(GBA / Game Boy Advance)

Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA / Game Boy Advance)

Game Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Marcel van Duyn

A worthy successor

The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series has been going for quite a while now, with four entries under its belt. If you've never played the original, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it's not much more than a fun Lemmings clone, but that's actually not true.

In fact, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is closer to the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong, which took the basic formula of the original arcade game and added a host of new moves, enemies and levels.

Originally titled Donkey Kong Plus while still in development, Mario vs. Donkey Kong was supposed to be a remake or port of the Game Boy game, with the ability to link your Game Boy Advance to your GameCube to access a level editor. This idea was eventually scrapped and it was completely retooled to be a sequel, of sorts, instead.

The premise is a bit different from the arcade and Game Boy games. This time, Mario has started a new toy line with miniature versions of himself and DK, for some reason, loves them so much that he raids Mario's factory and makes off with the lot of them. Mario then has to give chase in order to get them all back.

The Game Boy title had plenty of content, but Mario vs. Donkey Kong takes it up to a whole new level. The game begins with six worlds, each with six levels and a boss, followed by a final boss fight. In each level, your first goal is to find a key and take it to a locked door by solving puzzles and doing some clever platforming, which might seem familiar. Each level, however, also has an entire second "room" after the key/door in which you have to recover the Mini-Mario toy. These secondary segments might seem easier since there's only one thing you have to reach instead of two, but they can be just as devious.

Mario still has his full arsenal of moves from the previous game, and you'll need every single one of them: backflips, handstands, somersaults, the ability to hang and spin on wires and the ability to stand on and pick up enemies and other objects. You'll even see some familiar enemies as well as, of course, the classic hammers, vines and other items and objects. This title also introduces several new items, usually one per world. The one thing you'll probably be seeing the most of are coloured blocks, which can be made solid or non-solid by jumping on switches in the level. There are other elements like breakable blocks which you have to throw Bob-ombs at, amongst other things.

In fact, most of the time you'll be doing more puzzling than platforming. The previous game had a decent mix of the two, but the balance is clearly shifted much more heavily in one direction this time around, with most enemies being easily avoidable and platforming generally being very simple. The boss fights are still pretty much the same however, simply requiring you to throw enemies at DK a number of times.

After defeating DK a seventh and seemingly final time, you might think it's over, but you're actually only half done, as six more worlds will open up. These are a bit more difficult, but unfortunately each of the levels here only has one segment. The goals are a bit of a combination of the two different level segments from before, as this time you must find a Mini-Mario and lead him towards the door to let him open it. Don't worry, they won't run off on their own — they just stick behind you and follow you around as closely as possible.

If these extra worlds aren't enough for you either, there's also a set of 12 "expert" levels to unlock by getting good ranks on the standard levels. This is simply done by clearing the high score on each, for which the most important factor is the time you spent on the stage. Of course, these are the hardest levels the game has to offer, so if you can clear these, give yourself a pat on the back.

Graphics-wise, this title is nice and colourful, though the sprites do stick out a bit. The developers opted to go with a pre-rendered style, much like in Donkey Kong Country, and although it actually looks pretty good, it's a bit strange to see this style in a Nintendo title again after all this time. The music is simple and quite catchy, though it is a bit silly that they went on to mostly reuse the same songs for every one of the game's later sequels. If you played those before playing this one, that might be a source of irritation.


Although initially planned as just a remake, Mario vs. Donkey Kong managed to become a great title in its own right and is a worthy follow-up to the amazing Game Boy original. It's too bad the series has only had Lemmings-esque instalments since, as the original formula is perfectly worthy of another day in the limelight.

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User Comments (42)



zezhyrule said:

This game is so much better than the minis whatever games, I need to pick this back up some time.

Nice review :3



grumblegrumble said:

This is a very charming, colorful and delightful game that borrows elements from every past game in the series (DK and SMB)! Great score!



NintyMan said:

I really like the charm in this one. The cutscenes are humorous (Shy Guy News?) and Mario speaks more in this game than any other. The puzzles can be challenging but not overwhelming, and the music is good, especially in the Mystic Forest and second final boss battle. It's also nice how both the Mario and Donkey Kong series have some elements thrown in, from the music to the graphics.

Overall, this is what the rest of the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series should've been. I certainly would've played the rest of them if they were like this, but we can only hope that the next one like this comes someday.



Chris720 said:

Loved this game when I had it on my GBA all those years ago and I'm still loving it now. Just a shame Nintendo moved the series around the Mini-Mario's... :/

I sure hope we get another Mario vs. DK game.



Geonjaha said:

It was a great game back then - but the graphics havent aged as well as some of the other games, and I dont find much replay value in it anymore, so for me it's not the best Ambassador title choice - but that only makes 3 I didnt want!



alLabouTandroiD said:

It's still not in the same league as Donkey Kong '94 for me. I guess it's because of the presentation. The typically blurry early GBA graphics alone make this less of a classic than the original which is one of the very best GB games imo.
And while i like that Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! did something different i'd love a new game with the same gameplay and cleaner graphics doing the series justice.



Capt_N said:

Due to my couple-months-now-sold Original/"Phat" Ds hinge, & shoulder button problems, I consistently used my Limited Ed. Nes GBA SP. I have to say, after getting Mini-land Mayhem for Christmas last year(2010), & playing MvsDK only a few months ago, literally, I like both. It's hard to sell online, when you don't wanna sell gems from your own collections. I'm glad I have this still.

As always Nintendolife, & in this particular review Marcel, great review.

@BattLeToaD: "The typically blurry early GBA graphics" I agree they are blurry, esp. on a GBA Player.



gusmento01 said:

I have the original game, I played more on my GameCube(Game Boy Player) than on my GBA.



Galaxia-Master said:

Not as good as Donkey Kong '94, but still a lot better than the minis games. Just because of the fast gameplay, the gameplay with the touchscreen sucked. Pity there's not level editor!



TheGreenSpiny said:

@4 Nintyfan: It's funny how this game is like fully voice acted by Mario. The only Mario game to have voice.



Late said:

Nice game but this game isn't as beautiful looking as some other GBA games. And this one is definitely better than the later Mario vs. DK games but it still can't beat GB DK.



Smitherenez said:

I somehow don't like this game as much as Donkey Kong for the gameboy, while it actually is the same game.



chewytapeworm said:

One of the better Ambassador games, I had no idea it wasn't a chirpy Lemmings clone and thus was pleasantly surprised upon playing this. 8/10 might just be about right.



warioswoods said:

Such a great, under-appreciated series of games, though I'll agree with others that DK '94 may have been the best of them all.



MrZanctom said:

The second game of the series is by far the best one. I like this one but the second one is ten times better.



OldBoy said:

Got this as an Ambassador game and must say I'm impressed.Never played any of this series of games so this was a nice surprise.
Great graphics and some excellent gameplay.Also the opening movie is surely the funniest thing Nintendo has ever done. Class. 9/10



Ren said:

I gotta get my old DS phat back up and running. After playing some of these great ambassador games it seems like I missed a lot of GBA gems like this one. (still works fine, but the touchscreen keeps going. The cheap replacements only last a couple months, but the install is easy and only cost 4$ from hong kong, anyone know a better source for replacement DS fat touchscreens?)



bezerker99 said:

I'm playing this right now. It's the first GBA Ambassador game I've played. I picked it up and haven't even played any of the others yet. Love these Mario vs DK games!!!!




Nah, though I think this is a stonewaller for a 9/10, the best one in the series is Mini-Land Mayhem, the most recent one IMHO.



sketchturner said:

I can't fathom how anyone could say DK '94 is better than this game. I loved the '94 version, don't get me wrong. It was great for its time. But it only took me about 5 hours to beat the entire game. There's is just no replay value at all.

MvDK, on the other hand, has WAY more challenge, variety, length, etc. You try to get stars on every level, including the + worlds AND the secret levels and tell me this game is not a much fuller experience than DK '94.



mushroomer said:

i bought this like 2 years ago and played it on my train commute for many days. i ended up missing my stop once and didnt notice til i was 2 stops past!!! thats how much you can get into it... but, i would have to say that the March of the Mini's the first one with the level editor was my favorite just because it was so much fun to share levels with fellow forum friend lists..



alvieao said:

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the spiritual sequel to Donkey Kong '94, which remains one of my favorite Game Boy games to this day. I've always considered MvDK better, simply because it kept the original formula from the 1994 Game Boy classic; I never liked the Lemmings-style gameplay in the DS sequels. The game is more challenging and varied, as this time around the stages are puzzle-oriented. Nice graphics and a very catchy soundtrack to boot (Mama-Mia, Mario talks a lot!). There's a few gripes that prevented MvDK from being as great as the GB original: the somewhat spotty controls (too many deaths I didn't ask for because of this) and pre-rendered visuals in the vein of Donkey Kong Country (it's weird Nintendo and NST used this art style again after all these years). Kudos to Nintendo for including Mario vs. Donkey Kong in the 3DS Ambassadors program. Although Donkey Kong '94 is still the best in my opinion, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a worthy follow-up to the Game Boy classic.



C-Olimar said:

I think to make another sequel they could either have MvDK 5 and just switch the gameplay back or release another game simply titled 'Donkey Kong', or something similar. At any rate, I hope they return to this and the original Donkey Kong gameplay.



Kagamine said:

i hate this game, if I had reviewed it i would have given it at most a 4. But thats my opinion. Come to think of it i don't like any of the Mario vs. Donkey kong games.



Knuckles said:

I perfer DK 94 to M V.S DK DSiware so if this becomes available to non ambassadors i will buy it. Do you not want money Nintendo?



StarBoy91 said:

Much better than the bland, forgettable Mario Pinball Land, imo, this game is really fun, even if there were a few frustrating moments. I liked how this game took its roots from Donkey Kong on the original Game Boy, and the inbetween cutscenes are really nice. Good game.



StarBoy91 said:

@StarDust - let me clarify; I admire Mario Pinball Land's visuals (even though they''re starting to show their age), and the soundtrack is decent, plus on paper it seems like a good a idea. But what killed that game for me was the frustration factor, most particularly the battle against Bowser. In fact, forget everything else, that is when things started getting truly frustrating for me. I've tried to defeat Bowser in that game countless times, but I was always irritated at the fact that every time you fell down, you fell straight down into the entrance, and had to start the battle against him all over again. Timing is a crucial issue, I'm aware, but I just gave up trying to beat the game after having lost to Bowser many times. That's not to say I don't like the pinball genre, I do, but Mario Pinball Land falls at the bottom of the list for me. If you, or anyone else for that matter, find the game enjoyable, then I'm okay with that. To each their own.



Freeon-Leon said:

Hmmm... I don't think this could be called "a worthy succesor". Although this is a good game, it feels kinda dull sometimes if you've played DK 94 before. Maybe I just got to play it a little bit more to get use to it D:

8/10 for me



Sonicman said:

Meh... I hate the physics of this game, I can't even play it for very long on my 3DS without getting bored .



UnseatingKDawg said:

Ah, my first GBA game. I loved getting through the whole 9 yards on that, and I'm currently enjoying it again on the 3DS. Unfortunately, it's been quite some time since the GBA, so even though I'm in World 5 Plus, I get stuck in some situations merely because I can't remember how the heck I managed to do so in the first place. An excellent title overall.



nooooooooooooop said:

I got this with the Mario Gameboy advance for my birthday years ago. It was the first game I really owned and I love it!

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