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Mario vs Donkey Kong Review

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

Mario and Donkey Kong. They go together like chalk and cheese, but as a pair they’re synonymous with success. Paired together since the 1980s, this latest venture, available now on Nintendo Switch, is actually a remake of a 2004 Game Boy Advance game. Yes, Mario vs Donkey Kong is actually 20 years old, but you wouldn’t guess it: Nintendo has done a stellar job of bringing this timeless puzzle game into the modern age.

The visuals are probably the first thing you’ll notice when you load up Mario vs Donkey Kong. It’s beautiful: its levels are crisp, sharp and shiny, and dare we say that Mario has hardly ever looked better? We’re pretty sure Donkey Kong hasn’t — the opening scene as you start the game is simply striking, and the visuals continue to impress as you play.

It probably helps that Mario vs Donkey Kong’s levels are bite-sized, so there isn’t ever too much to load in one go. It keeps them looking as fantastic as the Switch is capable of: playing this on the OLED Switch, it really shines. But it’s not all about visuals. The levels here, which will each only take you a matter of minutes, are a joy to complete, tasking you first with locating a key to open a door and then to rescue a mini Mario toy.

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

You read that right: Mario vs Donkey Kong is essentially set around a Mario toy factory, where endless lines of mini Marios are being produced. Donkey Kong, being rather obsessed with Mario, has his eyes on the toys and has stolen them, hiding them around the world. Typical. And so, as Mario, it’s up to you to rescue each toy by completing a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.

Related: Mario vs. Donkey Kong’s “Mini-Marios” are Nintendo’s Most Meta Creation 

We say “increasingly difficult”, but there’s nothing in Mario vs Donkey Kong that should have you stumped for too long. Typically, you’ll have to navigate switches, which activate and deactivate blocks of a matching colour, making pathways or blockades appear or disappear accordingly. There are also enemies to avoid as well as falling obstacles.

Complete six levels in a world, and you’ll unlock a special Mini Mario level, as well as a boss level which sees you go head-to-head with the big DK himself. The Mini Mario levels are a highlight for us, and we wish there were more of these. Here, you’re still in control of Mario but you have an army of toy Marios under your wing. They’ll follow you wherever you go, but they can’t climb ladders or reach certain platforms. Instead, they’ll stay on the level they can reach, fitting under tight gaps that Mario himself is too large to fit through.

Mario vs Donkey Kong
Image: Nintendo

The goal is to collect four blocks spelling out “TOYS”, which in turn open a chest at the end of the level. The puzzles within them are fun, and you’ve got the additional treat of just how adorable the mini Marios are. A win-win for sure. When it comes to the boss levels, each one is different from the last, but the goal is the same: damage Donkey Kong by throwing or dropping random objects on him, while avoiding various obstacles. You’ll need to defeat him before you can move on to the next world.

There’s over 130 levels altogether, so there’s plenty to sink your teeth into in Mario vs Donkey Kong — including brand new levels that have been made especially for Switch. We like that you can pick your preferred difficulty, too, choosing to play with or without a level timer if you’d rather not have the pressure. The timers are pretty generous, but if you find yourself a little stumped, it’s easy to run out of time. You can change difficulty at any time from the menu, which is handy.

If you fondly remember Mario vs Donkey Kong from its Game Boy Advance iteration, we’ve no doubt you’ll get a kick out of seeing it with a gorgeous, fresh coat of paint. You still will if you’re a newcomer: it’s a treat for the eyes, but it’s also a fun little puzzle game to pick up for 10, 20 minutes at a time. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but those mini Marios are sure to put a smile on your face for a little while.

Mario vs Donkey Kong Review – GameSpew’s Score

This review of Mario vs Donkey Kong has been facilitated by a code provided by the publisher. It’s available exclusively on Nintendo Switch.
Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.