Mario vs. Donkey Kong Brings Cinematic Graphics to a Forgotten Game Boy Classic
Let’sa-go, little guys!
Nintendo has Mario down to a science. It knows what the people want, and the upcoming Nintendo Switch game Mario vs. Donkey Kong repeats every hallmark of success.
Two decades after the game’s original release on Game Boy Advance, the decades-old rivalry between Mario and the banana-loving gorilla Donkey Kong is renewed with upgraded graphics that might look right at home in Nintendo’s recent billion-dollar Mario movie.
Ahead of its February 16 release, Inverse had a chance to check out the new remake, which takes a game that belongs in a museum and upgrades it for the Nintendo Switch, replacing slide-show cutscenes with slick animation and giving the entire experience a stunning graphics update. But at its core, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is still just a great variation of a classic Mario formula.
The game begins with a minute-by-minute recreation of the opening scene from the 2004 Gameboy Advance version. Donkey Kong is enjoying a banana-themed TV show before he sees an ad for a mini-Mario toy, falls in love, and decides to kidnap all the toys at the Mario Toy Company. Whether you’ve played the original or not is irrelevant. This charming scene is all you need to jump in.
The gameplay is simple: you control Mario as he solves puzzles that typically involve activating colored switches, finding keys, and unlocking doors. There are two modes: casual, where you have infinite time to complete a level and Mario is given multiple chances before he loses a life; and classic, where you must complete the level within a specific time frame (usually 120 seconds) and where Mario will perish when he hits an obstacle. In each level, Mario gets closer to taking down Donkey Kong and saving his merry band of mini-Mario toys, but, as always, the gorilla can run along to the next level and the plumber must give chase. Along the way, you may encounter power-ups, like a magnificent hammer that can knock out enemies, and collect presents, which will surely bring out one’s completionist tendencies.
The game gets progressively harder as you go along, and Donkey Kong continues fleeing from world to world. In World 1, Mario Toy Company, you are simply getting your bearings and doing hand-stands to avoid falling bricks. By World 2, Donkey Kong Jungle, you’re enjoying a look at the trees while riding a Monchee, a cymbal-banging monkey toy. I found World 3, Fire Mountain, began to pose a challenge, demanding more precise mechanics to navigate a rising tide of lava. It’s tonally darker, and a compelling orchestral background track is accompanied by a mischievous tuba (the music in Mario vs. Donkey Kong totally slaps). But before I could despair over the punishing landscape, World 4, Merry Mini-Land, offered more levity with magical elements like flowers that blow Mario into flight and little teleportation boxes. Merry Mini-Land is a 2024 addition to the remastered levels and a welcome reprieve from the other sweat-inducing timed platforms.
Perhaps the most delightful part of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, however, are the little toy mini-Marios, who aren’t afraid to chirp at our protagonist as they waddle their way through levels to follow him. Of course, the toys are cute: they’re Mario, but smaller. As Mario says, “Let’sa go, little guys!” Nothing can be more pleasant. I started playing the remake last week while I was getting over a cold, and I’m happy to say that it lifted my spirits. The mini-Marios feel very precious and you will eagerly want to save them from dastardly ol’ Donkey Kong’s clutches.
Just like the rest of the game, Nintendo keeps things simple. And it makes sense. Why break a win streak when you don’t have to?
Mario vs. Donkey Kong arrives on the Nintendo Switch on February 16.
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