Mario Vs Donkey Kong Review – Almost Perfect Puzzling

Mario Vs Donkey Kong




  • Beautiful presentation that's full of charm.
  • Excellent level and puzzle design.
  • Additional levels add extra value.


  • Some finickity moves consistently frustrate.
  • Casual mode can't be played in co-op.
  • Some irritating sound effects.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is the latest game from Nintendo’s back catalogue to get a shiny remaster on Switch, and it arrives at an unusual time for the system.

Releasing a month shy of the Switch’s seventh birthday, Mario Vs Donkey Kong brings the Game Boy Advance original up to date with modern aesthetics and a heap of minor changes.

Players looking for another traditional side-scrolling Mario adventure after the brilliant Mario Wonder may feel a little perplexed by this latest offering.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong shifts the emphasis away from jumping on Goombas and wonder-filled sequences and instead focuses on precise puzzle platforming where your brain will receive a workout as much as Mario’s hamstrings.

To some, revamping this forgotten gem of Mario and Donkey Kong’s history may feel like Nintendo is treading water until the inevitable Switch successor, but dismissing Mario Vs Donkey Kong would mean missing out on a seriously good time, even with its minor shortcomings.

Classic Kong Behaviour

Mario contemplates his actions.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is something of a spiritual successor to the original Donkey Kong, with our heroic plumber facing off against the pesky primate.

Donkey Kong hasn’t kidnapped Princess Peach, Pauline, or Fay Wray, but has instead stolen all of the Mini Mario toys from Mario’s Toy Factory, snatching them all up like a greedy scalper when Taylor Swift tickets go on sale.

With the toys bundled into his burlap sack, Donkey Kong is pursued by Mario across eight different worlds. Each of those worlds is split into six levels, which in turn, have two distinct stages.

The first stage of every level sees Mario searching for a key to unlock the door to the second stage. Mario doesn’t pocket these oversized keys when he collects them and must instead carry them throughout the level to the locked door leading to the second stage.

Mario carries a key through a haunted house.

Popping the key down at any point sets off a twelve-second timer that will reset the position of the key if it’s not picked up again in that time, creating some fun and frantic dashes to reacquire keys after you’ve abandoned them to navigate some tricky platforms or solve another logic puzzle.

Each level’s second stage is more straightforward with Mario having to traverse a puzzle platforming section to reach one of Donkey Kong’s stolen Mini Mario toys.

Navigating and completing the two different stages requires the same skillset and both are great fun to explore thanks to Mario’s athleticism.

Tick Tock

Mario rides a platform on some lava.

This remake of the GBA classic offers two different gameplay modes. There’s a new casual mode, that I’ll dive into more detail on later, and the ‘Classic’ mode.

Classic mode will be familiar to players who enjoyed the original on the Game Boy Advance. The puzzles here won’t win any awards for their complexity but the game does a good job at slowly ramping up the difficulty curve throughout the length of the main campaign.

Each stage has a timer that counts down in the top right-hand corner of the screen. If this timer reaches zero, Mario will lose a life and have to start over. Mario will also exclaim ‘Mama Mia’ and head to that great Mushroom Kingdom in the sky if he lands on spikes, touches an enemy, or sustains injury from one of many different types of traps.

Mario rides a floating platform in the woods.

As somebody who plays games to relax and unwind, I was initially anxious about applying a timer to my new, bright, and colourful Mario adventure.

That anxiety, as it transpires, was unnecessary. Most levels provide players ample time to deduce solutions and complete their objectives.

During those levels where I did genuinely run out of time after too much faffing about, respawning back at the start of the level was an opportunity to master my dexterity and hone my puzzle-solving skills, often beating tasks within a fraction of the previous time thanks to experience gained during my previously flawed attempts.

My recommendation to all players is to keep trying the Classic mode, at least to start with. The panic and elation born from a last-minute level solve flooded my brain with dopamine on multiple occasions and left me grinning from ear to ear.

Keeping Things Casual

Mario jumps on a spring in casual mode.

While the Classic mode is my recommended way to play, Casual mode still has its place and is a worthwhile addition to this remaster.

Perfect for first-time players, younger gamers, or simply those looking to puzzle away without a time limit, Casual mode removes the impending deadline and grants players five hit points before they lose a life and have to restart.

Checkpoints also scatter each level, reducing the amount of backtracking required in the event of biffing a jump or being bopped by an enemy.

Mario and Toad team up in co-op.

New to the remaster is a co-op mode, allowing players to tackle every level with a friend assuming the role of Toad. On the face of it, this should be the perfect way to play alongside a younger gamer or a less experienced player.

Unfortunately, Nintendo has elected to make the co-op mode exclusively playable using the Classic ruleset. That means no extra chances if one of you should fail and an ever-looming time limit to overcome.

Co-op can still be fun with players of a similar skill level but it’s a strange choice to lock co-op to Classic mode and it may put the brakes on anyone looking to enjoy Mario Vs Donkey with a youngster or somebody new to gaming.

Timeless Good Looks

Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

While playing together can be a little painful, something the whole family can agree on is that Mario, Donkey Kong, and the gang all look great.

The original was hampered by the GBA’s limited hardware specs, but this modern reinvention pulls Mario Vs Donkey Kong in line with Nintendo’s home-brewed aesthetics, a large part of the overall review that we really connected with.

Mario, Donkey Kong, and their supporting cast all display huge amounts of charm and personality in their presentation.

Mario rides a shy guy across some spikes.

Mario’s animations in particular are worthy of singling out for praise. The little guy has a plumber’s toolbox full of little movements that breathe life into the character. Seeing him adjust his balance as he rides atop a wandering rhino is sweetly endearing.

Completing the extensive presentation overhaul are the new, fully rendered cutscenes. The static screens of the original game were superseded by colourful videos depicting Mario, Donkey Kong, and co. with the same energy you’d get from an animated show on Netflix.

Whole New Worlds

Mario carries a bob-omb.

None of the worlds here reach the highs seen in Mario Wonder, but the stages on show all blend nicely with their environments. The excellent level design is always communicated clearly, and the visual language is easy to understand and decipher.

Looking at each stage layout on the fly and understanding what you need to do to reach the goal is an impressive feat when paired with that ticking clock.

There’s a decent variety in the settings too, with the action moving from the Mario Toy Company across lush jungles, up fiery mountains, and through a haunted house straight out of Luigi’s Mansion.

Enemies and obstacles within each area are varied and offer fresh challenges. Piranha Plants will spit fireballs at you as you make your way through Donkey Kong Jungle and clockwork-powered Boos will only advance menacingly when your back is turned.

Mario jumps in a new level for Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

The environments frame each puzzle perfectly, with the various coloured switches that toggle ladders, platforms, and blocks all clearly defined while still meshing with each world’s artistry.

All of the stages from the original game return alongside two new worlds, Merry Mini-Land and Slippery Summit.

The pair of new worlds introduce even more gameplay variety with the former featuring cannons that fire projectiles for you to dodge and the latter ushering in ice-covered platforms that Mario can use his momentum to slide around on.

Jump Up Superstar

Mario does a handstand in Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

Mario moves with the responsiveness we’ve grown accustomed to, with the little guy able to turn on a dime and initiate instantaneous leaps at the drop of a hat.

The moustachioed one is supremely nimble here, able to execute precise flips and somersaults with ease and even pop a handstand to prevent him from taking damage from falling debris and projectiles.

Mario is a joy to handle as always apart from in one area – climbing. Ropes, chains, and even monkey tails are used by Mario to shimmy between altitudes with ascending or descending being relatively simple. Jump onto a climbable rope and move up or down accordingly.

Mario reaches for a rope.

Problems appear when trying to move sideways across multiple ropes or chains. Mario has a nasty habit of releasing his grip with minimal persuasion when moving side to side across rope swings.

The majority of my lost lives came from Mario opting to fall onto a spike trap or into the path of an enemy, when all I needed him to do was grab the next rope a ‘Luigi’s whisker away’ from him.

It’s frustrating to lose progress in a level to such a trivial mechanic and after the first half a dozen occurrences, I truly dreaded any level with multiple ropes hanging over traps.

My remaining deaths often came at the hands of some suspect hit boxes. Jumping atop enemies is a perfectly viable way to get across certain dangerous hazards but any slight deviation from pixel perfection will result in death and a restart.

You’re Toying With My Patience

Mario guides the Mini Marios to safety in Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

Throughout your adventure you’ll rescue the Mini Mario toys that Donkey Kong escaped with at the start of the game.

Collecting all of these mechanical mini-mes in a world will unlock the Mini Mario level for that area. The gameplay switches things up a bit in these levels as Mario must guide his troop of toys to safety through hazardous environments like a vibrant Abe’s Odyssey.

The Mini Marios may look cute but the sounds they emit when separated from Mario Sr. are piercingly awful. A few of the later Mini Mario levels require Mario to explore the level while the toys hang out in relative safety.

Reaching a certain distance from the Mini Marios causes the toys to scream out for their saviour, begging for him to return and help them. I can accept that as a sentient toy, it must be a stressful experience, but the frequency at which these mechanical Marios whine will test anyone’s patience to breaking point.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong boss fight.

The boss battles against Donkey Kong fare much better. The antagonistic ape relives his origins by sitting high within each fight and goading Mario to climb up to him.

Donkey Kong launches rolling barrels at our hero just like he did to Jumpman back in the arcades of 1982. The clashes are straightforward but do require finesse and quick reflexes to avoid sustaining damage as you climb upwards to bash Kong with dustbins, barrels, and his own lackeys.

A Cornucopia Of Conundrums

Mario brings the hammer down in Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

The core of the 2004 GBA game remains intact with some minor adjustments and improvements for modern audiences.

Little tweaks to the hammer power-ups that make them respawn prevent level goals from becoming unachievable if you manage to squander the boost.

The old, and frankly dull, mini-games of the Game Boy Advance are gone, replaced with new platforming challenges that award a hefty boon of extra lives if completed successfully.

Even after puzzling through the six or so hours to reach the end of the main campaign, there’s still plenty of content to keep players engaged with harder levels and time trials to play through.

Mario gets a 1up in Mario Vs Donkey Kong.

Final Thoughts

Far from the water treading rerelease many had feared, Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a fun and charming puzzle game for fans of the iconic duo and was a pleasure to both play and criticareview.

If you loved the original game, 2024’s Mario Vs Donkey Kong smooths out all of the rough edges and delivers an experience that shines with Nintendo polish. New players will enjoy wrapping their heads around each challenge with a game that maintains the high production values of Mario’s other Switch outings.

Some baffling decisions surrounding casual mode and a few control and audio nitpicks aside, Mario Vs Donkey Kong is fantastic from start to finish.

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