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.
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.