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Mario Vs Donkey Kong review - Back to basics

Mario Vs Donkey Kong review - Back to basics

Plastic fantastic

I’ve never related much to Donkey Kong as a character. Presumably because he’s a tie-wearing gorilla who loves bananas and sometimes wrestles large reptiles, and I’m… not that. Although I do occasionally wear a tie. And I love bananas. But beyond that? We have little in common.

However, as I booted up Mario VS Donkey Kong on Nintendo Switch for the first time and saw how obsessed the cheeky ape was with running away with as many plastic Mario toys as he could carry, I saw a kindred spirit. I’d risk it all for my amiibo, and would certainly incur the wrath of a furious Italian plumber-turned factory owner* in the process.

*I have no idea if Mario is paying the Toads who work in his toy factory a fair wage, but based on the way he treats his brother I wouldn’t bet on it.

At this stage, I’m sure you’ve noticed we’re three paragraphs in and I haven’t actually said much about the game. That’s because there isn’t really much to say. Mario Vs Donkey Kong is… good! It’s a fun, stripped back puzzle platformer that allows you to switch off your brain just enough to forget about global warming but still register the moving platforms and hazards on the screen in front of you, which is pretty much my sweet spot these days RE brain functions.

The adventure revolves around Mario chasing down Donkey Kong, who has absconded with a large supply of small plastic Marios that I can only assume the egotistical plumber demanded be made in tribute to him. What follows is a series of 2D platforming puzzle challenges that merge elements of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., and Lemmings.

Rather than release a brand-new entry in the series, this is actually a remake of the GBA original, which I’m tragically informed is now 20 years old. As far as remakes go, the production values are certainly sky-high. Nintendo has added in some gorgeous new cutscenes, and the visuals have been completely rebuilt from the ground up, with dazzlingly detailed backgrounds and vivid 3D models in place of the original’s pre-rendered sprites. While not quite up to par with the sheer visual creativity of Super Mario Wonder or Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a candy coated sugar rush.The music has also been completely reworked, with orchestral arrangements taking the place of the original compositions. Though again, you won’t find anything quite as ear-wormy as Nintendo’s most iconic works.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong /

There are eight worlds in total, including two completely original worlds that weren’t in the 2004 game. Each world has its own theme and challenges, but all follow the same format: guide Mario through various obstacles, hit switches, clear paths, and collect keys to reach the next stage.

Mario is a little less flexible here than in his mainline games, meaning every jump has to be carefully considered. If you’ve ever played a puzzle game before in your life, Mario Vs Donkey Kong is hardly going to break your brain, but there’s a decent level of challenge towards the end of the game - especially if you're a completionist who insists on leaving not a single plastic Mario behind. And if you are struggling, or have a younger gamer in your life, there’s a new option to turn off the game’s timer so that you can go through levels as slowly as you need to. A nice touch.

Each world ends with a fight against Donkey Kong, with each encounter feeling properly unique based on the theme of the world you’ve just played through. It’s a nice touch that stops the game feeling too repetitive, and the shorter levels are a nice fit for a handheld like the Switch. Unsurprising, given this was originally a GBA game.

Alas, there’s really not much more to Mario Vs Donkey Kong than that. What you see is very much what you get, and there are very few surprises throughout the game’s short campaign. It’s far from Mario’s best, but certainly a fun time whether alone or with friends via a new co-op mode. I do wonder whether it would have been better if Nintendo had built a brand-new instalment from the ground up, but what we have is an undeniably delightful - if relatively exciting - addition to the Switch library.

Pros: Two new worlds filled with pleasant new ideas, gorgeous new cutscenes, casual mode is a nice touch

Cons: Feels like a 20-year-old game much of the time, not hugely challenging, largely unexciting compared to previous Mario outings on Switch

For fans of: Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Lemmings

7/10: Very Good

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is available 16 February for Nintendo Switch. Review code was provided by the publisher. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Featured Image Credit: Nintendo

Topics: Super Mario, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch