It’s tempting to say that Nintendo has done it again with Mario Vs Donkey Kong. As a remake it feels similar to last year’s Advance Wars, in that, unless my memory is failing me, it feels as close to 1:1 as you’d want, only with updated visuals, audio, and some little tweaks that make it feel fresh and interesting, even if you somehow do remember the original Game Boy Advance from some twenty years prior.
Perhaps Nintendo has grown tired of having Mario be so pally with all his original enemies, as well. With the The Super Mario Bros Movie we saw him face off against Bowser properly again, and now he’s chasing down Donkey Kong, who is angry that the new Mini-Mario toy has sold out, and so has decided like any right-minded individual that he’s going to break into the factory and steal the whole lot. That’s the basis for Mario Vs Donkey Kong, and the levels are made up of Mario chasing DK through various biomes to get them back.
But don’t expect the standard platforming feel of a 2D side-scroller, or even the newer Mario Wonder. Mario has plenty of his favourite moves (jumping, handstand, backflip, etc) and can climb vines, but you won’t be stomping on Goomba heads to take them out, this is a puzzle game, after all.
Each world is split into levels, and each level has two parts. In the first you’ll often be introduced to a mechanic or idea, and they you will use it going forward as you progress. You’ll find a gold key to unlock the door that Donkey Kong has passed through, then access the second part of the level to grab a Mini-Mario toy. Toward the end of each world you need to guide the Mario toys back to a chest, and then face off against Donkey Kong in the final course of each world.
Mario Vs Donkey Kong has that very traditional clever introduction technique that Nintendo has perfected over the years. You’ll start off collecting all three of the optional presents with ease, and waltz through every course, learning about how you can protect Mario’s head by walking in a headstand position, but before long you’ll be cursing your luck as a projectile clips you during the end of world boss fight, meaning you don’t get the coveted “Perfect” score at the end of the level.
While the levels are, essentially, platforming based, it’s worth noting that Mario has a stiffness to his movement that takes some getting used to. General movement is fine, but the feeling is that Nintendo doesn’t really want you to jump around too much, and that platforms can sometimes be just “walked onto”. After a few worlds, however, you do become accustomed to how this iteration of Mario moves, and there are some ideas that feel a bit opposed to what we know about Mario, but it still feels great overall.
The courses are varied so far, too. From simple red and blue switch gates to having to use moving platforms, vines, and a whole lot more. Each of the mini-Mario Toy levels and DK boss fights are highlights and rewards for getting there. The toy levels see however many you’ve rescued following Mario as he moves. Being “mini”, they can’t do all the movement skills he can, so you have to get clever about how they get around. It’s an ingenious idea and even then, the amount you save directly affects how many hits you can take in the final Donkey Kong fights that end each world.
With a whole lot more levels to test out, I can already see the difficulty slowly climbing, and I can see a time coming where I’ll be replaying over and over, trying to get that “Perfect” text appearing on screen. The visuals look lovely, and the soundtrack (aside one repeating song) is pretty nice too. The word charm is used a lot in games these days, but from the cut-scenes to the animations, this is a superb looking experience.
While it may not seem like a massive game, co-op changes each level so that it’s a slightly altered version, instead of just adding another player. Really, I have nothing to complain about so far, and Mario Vs Donkey Kong seems like yet another stellar remake in the Nintendo catalogue.
Mario Vs Donkey Kong is set for release on February 16th for Nintendo Switch.