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Mario Vs. Donkey Kong Package Art

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong

Mario's started a toy factory, and it's making the hottest collectible toys ever, the Mini Marios. Donkey Kong is smitten with the new gadgets, but when the local toy store's stock runs out, he breaks into Mario's factory and steals them all. Before you can say "Mama Mia!" Mario's off to hunt the big ape down and recover the loot.


It's obvious that a lot of effort went into the graphics in this game. The sprites are prerendered and based, wherever possible, on character models Nintendo uses for its Gamecube games. Characters, especially Mario, move with an amazing fluidity. Unfortunately, due to the Game Boy Advance's resolution, many details fail to stand out on the more complicated characters. The end result is often quite stunning, but it's hard to deny that Mario looks smeary and pixelated whenever he's standing still.

The game also contains a handful of cinemas which are delivered through gorgeous pre-rendered stills. They may not be as lively as the more animated cinemas from 1994's Donkey Kong, but they still have a charm all their own.


Music is the typical Mario fare. The really impressive part of the game's audio is in its sound effects, particularly the use of voice work. Yes, Charles Martinet is back as the voice of Mario, and this may be his best performance in a Nintendo game yet. Mario chatters away as he bounces around, and it works about as well as it did in Super Mario 64. Much more impressive is the chatter between levels as he curses out Donkey Kong. It helps develop the little red plumber's personality better than any other game he's been in. An array of cartoon sound effects punctuates the action quite nicely.


Mario Vs. Donkey Kong obviously draws less inspiration from the original arcade version of Donkey Kong and more from the 1994 Game Boy remake. With few surprises, all of Mario's moves and abilities come from the 1994 version, which was roughly what you'd get if you combined Super Mario 64's fancy jumps with Super Mario Brothers 2's reliance on hefting and throwing. Actual level design is radically different, however. Instead of the familiar "create floor" and "create ladder" blocks, levels operate based on colored switches. Pressing a switch causes blocks and ladders of that color to appear and all others to disappear. Half of the challenge of the game is figuring out how the switches must be used in order to clear your way to the end of each level.

The game actually feels like two games with similar mechanics that have been fused together. The first half of the game plays a lot like 1994's Donkey Kong. In each level, you must find a key and take it to a locked door. This will take you to a "back" room, where you have to cross an obstacle course to retrieve one of the lost Mini Marios. After six such levels, there's a Mini Mario level, where six little Mario toys follow behind you like baby ducks, and you have to figure out a way to lead them safely back to their toy box. Since their move set is limited, it can be a very daunting task. Each "world" then concludes with one of the very creative boss battles; although you face Donkey Kong in each of them, no two are ever quite alike.

The second half of the game is all about leading a single Mini Mario safely to the exit door. This is probably the most clever part of the game, and it's a shame that there isn't more focus on it. Guiding the toy Mario around adds a whole new dimension to the game -- quite often, the Mini-Mario's path to the end is different from yours, and it takes a little creative management to make sure he gets through in one piece.

Level design is quite clever throughout. Plotting a course through each level will test your wits just as much as your skill. Although many level elements will seem familiar to veterans of Mario games past, a few surprises will pop up now and then, such as a volcano level where you must race against a rising tide of lava to get to the exit. If you can collect three presents and get a high score in a level, you'll earn stars, which can be saved toward unlocking the Expert levels. Expect a good stiff challenge from this one. The game takes very few cheap shots, but it doesn't pull its punches either; Mario dies with just one hit, except during the grueling boss matchups.

Unfortunately, I do have one grievance with the game. Even at 104 levels, it feels far too short. Part of the problem is how the gameplay goes in a drastically different direction about halfway through and themed locations are discarded after only six levels each -- it doesn't leave much room to build on certain concepts. A lot of interesting level elements are introduced, but very little persists. For example, Boos are used as an enemy once in the fourth world, then discarded; it's as if the level designers ran out of ideas for how to use them. It leaves you with an expectation because so many ideas are left undeveloped after their introduction.




This is one of the best platformers to come out of Nintendo in a long time, but it may leave the Donkey Kong '94 players with a feeling of "been there, done that". Still, this is a good, solid game in its own right. It's an easy recommendation for any Mario fan or anyone who likes a little smarts in their platformer.

final score 8.5/10

Staff Avatar Ed Griffiths
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"Nothing can kill the Grimace!"

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