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Mario vs. Donkey Kong – A Look Back

Rango

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a puzzle-platformer released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004. Known originally as “Donkey Kong Plus,” the title serves as a successor to Donkey Kong on the original Game Boy. Released on the Wii U eShop, Mario vs. Donkey Kong also appeared in the Nintendo 3DS ambassador program.

In Mario vs. Donkey Kong, DK has stolen Mini-Marios from Mario’s Toy Factory! Chasing him through eight worlds, Mario must battle Donkey Kong, saving Minis along the way.

While Mario vs. Donkey Kong succeeds the beloved remake of a classic, it’s also an unfortunately rushed mess that could have played – and looked – much better. In this month’s edition of “A Look Back”, we will guide you through the good and bad in our Mario vs. Donkey Kong review!

Visuals

The game invested in a pseudo-3D art style for its characters. While the backgrounds are nicely detailed for a GBA title, the character sprites didn’t hit that same note.

The pseudo-3D effect showcases the sprites in a vain almost similar to a Donkey Kong Country. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere near as detailed and, dare I say, akin to a smudge.

No matter what filter you apply to it – assuming you play on Wii U eShop – the character sprites up being an eyesore.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

In future titles, Mario vs. Donkey Kong took on a more traditional 2D sprite look. This likely reflects the lack of captivation that the sprites in this game conveyed. Unfortunately, it also abandoned the puzzle-platformer formula in favor of a Lemmings-style approach.

Gameplay

Mario vs. Donkey Kong echoes the remake of Donkey Kong. The Game Boy title introduced keys, levers, and magic platforms that you could place. Mario also had a handstand, a triple jump, and even a backflip!

In this game, much of the gameplay returns. It doesn’t evolve on the original so much as it simply harkens back to the game one decade later. As Donkey Kong GB was one of the console’s best games, it would otherwise continue the tradition of great level design.

Level Design

Unfortunately, it does the opposite. Late-game stages will eat lives and become extremely frustrating. But while a challenge is always welcome, this is less about difficulty and more about faulty level design. Later levels showcase a lopsided level of difficulty, going from hard to easy and vice-versa.

Moreover, some of the directions and intentions from the design choices feel misleading. Being forced to rely on proper enemy placement, which happens in later levels, completely bogs down the pacing of the game. As a result, it ends up being the game’s lowest point.

Final Thoughts

Mario vs. Donkey Kong showcases the premise of the original Donkey Kong’s gameplay. It also introduces a new, Lemmings-type gameplay mechanic while saving the Minis. This form of gameplay was later adapted into the game’s core gameplay in its sequels.

When you fight Donkey Kong, the battles involve defending against projectiles with handstands and throwing barrels at the ape, just like in DK on Game Boy. You can also play a mini-game for extra lives. Unfortunately, it’s pointless because it’s based entirely on luck. You can do nothing and still either get a 5-Up or an Out.

All things considered, however, Mario vs. Donkey Kong feels like a rushed mess. It starts off strong and gets much weaker later on. If you want to try this game, you can still download it on the Wii U Virtual Console.

However, you’ll find better platformers and puzzle games on GBA than this. You can also get the original Game Boy Donkey Kong on the 3DS eShop, which I strongly recommend.

5
Mediocre
Mario vs. Donkey Kong – A Look Back
Mixed Bag of Toys
The game has an excellent premise just because Donkey Kong on Game Boy was a solid, polished puzzle-platformer. But the rushed level design and unremarkable music bog it down from its predecessor. The equally-unremarkable visual style also showcases a visual experiment gone wrong. Nintendo could have picked a better game for the GBA Ambassador series, as it was the reason why I decided to play this game. That said, it's the weakest game of the 3DS Ambassador GBA titles. If you're looking for puzzles and platforms for the GBA, you'll find much better, less frustrating choices elsewhere.
Pros
Concept borrowed from one of the best remakes of all time.
Cons
Visual style hasn't aged well.
Frustrating level design.

Rango has been gaming since 1993. He loves Action/Adventure, JRPG, and Platforming games the most. When he's not writing reviews, he competes in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments.

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