Mario vs. Donkey Kong | Switch | Review - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Monday, March 4, 2024

Mario vs. Donkey Kong | Switch | Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Switch was a game that wasn’t really on my radar, even after trying out the free demo on the Switch eShop. While I think this demo gives gamers a good grasp on what to expect from the game in the most basic sense, it was just way too easy and turned me off from the game. Well, about a week or so after, I was wanting something different to play and took the plunge and just bought the full retail game. Is this puzzle platfomer worth your time and cash? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. Let’s get into it. 

Story & Controls
The story beats in Mario vs. Donkey Kong aren’t going to blow you away, and to be frank, they really don’t have to. DK is flipping channels on TV and comes across commercials about Mini-Mario toys. Consumerism abounds and Donkey Kong feels like he NEEDS these toys. So much so that he goes to the factory and steals them. From there, players take on the role of Mario in an attempt to get these toys back and teach the giant ape a lesson. 

Controls here are simple. Movement can be performed with either the D-pad or joystick, jumps are mapped to A, Y is used to pick up items and holding down the R button allows you to take a look at the stage. Overall, the game plays more like a somewhat slowed down version of Super Mario Bros. 2, or like a faster version of Donkey Kong (not Country, the original DK) than a traditional Mario game. Similar to SMB2, Mario can also pick up some items (like the hammer from DK) and enemies. He can even hurl these into others to defeat most enemies. 
Other more advanced movements, such as doing a handstand (with B and down) and then moving to a double and triple jump afterward are also possible. The handstand doubles as a defense mechanism as it can protect Mario from a variety of falling items, like bricks, tools or snowballs. A side flip is also available by mashing left or right and jump immediately upon turning. Overall, controls are a bit slow, however once you master these additional jumps, Mario is quite a bit more versatile. While the joystick is an option here, I found myself gravitating toward the d-pad during my time with the game.
Two gameplay modes are available right from the start of the game, Casual and Classic. Classic mode features lives and time limits for stages, while Casual slightly changes up the formula. Lives and the timer are gone. What’s added here are check points in the stages and a “bubble” system, for lack of better words. With this, you can take up to five hits before you are forced to retry the stage. The Casual mode is a nice addition for those who are first-timers or who want a bit of a break on some of the more difficult puzzles.

For the record, I never played the original GBA version of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, so I don’t really have a frame of reference in that sense. Even with that said, this remake on the Switch contains all that was found in the original and then some. Two new worlds are here, boosting the amount of stages. All in all, there are over 130 of these taking place over eight worlds, with six stages each as well as two boss stages (eight per world).
Standard stages put players in control of Mario as he makes his way to a key. Once grabbed, this key is used to unlock a door and complete the first part of the stage. The second half of the stage has Mario going after a Mini-Mario toy enclosed in a capsule. Of course getting through these stages is sometimes easier said that done. Warp blocks, color switches, convey belts, ladders and spikes will help and hinder our hero along the way. Collectibles in the form of presents are also scattered throughout the stages. These are needed to get a perfect clear star for the stages. 
A variety of enemies can also be found throughout the experience. Familiar faces, like Shy Guys and Thwomps are here as are other characters that are clearly inspired by previous Donkey Kong games (the Dixie Kong-like and Rambi characters immediate come to mine for me). These range from relatively harmless to deadly, so you’ll have to keep your wits about you when tackling stages. 
After you clear six normal stages in a world, you are able to move on to two final stages for that world. One of the levels will have you guiding six Mini-Marios to their toy box. Just like the standard stages, you will have to deal with the same switches, spikes, enemies and more. The Mini-Marios kind of have a mind of their own, but they generally follow Mario wherever he goes. These can be quite a bit of fun, but they definitely get a bit trickier when enemies are introduced, sometimes frustratingly so. The Mini-Marios’ moves can sometimes be a bit unpredictable, especially when starting out. This can lead to some cheap deaths for the little toys. Stages can be cleared as long as one of the six toys makes it back to their toy box after collecting “TOY” letters around the stages. 

The Donkey Kong stages are more straight forward. As Mario, you simply have to take down the big ape. This is typically done by picking up items (such as barrels) and hurling them directly at DK. The big guy can take several hits before he is defeated. Similarly, Mario can also take several hits before being forced to restart the level. Get by DK without getting hit and you’ll get that coveted perfect clear star. These stages are quite a bit of fun and there are a nice variety of environments. They’re not always super challenging, but they are a great way to round out the worlds. 
Two player local multiplayer is also an option in Mario vs. DK. I didn’t really have much of a chance to try this out, but the stages are slightly different. The most notable change are that two keys are required. Again, I didn’t really try this out so I can’t comment on this in detail, but rest assured, if you have a friend around, you can try this out.

Slight Spoilers on Postgame
Mario vs. DK does offer a decent amount of post game content. After clearing the initial eight worlds, you are given access to a Time Attack mode, Expert Courses as well as bonus worlds. Time Attack and Expert Courses are easy enough to understand, however, the bonus worlds need a little bit of explanation. These will bring Mario back to the previous game worlds but with all new stages. There are six of these per world and a boss level. The biggest difference here is that you now have to guide one Mini-Mario to the locked door in these one-part stages. Most of the time, this is actually really fun and you will have to carefully plot the appropriate course of action for both Mario and Mini-Mario. However, when enemies, especially ones that fire projectiles, are thrown into the mix, levels can get a little bit frustrating. I completed all of these on Classic difficulty and kind of wish I would have saved myself some trouble and tried some of them on Casual first. I won’t go as far as to say that they are unfair, but as with the Mini-Mario stages in the main game, the little guy’s occasional haphazard jumps and movements can shut down a run very quickly.

Visuals, Audio & Performance
Mario vs. Donkey Kong sports a clean look but won’t likely blow you away visually. Even with that said, character models are crisp, environments look great and offer a great deal of variety. From the toy factory, to jungles, snow covered landscape, ghost houses and more, things look great. To top it off, the game runs at a flawless 60 frames per second. Even with that said, I could totally see the game’s visuals being a little bit bland for some, especially if they were to compare it to something like Super Mario Bros. Wonder. It’s not going to blow you away on this front, but it’s decent enough for the genre.
Sound is a strong point for the game. Overall, the tunes that you’ll find here are pretty jazzy, but they are adapted to the stage themes perfectly. Donkey Kong Jungle stages feature a cascade of congas mixed in with other brass instruments. Merry Mini Land features a lot of deep tubs riffs mixed in with lighter sound from the flute making it very much feel like you’re playing the game in an amusement park. For the record, I’m not a super musical guy so I might be wrong on some of the instruments, but still, I think you get my point. The music is awesome. 

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a competent puzzle platformer that is quite a bit of fun. The levels are short and the overall game does no overstay its welcome. The free demo that is out there can give you somewhat of a sense of what to expect, but I think it’s far to short to give you a true picture of what the actual game is about. Aside from annoyances with a little bit of the post game content, I enjoyed my time with the game. If you’re looking for a fun game that you can pick at over time or blow through over the course of a weekend, this one might be for you.

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