3 hours, you will unlock Expert Mode and Time Attack. These modes will require you to learn the levels inside and out and execute platforming manoeuvres with exact precision. When you weigh up the price tag of $50 USD / £40, it feels rather hefty when the game is light on content and is more selling nostalgia.

The graphics are relatively solid, regardless of whether you are playing on the TV or in handheld mode. That said, playing Mario vs. Donkey Kong is best played on the handheld, as the levels appear more barren when playing on the larger TV screen. It feels more natural on the handheld, which ironically makes it unable to escape from its original roots, as you can feel the handheld legacy is still embedded deep into the DNA of the game's design.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Switch pays homage to the original GBA game and adds some content that returning fans may appreciate. However, the experience as a whole is not too memorable, and some of the later hours can be a slog to push through, as it does not introduce any exciting mechanics to keep things interesting. The puzzles themselves may be great for younger players, who might not have the most exposure to the genre, but there are better options out there, like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, which is far more uniquely designed. Unfortunately, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a gaming relic which should have stayed in the toy box.

Our ratings for Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024) on Switch out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Each world has its own unique theme and puzzles that are usually the best part of the level.
Mario's movement feels rigid and outdated as the developers have not improved or elevated his controls.
Single Player
Like most Mario games, the plot is relatively simple and lets you quickly jump into the action. The amount of content feels light when you consider the price tag.
The multiplayer should have been a star aspect, as you can play with someone else in couch co-op. However, you can only do this in Classic Mode, which is not flexible if you want to incorporate younger players.
The graphics and framerate are solid regardless of whether you are playing on the TV or in handheld mode.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong brings the classic GBA title back with new crisp graphics, but there has not been enough changes to the mechanics or controls to make this feel contemporary on the Switch.
Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)
Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024) box art Platform:
Our Review of Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024) is ranked #1754 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #23 out of 25 games reviewed in 2024.
1753. RoboCop: Rogue City
PlayStation 5
1754. Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)
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Mario vs Donkey Kong (2024)
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