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Mario Vs Donkey Kong: A Rivalry Renewed

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a puzzle series that dates back the Gameboy Advance and DS days. I highly enjoyed its later entries but had curiously missed the first entry. With its remake now released on the Nintendo Switch, what is it like? What’s changed from its GBA days?

Mario Vs Donkey Kong: A Rivalry Reborn

Mario Vs Donkey Kong has been a thing since 1981 where Mario had to rescue a damsel in distress from the big ape. He retaliated by kidnapping Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr having to rescue his father.

Since then the rivalry has become more like friendly, with outings at the kart track, golfing and even parties. Donkey Kong seems to have some affection for Mario and when mini-Mario toys go on sale, he rushes out to buy some. Unfortunately for him everyone else seems to have the same idea and they’re sold out. In a fit of rage, Donkey Kong breaks into the mini-Mario factory and steals all the remaining toys.

Enter Mario, the hero of the piece. It’s up to him to push his way through levels and recover all missing mini-Marios.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong World 1

Everything Old Is New Again

There are eight base worlds in Mario Vs Donkey Kong, with each world having eight levels. Six of the levels have Mario rescuing minis. One has him guiding the minis through obstacles. The last has a fight against Donkey Kong.

The six main levels in a world have an old school arcade Donkey Kong feel to them. Mario jumps and climbs, avoiding enemies and solving puzzles. These levels have two sections. The first section is gated by a locked door. Mario must find the key and get to the door to progress. In the second section, Mario must retrieve the mini.

This game is a puzzle game first, platformer second. Mario’s base jump is only one tile. This can be extended with a back flip or jumping from a hand stand but don’t expect the level of control from games like Super Mario Bros Wonder. There is no control in the air. The controls are exactly what they need to be for a puzzle game. They are tight and I never felt like the controls were the reason I was having issues.

Once the eight base worlds have been completed, eight plus worlds open. These take the themes of the base worlds and remix elements to make them more challenging.

Get Your Thinking Hat On!

The puzzles early in Mario Vs Donkey Kong are, in a word, simplistic. I get that they’re supposed to start that way and ramp up, but most of the base levels are reasonably straight forward. This does ramp up in the plus world as well as the unlockable expert levels (more on them later). In the plus worlds the objective isn’t to rescue the minis, but to guide one with a key to safety. That adds an extra layer of difficulty as now I had to think about protecting the mini-me as well as myself.

Each level in the base and plus worlds have three presents. Collecting all of them gave me a gold star for that level. These unlock expert levels, with the last expert level requiring 128 stars. These are another step up in the difficulty, presenting a harder challenge.

After completing the base worlds, a time attack becomes available. Beating the levels under the allotted time awarded me a gold medal. Beating the plus worlds unlocks time attack for those stages.

Boss Fight

Take On The Challenge

There are two difficulty settings in Mario Vs Donkey Kong: Casual and Classic. In Classic mode, I had a time limit. Taking damage or the timer running out resulted in a lost life. If a level has two sections I would be sent back to the beginning of that section, having to collect the presents again. Running out of lives gives a game over screen but just means I had to start the level from the beginning. Progress up to that level was still saved.

Casual really dampened the difficulty. The time limit is removed in this mode and checkpoints added. Taking damage doesn’t result in immediate death. Instead, a bubble with appear to take Mario back to the last checkpoint, keeping all the presents he has collected. Mario has access to five bubbles before he loses a life and must start the level again.

Gold stars are awarded no matter which difficulty levels are completed on. That feels like a slap in the face to the Classic players. The checkpoints and bubbles in Casual play makes the game infinitely easier and skilled players can incorporate things like death warps (dying to go back to a previous checkpoint) to make things super easy. My personal preference would be to have given players that completed a level on Casual difficult to get a Silver star or half a gold star.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong Jungle World

Mario Vs Donkey Kong: From GBA To Switch

While I hadn’t played the original GBA version of Mario Vs Donkey Kong, I recently discovered that I have a copy on my 3DS. I was able to go back and compare some basic features between the two titles.

Right off the bat, the graphical upgrade is massive. The characters and enemies look stunning. Music has been given a birthday with tracks fitting environments, from jungles and factories to ghost houses and volcanoes.

Another big change is how players earn gold stars. In the Switch version it’s as simple as collecting the three presents. But the GBA version was score based. Collecting the presents was still a must, but finishing the level fast added the remaining time to your score.

I mentioned earlier in the review that the controls were tight. Comparing them to the GBA version it’s a mammoth improvement. Manoeuvring Mario through levels is much easier on the Switch.

I have an issue with the change in difficulty. Nintendo should be applauded for making their games more accessible. Gaming is for everyone and I wish more games allowed people to play at their own pace. But that shouldn’t come at the cost of long-time fans. The scoring method of obtaining gold stars is more of a challenge than collecting the presents and would make getting them feel like more of an accomplishment.

Donkey Kong

Mario Vs Donkey Kong

The game is let down by management of its two difficulties. There is no incentive to play the Classic mode when playing on the Casual difficulty netted me the same rewards and was infinitely easier.

That is a fairly minor point in an enjoyable game. The Switch release of Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a fun puzzle title. The graphical and musical overhaul make it a joy to look at and listen to. Puzzles in levels flow well and there are some that are real challenges.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is out now for the Nintendo Switch for $69.95.


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