Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Mini-Marios, big-time fun

By Paul Hunter

It's the 20th anniversary of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Nintendo's famous action-puzzler featuring their two oldest mascots—Mario and Donkey Kong, of course. To celebrate this milestone, Nintendo has remade this classic on their newest console, the Nintendo Switch.

This updated version has been modernized in many ways, from the enhanced graphics to new local co-op multiplayer to entire new worlds to experience. If you've played and enjoyed the original, you should definitely check out all the great new additions in this remake. And if you've yet to try Nintendo's iconic puzzle series, there's no better entry point than Mario vs. Donkey Kong on Nintendo Switch.

Let's start with the most obvious enhancement: the refreshed graphics sporting 3D models instead of pre-rendered sprites. The Mario vs. Donkey Kong remake looks fabulous and on par with other modern Mario titles like Super Mario Bros. Wonder or New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Mario and Donkey Kong are detailed and nicely animated, as are all the enemies like the well-known Shy Guys and Thwomps, along with the lesser-known but equally cute RamRam rhinos and the pushy Sir Shovalot.

As mentioned, this updated version features two-player local co-op and it's really the best way to play through this game. Player two will control Toad and together with Mario can complete all 130-plus levels. The game includes eight worlds, with each containing six regular levels, one level where you have to guide Mini-Mario toys to their toybox, and one boss battle level against Donkey Kong.

When playing with two players, each regular level will require you to grab two keys to unlock the door to the second half of the level, instead of the usual one key if you're playing solo. While it might sound challenging to have to grab two keys, playing co-op is actually a lot easier because you can work together to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles. One player can even grab a key and use it on the door, then grab the other key and use it as well. So if you're thinking of playing this game with kids, it's a snap to help them complete levels.

From a story perspective, it remains more or less the same as the original game, only this time you're treated to fully animated cutscenes instead of static frames. As the story goes, Mario has become so famous he's started his own toy company that produces adorable little Mini-Mario wind-up toys. Donkey Kong sees a commercial for said toys and rushes to the local toy shop to pick one up, but they're so popular they've sold out.

That's when Donkey Kong hatches a new plan: storm the toy factory and steal the next production batch all for himself. Of course, Mario chases after him and Donkey Kong in his haste starts dropping the toys, which Mario then collects one by one after beating each level. It's a simple, effective story brought to life through excellent cutscenes that are leaps and bounds better than the originals.

The gameplay in Mario vs. Donkey Kong is different than in traditional Mario platforming games in many ways. For starters, Mario's jumps are weightier and not as high, and his movements in general are much more deliberate. He can also climb, swing, perform handstands (that deflect objects thrown at him) and backflip to reach higher areas. As well, Mario can grab objects including keys to unlock part two of each level, and he can grab enemies like Shy Guys and give them a toss. Nabbing bad guys not only can get them out of your way, but you can also throw them on spikes and then jump on their heads to use them as a moving platform.

Completing stages involves strategy as you figure out the right switches to hit, where and when to throw enemies, and overcome various hazards thrown your way. Fortunately, this version includes two different playstyles so gamers of all experience levels can enjoy the game. Firstly, there's the Classic mode where just like in the Game Boy Advance version levels are timed and one hit and you're out. Then there's Casual mode, offering a more relaxed experience with no timer, Mario is given five bubble health points and adds level checkpoints.

One big new addition to this remake is a pair of all-new worlds, the amusement park-themed Merry Mini-Land and the wintery wonderland Slippery Summit. Each of these worlds contains eight levels (just like the others), including six regular stages, a Mini-Mario level where you need to guide the toys into their toybox, and a new Donkey Kong boss battle. Both of these worlds have great puzzle stages that blend in seamlessly with the rest of the game—making them welcomed additions!

Once you beat Mario vs. Donkey Kong there's a ton of end-game content to keep you coming back. There are eight Plus Worlds to beat, which revisits the original eight worlds in the game but contains trickier versions of each level. The biggest new challenge is in each Plus world a Mini-Mario will follow you around, so not only need to complete the stage but do so while keeping your mini buddy alive.

There are also 16 expert levels to tackle, four more than what's found in the Game Boy Advance version. These ultra-tough levels are sure to push your puzzle-solving abilities to the limit. They often involve hitting switches in an elaborate sequence and with split-second timing. You'll also need to master all the gameplay mechanics and you'll need to employ advanced skills to solve the puzzles.

Time Attack mode unlocks after you beat the game as well. This fun mode challenges you to complete levels within a certain time limit, and better yet, your best times get saved so you can retry to be even faster the next time. You're timed across both areas of each level, so if you're fast in one-half of the level but slow in the other you might fail! Another new addition in this remake is the Gallery mode, where you can view the cutscenes, music and sound effects the game has.

The Verdict

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an excellent remake that enhances everything from the visuals to adding new worlds to the inclusion of two-player co-op. The bite-sized levels are perfect for short play sessions and especially well-suited for kids. There's a ton of content on offer as well, including 64 regular levels, an equal number of Plus levels and 16 expert challenges. An overall fantastic package that'll keep you happily playing for a long time to come.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Mario vs. Donkey Kong details

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Puzzle, Action
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.