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Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review

Developer: Nintendo Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 24, 2004 Also On: None

It’s been years since Mario and Donkey Kong have gone at it in a platformer/puzzle game, unless, of course, you count the re-releases of Donkey Kong on E-reader and then on GBA for the NES Classics series. One could almost have thought that the two had patched up their relationship since Donkey Kong has become a staple of Mario Kart, Mario Party, and other assorted Mario spin-offs were it not for Bowser and Wario’s involvement in some of them. But the time has come for Mario to face the gorilla once again in his first original platformer for the GBA, and the result is a game that is unlike what is now seen as a traditional Mario platformer.

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The plot of the game, like with most Mario platformers, is simple. Donkey Kong is watching TV one day and he sees a commercial for some sort of Mario toy, so he decides he wants to have one. His trip to the toy store comes up unsuccessful, as the toy has sold out. Now, any reasonable person would just go to other toy stores and keep looking until they found one, but DK is neither reasonable or a person, so instead he chooses to raid the factory producing the Mario toys and steal all of them. Naturally, Mario doesn’t like this, and the chase begins.

The graphics in this game are far from bad, but in my opinion, are not quite up to the stellar graphics of some of the later ports in the Super Mario Advance series or of Superstar Saga. They certainly get the job done, and they do it fairly well, but some of the detail you usually see in a Mario game seems to be missing in this one. Overall, a slightly better than solid effort, but not graphics that’ll amaze you like Super Mario Advance 4 and Superstar Saga.

So far as sound goes, the sound effects are primarily updated versions of the sound effects from the original game Donkey Kong, as would be expected in this game. Like the graphics, the sound effects are slightly less than stellar. The voice acting in this game by Mario is basically what you’d expect, except that he has some new phrases in this game that are appropriate to the mission differences in this game. Overall, the sound is far above average, but not quite of the caliber that Nintendo usually is capable of.

Now, we get into the brunt of where this game is different from the games in the Super Mario Advance series, the gameplay. There are six worlds, each with eight levels. The levels are divided as follows. The first six levels of each world are divided into two parts. In the first part of the level, Mario has to traverse the terrain and try to find his way to a key, at which point he has to get the key to a keyhole to progress to the second part of the level. The second part of the level has Mario looking for a Mario doll that Donkey Kong dropped while running from Mario. In either of these parts, if Mario gets hit by an enemy, or if he falls too far, he will die.

The seventh level of each world is a little different than this. Instead of the two-part layout and searching for a Mario doll, Mario instead has to lead the six dolls he has collected to a toy box. Since the toys don’t have all the extra abilities Mario has (more on this later), Mario has to do things to make paths for them to traverse to get to the toy box. The toys follow Mario until they get to the box, at which point however many of them have survived will jump into the box. The Mario toys, as well as Mario, can be killed in this level by the same things that kill Mario in the other levels.

And finally, the eighth level of each world is a boss battle against Donkey Kong. These levels do not have Mario only able to be hit once. Instead, Mario can be hit once for every Mario doll that landed safely in the toy box in the previous level. This gives you some incentive to get all six into the box before you go on to the boss battle, which does become a problem in later worlds of the game. Donkey Kong always needs to be hit four times before he runs off regardless of Mario’s hit capacity. Each boss battle is different, and they obviously increase in difficulty as you go further into the game.

Now, we get to the fun part of the description of the gameplay: Mario’s abilities. Unlike in the traditional 2D Mario platformers, where Mario’s default abilities are move and jump, Nintendo has borrowed some of the moves from Mario’s 3D platformers for this game, including the backward flip jump and a sort of triple jump. After executing the first jump of the triple jump, Mario will be walking on his hands, a position during which some enemies falling from above cannot hurt Mario. Mario also can climb vines, and there are ropes that Mario can spin off of to jump really high.

All of this is well and good, but the fact is that it will take some getting used to. The fact that, even though this is a Mario game, you can only jump one character height into the air and two character lengths forward with a typical jump. With the special jumps you can cover slightly more height than that, however. I guess I can’t complain too much about this though, because his jumping wasn’t any better in the original Donkey Kong, and that is probably the effect they were looking for.

That is not to say that this game is nothing but a rehash of the original Donkey Kong. Indeed, it is far more complicated than that. There are colored switches to activate and deactivate some platforms, and some enemies from other Mario games such as Thwomps and Shyguys, which were not present in Donkey Kong, do make an appearance. There are puzzles to solve in this game where the original Donkey Kong was simply a matter of getting to the key without getting hit, not a matter of strategy so much as a matter of dodging enemies. However, the puzzles are not overly challenging and should not pose a problem to anybody who has played video games for a significant portion of time.

Also, you have the option of collecting three icons in each level, one each of red, blue, and yellow. Collecting all of these will unlock some bonus levels, which brings me to our next point, the length of the game.

Like I said earlier, this game is six worlds long with eight levels in each world. However, the levels are not particularly long. The first day I got this game, I played for about two and a half hours and got to the seventh level of world 4. That should give you some indication of the relative brevity of this game. However, like I said in the above paragraph, you can unlock some bonus levels by collecting all the colored icons in the game. You can also unlock some by collecting all the stars in a level. Even with these added levels, the game likely won’t last you any more than ten hours or so, if that, so the replay value of this game is pretty low.

Even with its low replay value, I would say that any fan of the original Donkey Kong, of Mario, or even of platformer/puzzle games in general, should give this game a try. I would, however, suggest renting it if possible or waiting for a price drop though.

Graphics: 7
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 5
Final: 7.2
Written by Martin Review Guide