(GBA / Game Boy Advance)

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

Game Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Jonathan Town

Prophesizing the amiiboom

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is interesting in that it's the only game in the Mario vs DK franchise (to date) that actually allows the player to control Mario; indeed this was originally planned to be a sequel to 1994's Donkey Kong on Game Boy, so arguably those two have more in common than the other games in the series. Mario vs Donkey Kong primarily revolves around puzzle-platforming, while the Mini-Mario guiding sections that the rest of the series is built around makes for only a small percentage of the experience. Think of Mario vs Donkey Kong as a modern take on the classic Donkey Kong arcade but with a puzzling twist, and you'll be on the right tracks.

The storyline is almost prophetic - Mario is so famous he's started his own toy company, manufacturing Mini-Mario action figures that have become so popular they are all but impossible to get hold of (remind you of anything? *cough* amiibo). Obsessed by the figures yet unable to obtain his own, Donkey Kong heads straight to the source and steals the newly built stock from the factory, which is where the game begins. Playing as Mario your task is to recover all the stolen toys and 'give Donkey Kong a good talking-to for not pre-ordering!'

Structurally the game is initially divided up into six unlockable worlds, each with its own theme. Beginning in the Mario Toy Company factory the player progresses through familiar Nintendo territory, such as Donkey Kong's Jungle, a Ghost House and more. Each of these worlds is comprised of eight levels; of these six are platformers, one is a Mini-Mario level and finally a boss battle with DK himself.

The first half of each platforming level tasks the player with finding a key and carrying it to a locked door, then in the second half it's time to rescue one of the Mini-Mario toys. These levels are a great mix of puzzle solving and skilful play, with Mario able to employ a fairly impressive range of moves including handstands, double jumps, backflips and picking up/throwing objects or enemies. Mastery of the moveset is crucial in order to make it through all the levels unscathed and within the time limit. While not huge (most only being a few screens in size) the levels are chock full of little puzzles and impeccable design, requiring a little thought to figure out the correct route and a little skill to make it all happen. It's all very satisfying when you make a perfect run and achieve a gold star for beating the hi-score.

Once you've rescued six Mini-Marios in each of these main levels, it's time to guide them out to the safety of a toy box in a special Mini-Mario level. These levels will be familiar ground to fans of the later games in this series, although the slight difference is the Mini-Marios are guided on their way by Mario, rather than being set off on their own path. In a nice change from the standard levels - the Mini-Marios can't climb ladders or perform any advanced moves, so Mario must open the way for them through ingenious use of switches and platforms. However, before they can be brought into the toy box you'll need to have them collect the letters T, O and Y along the way. You can finish the level with only a single Mini reaching the end, but the more you've saved when you complete the level carries into the boss battle.

The final level of each world is a boss battle with Donkey Kong; your 'health' being dictated by how many Mini-Marios you rescued in the previous level. These boss battles are generally fairly simple to figure out and pass with a little practice (although towards the end they do get a little tougher) but you'll only receive an elusive gold star if you defeat DK without taking a hit and with a full compliment of Mini-Marios.

Completion of the first 6 worlds (and a final battle with DK) unlocks 6 new 'Plus' Worlds which twist things up a touch and see Mario guiding the Mini-Mario out of each level instead of simply just collecting it. You'll also be able to access Expert levels, which require a set number of stars to unlock, each progressive level requiring even more stars. In case you haven't caught the gist of this, that's a whole lot of content that's going to take some beating, especially getting a gold star in all the standard and plus levels in order to unlock the full compliment of levels for expert.

What's lovely about this game are the ways in which it references the original Donkey Kong, with familiar looking objects, tunes and sound effects that go some way to making it feel retro yet refreshing. Some people aren't going to like the graphic style though, which uses pre-rendered graphics for a pseudo-3D look and feel to the sprites. While still undeniably charming, this visual style looked blocky even on a GBA sized screen, so be prepared for viewing via Wii U to feel like Legoland has exploded onto your TV screen. It's not all bad though, as there's lovely use of colour and the usual Mario charm is all present and correct. What is annoying, however, is Mario has seemingly just discovered the power of speech and is a little too chatty, even stringing together full sentences during cut scenes which quite frankly just seems a bit weird. Seriously Mario, shut up and jump.


All in all, this is a mighty fine platform-based puzzler. It's got a good balance between being both thoughtful and fun and is perfect to pick up for a quick play; the sizeable amount of unlockable content also means there's plenty to get stuck into. Playing on Wii U via Virtual Console doesn't really offer any additional benefits (the game saves between levels anyway, so even Virtual Console save states don't bring anything to the table) although some people might like the option to play on the big screen. For us though, it's all about chillin' out with Mario and DK on the GamePad screen as that seems to be the best fit. If you do happen to have spare eShop credit burning a hole in your virtual pocket and fancy a slice of classic retro-themed puzzling action, you could do a lot worse than this re-released little gem.

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User Comments (28)



NintyMan said:

Remember, kids; it's not okay to steal from a factory just because you can't get a certain amiibo!

You know; the story is kind of silly. These were just toys that Mario was risking his life to rescue. It's not like he had to rescue the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom or even a damsel like Pauline. The ending (which I won't spoil) just makes it even more absurd.

Anyway, this is a good game. The puzzles were tricky, but interesting. I love how Mario actually speaks!

I wish Nintendo would make a Mario vs. DK game like this again. Not that I dislike the Mini Mario-focused sequels, but I think they've been overdone. Funnily enough, this and Donkey Kong '94 are ten years apart, so this game is like a 10th anniversary homage to Donkey Kong '94.



Bolt_Strike said:

This is the only Mario vs. DK game that I really liked, the others went in a more casual direction and gave you less control which decreased my enjoyment.



Samuel-Flutter said:

I loved this game. I beat it 100 percent back when we took a road trip to Washington. I picked it up on my 3DS now and wonder how I managed that.



DreamyViridi said:

While Tipping Stars is my favourite of the Mini games, it goes without saying that the original GBA M vs. DK is the best one and my favourite game of the whole series. Contrary to the review though, I think Mario properly speaking is one of the game's good points ("Oh, you mum mummy [Italian gibberish]" makes me laugh) . I have it on the 3DS and have completed it at least twice.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong needs a "proper" sequel, level editor and all.



wiggleronacid said:

This is still my favorite Mario vs Donkey Kong game in the series. I remember pouring countless hours into this as a child as a lot of the levels required both clever thought processing and careful platforming. I did enjoy the later games, granted I haven't played all of them, but I would definitely like to see the style of the original installment come back.



Blue_Blur said:

This was my first Gameboy game, and I loved it! It's still my favorite game in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Glad to see it get a good score!



allav866 said:

Me and DK '94 have a weird history. My dad sent me and my brother a GameBoy for Christmas one year with three games: Super Mario Land 2, DK '94, and Mortal Kombat. My mother didn't let us touch the latter, which is possibly why I suck so bad at fighters, and DK '94 became too hard for me in its later stages, so I ended up playing SML2 most of the time. It wasn't until DK '94 came to the 3DS eShop that I picked it up again and beat it. Now I think I've grown to appreciate it more than SML2, and I hope that this sequel to it is released in America soon. (after Metroid: Zero Mission, of course)



BearClaus said:

I loved this game and its spiritual predecessor on Game Boy (when that came to 3DS VC).



sketchturner said:

This game is amazing but its brilliance only comes apparent when you go for 100% completion. I thought it was only a decent game until I went for time trials, etc



earthboundlink said:

Remember playing this one back in 2004. I was a member of the "Nintendo Street Team" back then, and this was one of the games we demoed to folks around town. I thought it was a cool concept at the time, so it's good to hear it holds up pretty well.

Like others in the thread, I believe it's the best in the series. I was never a huge fan of the turn the series took with the minis as the actual "playable" characters, and preferred the "Donkey Kong sequel" approach.



vincentgoodwin said:

Donkey Kong '94 (which this game was based on) was my jam! I might call it my favorite 2D platformer, period. I was actually a little disappointed by the first MvDK just because I was so good at the style of gameplay after 10 years of DK94 that I beat MvDK and its Plus worlds in an afternoon. I've gone back a few times, and it's fun, but I prefer the clean graphics of DK94.

While we're waiting for a North American release (and Zero Mission), go and get Donkey Kong '94 for your 3DS. It's a blast.



TruenoGT said:

@vincentgoodwin 2nd'd for DK '94. There are some cool stages and ideas in MvDK, but stylistically it felt like a downgrade. It's even better if you have the opportunity to play via Super Gameboy to play in color with the arcade machine border.



Gridatttack said:

This should have all the e reader levels, as well as they should have unlocked the level editor the game has (inaccessible without modding the game)



MetalMario said:

I actually still find this game to be the best in the series with the Mini Marios. I like the newer ones, but never quite enjoyed them as much.



Steel76 said:

The last truly great Mario VS Donkey Kong game.
I hate how the series became more focused on the mini's after this.

Let's hope we can get another game that focuses more on the platforming and having you control Mario again, in a future sequel.



Rect_Pola said:

I really miss that puzzle-platforming style they don't use anymore. I don't dislike the mini marios (which I'm shocked haven't gotten some merch yet) or their quasi-lemming thing, but in changing the series to focus on them, they dropped the old game.



wazlon said:

I like both the platforming style and mini's style games. I just wish Nintendo would make them two separate series and make both types of games!



AlexSora89 said:

8 out of ten is just about right,
on 3DS though it'd be a nine.
Too bad we won't see any game
on portables if it's from the GBA.



rushiosan said:

A portable game.

On a home console.

A portable game.

On a home console.

Nintendo logic is awesome.



Bass_X0 said:

I don't have a problem being able to play GBA and DS games on Wii U. Why do you?

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