Mario Vs Donkey Kong review

by on February 14, 2024
Reviewed On
Release Date

February 16, 2024.


Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a bit of a strange release, really. While the original was beloved back on Game Boy Advance in 2004, a lot has happened with Mario games, generally, since then, and sticking so faithfully to the original source material is both a blessing and a curse for the Nintendo Switch remake.

Harking back to an era where Mario and DK were less friendly, Donkey Kong wants a mini-Mario toy he’s seen advertised on TV. He decides to go to the factory directly, and steal the lot. That sets off the journey for Mario chasing him through the biomes and levels on offer. It’s a simple concept, but like many Nintendo games, it gets you into the action with minimal fuss, as gameplay is king.

Each world has six main levels and then two additional ones that change the formula to finish up the world. For the main six levels they’re split into two, the first seeing you, as Mario, traverse through puzzle platformer courses to get a key and chase Donkey Kong into the second part, where you’ll rescue a mini-Mario toy. Get all six and you’ll unlock the mini-Mario level for that world, which changes things up by making you guide your toys through an obstacle course to a toy box, and the resulting performance (the toys can die if you don’t take care of them) directly equates to how many “lives” Mario has in each world’s face-off against Donkey Kong in the boss battle.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong

That’s the jist of it, really. Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a pretty simple game really. The mini-Mario toy levels eventually gave way to the series itself changing, and the boss battles are fun, but safe encounters. There’s little to challenge anyone in the run through the main levels and worlds, though the difficulty does ramp up after you finish them, with the “Plus” worlds, and the time attack mode, offering a nice reason and a lot more longevity to the overall package.

So far, so good, right? The problem really is that the platforming itself just doesn’t feel quite right. On the earlier levels, it’s not a big deal as there are less obstacles, traps, or ways to lose lives. But Mario Vs Donkey Kong turns a lot of the “known” ideas about Mario games on its head. For example, you cannot jump on a bullet fired from a cannon, as that’ll kill you, which is counter to pretty much every platform game Mario title in the last however many years. It tends to veer more towards Super Mario Bros 2 at times, with Mario able to pick enemies up by standing on them and throwing them about the place.

But that’s not the real killer, that’s the movement. It just isn’t quite responsive enough. There are triple jumps (activated by landing jumps consecutively), but it just doesn’t feel right. It’s a hard thing to get across without someone playing it, but as the levels get more deadly, the moveset Mario has for Mario Vs Donkey Kong ends up being the biggest cause of failure. I don’t mind the fact that you can walk in a headstand position and that blocks damage from above, but I do mind that jumping and grabbing a ladder feels inconsistent and awkward.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong

You can fling Mario about with railing spins, climb up ropes, and the levels progress from simple and obvious puzzles, to involving conveyers, enemies that are part of the puzzle, and more. This isn’t meant to be a mainline platform game in the series like Super Mario Bros Wonder, of course, but you also can’t shut that learned knowledge off. If you can make peace with the slower nature and treat it wholly as a puzzle game, you’ll likely be fine, though.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong looks lovely, though. Take a cursory look at the original and you can see just how much care and attention has gone into the remake, visually. In fact, the same can be said for the audio, though in sticking so faithfully to that original game, the audio is similar, but redone for modern equipment. And while it was fine for a game to have a repetitive menu soundtrack back in 2004, it’s not quite as fine in 2024. To that end, while the audio and visuals are excellent throughout, the main level select audio is repetitive and is one of those earworms you struggle to get rid of.

The co-op is implemented superbly, however. Rather than just adding a second playable character into the mix, the levels are tweaked to make them designed for co-op, and not an afterthought. Toad joins the mix and is smaller, and can get under areas Mario can’t. It’s a fine addition, and offers longevity due to the courses themselves changing to react to the additional player on the screen. Another new feature offers a casual mode difficulty, which seems to remove the timer, so younger players can also enjoy it free from time constraints.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong

Likewise, the biggest compliment to the new maps created for the remake is that you almost feel they were always there to begin with. There are over 130 levels, all told, in Mario Vs Donkey Kong, and with the co-op in mind, there’s a good reason to replay them. I’d be lying if I said I could move on before getting the “perfect” rating for finding all the optional presents in each map, but it’s also worth mentioning that Mario Vs Donkey Kong isn’t that long a game, and the budget price also reflects that.

Mario Vs Donkey Kong isn’t quite to the high standard of some of the other recent remakes like Advance Wars, or Link’s Awakening, but it’s a faithful one, for better and worse. It looks great, and is a fine time to while away a few hours with or without a co-op partner: it’s simply a nice time for all.


Looks lovely
A very faithful remake
Co-op is done well


Platforming feels off
Too easy for some

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a nice time for all, but those seeking major challenge or wholesale changes to the original might not find what they need here.