Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

February 22, 2024

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is remake of the 2004 Game Boy Advance game, but its lineage goes back much further than that. That original game was itself an evolution of Donkey Kong on the original Game Boy, released a decade earlier in 1994, which old fogies who played it at the time will remember had a fantastic early twist where it transformed from a direct adaptation of the famous arcade game, to a deep and addictive puzzle-platformer. The Mario vs. Donkey Kong series would then go on to skew more into Lemmings territory with subsequent sequels on the Nintendo DS, but never quite recaptured the same vibe and feeling as the original two games. Mario vs. Donkey Kong for Nintendo Switch is mostly just a translation of the 2004 GBA game, with some additional elements, but that’s enough to still make fur a hugely satisfying return to puzzling for our favourite plumber.

There was a fun balance struck in both the original Donkey Kong for Game Boy and Mario vs Donkey Kong for Game Boy Advance between arcade action and devious puzzle solutions, and that is perfectly retained here. Substituting a kidnapped Pauline, Donkey Kong has instead stolen scores of ‘Mini Mario’ toys, after being frustrated they were sold out in stores, leading Mario to rescue them one by one as they’re strewn over eight worlds, each divided into six levels with additional challenges and boss fights at the end of each. Mario’s movement is simultaneously more restricted and more enhanced than other 2D games like Super Mario Bros. Wonder. For instance, his regular jumps and moves are quite limited, almost tile-based, lending itself to the puzzle solving nature of the gameplay, but he’s also able to smoothly handstand to protect himself from damage, and transition that into a powerful high jump, as well as cartwheel jump higher on tight turns. Many enemies will kill Mario on touch, some enemies can be picked up and thrown Super Mario 2 style, and others can only be dealt with by the return of Mario’s hammer power-up, complete with traditional Donkey Kong music.

In its initial stages, Mario vs Donkey Kong allows players to experiment somewhat with Mario’s abilities to power through easier puzzles, but mastering Mario’s abilities are essential for many of the game’s later levels. After completing the game once, a New Game Plus mode is added, with entirely new puzzles taking place in the familiar worlds from your first playthroughs, as well as new Expert levels that are gradually unlocked. Two of the worlds in this remake are new, just for this release, including a theme-park land and icy mountain, that don’t feel out of place at all and add to the experience as natural parts of the game.

Knowing the game’s mechanics inside and out are essential for getting through these extra puzzles, which see you also shepherding Mini-Marios through the platforming as well as worrying about Mario’s own safety, but there’s no better feeling than finally nailing a solution after endless attempts. There’s a real satisfaction that I can’t quite articulate that comes with the original Donkey Kong 1994 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong that this game also gets right, and if there’s any real flaw it’s that there’s a missed opportunity to translate the levels from that Game Boy Donkey Kong game for a new generation, who’ve probably never heard of it.

Each level, some of which are divided into sections unlocked by keys, have three gifts to collect in addition to rescuing the Mini-Mario, which act as the ‘Star’ reward that most will be familiar with in mobile puzzle games. The mechanics and concept are simple enough that it’s exceptionally easy to get into for newcomers, even people who have limited exposure to Mario games, which is also where the new co-op mode comes in, allowing a second player to control Toad to assist in the levels, best suited for parents and kids playing together.

The translation from Game Boy Advance to Switch is also done cleanly, with new 3D graphics replacing the pre-rendered fuzzy sprites from the original, and proper CG cutscenes replacing the still image cinematics. Both Mario and Donkey Kong’s animations have a lot of personality and charm, right from the opening title screen, and the Mini Mario’s tiny squeaking voices are undeniably cute. There’s also some real nice renditions of classic Mario music, including a jazzed up theme song.

It says something about Mario vs. Donkey Kong, that despite being a remake of a 20 year old GBA game, it’s actually been the game I’ve most been looking forward to playing over the last week and a bit, despite several others providing ample competition. I do wish there were more levels, and perhaps if this remake does well we’ll get more sequels that follow this gameplay style, rather than stylus-based Lemmings puzzles like the original series diverted into. Nonetheless, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an incredibly satisfying puzzler that feels both arcadey and appropriately challenging, while being accessible enough for newcomers to the Mario series both young and older to jump in.


-Hugely satisfying puzzle platformer formula
-Clean visual upgrade has charm and personality
-Challenging at times, but easy enough for anyone to pick up and play, including in co-op


-Feels like there was room for more content, particularly from its forgotten predecessor, Donkey Kong 1994

Overall Score: