Mario vs. Donkey Kong Updates an Overlooked Classic For the Switch Era

Inverse score: 8/10

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Mario vs Donkey Kong
Video Game Reviews

Picture this. Donkey Kong is just chilling beside his bananas when he sees an ad for a mini-Mario toy, falls in love, and, in classic villain fashion, decides to kidnap all the toys at the Mario Toy Company.

So begins Mario vs. Donkey Kong, a remake of a 20-year-old game that first arrived on the Gameboy Advance. The puzzle-platformer recreates the same old elements as the original but upgrades them to the Nintendo Switch’s graphics and sketches out a few extra levels and creative designs.

Though it’s been decades since Nintendo’s charming plumber first appeared in arcades, there’s still something uplifting and delightful about revisiting a classic and updating it for modernity. Mario vs. Donkey Kong keeps things very simple. It’s about jumping up, surviving obstacles, and rescuing cute toys. But most important of all, it’s fun.


Like any standard Mario adventure, every time you unlock a door, Donkey Kong just happens to slip away with a merry band of mini-Mario toys and Mario has to keep chasing.


I grew up on Mario in the ’90s but found the series quite challenging as a child. Mario vs. Donkey Kong gently takes you through each level until you’ve built up enough of the basics — like jumping on enemies to grab them and toss them into spiky pits or back-flipping to greater heights — to truly feel like a master.

You play as Mario, solving puzzles that involve bringing a key to unlock a door, though there are tons of perilous traps and adorable enemies (like toy Shy Guys) standing in the way. In casual mode, you have infinite time to complete a level, and each time Mario hits an obstacle, he floats back to a safe point in a bubble. In classic mode, you must complete the level within around 120 seconds, and Mario perishes every time he runs into an enemy or falls into some spikes.

Like any standard Mario adventure, every time you unlock a door, Donkey Kong just happens to slip away with a merry band of mini-Mario toys and Mario has to keep chasing. Luckily, there are power-ups like a cool hammer that can destroy enemies and obstacles while a classic arcade tune plays in the background, and the famous one-up mushroom that gives Mario an extra life.

You’re also tasked with collecting presents, which could bring out any completionist urges. There were many times I could easily finish a level without taking a detour to pick up a few presents, but the game’s cheerful “Congratulations!” message coupled with a photo of Mario jumping up happily encourages you to gather them all.

You’re also tasked with collecting presents, which could bring out any completionist urges.


World 1 is set in Mario Toy Company, an easy enough level where you learn do do handstands to avoid falling bricks. World 2 takes place in Donkey Kong Jungle, which has trees and Monchees (cymbal-banging monkeys that Mario can hang onto by their tails). Everything’s easy enough until you get to World 3, Fire Mountain, where you’ll need to avoid incoming rising lava. At least the orchestral soundtrack for World 3 sounds great, so if you get stuck timing your jumps, the jazzy tuba keeps things interesting as you falter. World 4, Merry Mini-Land, offers a nice breather from the stress with whimsical, magical elements like flowers that blow Mario into the air, and small teleportation boxes. This one, and an icy level where Mario slips and slides (World 6, Slippery Summit), are new 2024 additions to the original game, which help the Switch title feel bigger and more comprehensive. Fans of Luigi’s Haunted Mansion 3 may also like World 5, Spooky House, set in a lair with some hauntingly ghostly Shy Guys.

Facing off against Donkey Kong at the end of each world poses its own ordeal. Fortunately, Donkey Kong always only has four lives, while Mario has as many lives as he has friends, so these matches end up being short work. Although the imbalance in lives mean that sometimes these seemingly epic battles become cartoonishly short and rather anticlimactic, there are some later versions of the Donkey Kong faceoff that do pose a worthy test and feel satisfying.


The game’s boss battles range from too-easy to actually-pretty-challenging.


When you beat the game, rest assured that it’s far from over. New Game Plus is packed with features, including expert levels and a time attack mode, best for speedsters, where you have to complete each level in a recommended number of seconds. If you aren’t fast enough, you fail. You also get several versions of the same worlds with different layouts. This time, instead of looking for a key, Mario must guide one mini-him through the level. These variations on a theme offer just enough challenge to keep the game’s core elements feeling fresh.

My favorite part of Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the toy mini-Marios that look shiny to the touch. You begin the levels where you rescue these little toys, with Mario saying, “Let’s go, little guys!” They have voice-acting lines like, “Oh Mario!” And they’ll call out if Mario wanders too far away: “Come back, Mario!”

The little ones aren’t always the smartest, brightest bunch, which can lead to some infuriating moments. This gets even harder in New Game Plus, where you are called upon to help your little guys crawl through timed traps, like bouncing lava in Fire Mountain Plus, or falling bricks in the Mario Toy Company. Sometimes there truly is no other solution than to run as fast as you can. It’s extremely frustrating when these small boys waddle into an obstacle and cost Mario a life.

Final Thoughts

The little ones aren’t always the smartest, brightest bunch, which can lead to some infuriating moments.


Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a treat that’s meant to be savored. The more difficult the level, the more satisfying it is to finally prevail, and the more memorable the experience. Nintendo graciously gave Inverse a full month to review this game, and it was a good call. I could feel myself improving at Mario vs. Donkey Kong each day that I consistently played, and this culminates in thrilling, sweat-inducing boss levels against the big gorilla. The game’s finest moments are when you get to witness the level designers’ genius. How flicking one switch can shift enemies onto different platforms, or trap a little guy behind a block so that regular-sized Mario can safely navigate to grab a present.

The new Nintendo Switch version does gamers the favor of updating what is basically now a museum artifact, incorporating the benefits of 20 years of technological advances. The graphics update is especially appealing to me, a relative casual to the series who picked it up briefly in the ‘90s, fell off, and revisited Mario through 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey and 2020’s Paper Mario: Origami King. To try and play the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong now would be like unearthing a fossil, and the new version keeps the story, the levels, the enemies, and the original game concept all intact so that you are still getting the same essence. Just be thankful that the decades have been kind to our skills and Mario can actually save his buddies this time around.


Mario vs. Donkey Kong arrives on the Nintendo Switch on February 16.

INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.

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