Mario vs. Donkey Kong Hands-On: A Barrel of Laughs
We've checked out Nintendo's remake of the classic puzzle-platformer.
Slotting in neatly between the Super Mario RPG remake and Paper Mario: The 1000 Year Door, Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Switch delivers us yet another fresh look at a classic Mario spin-off. If you've not checked out the original 2004 Game Boy title, don't worry, neither have I, but that doesn't stop anyone from having some fun with this vibrant puzzle platformer.
It's worth emphasising the puzzle part of this game here. Mario vs. Donkey Kong might first make you think this is going to be some sort of fighting game, but it's actually a strong puzzler. Each level consists of two small areas which have varying mechanics for you to mess around with depending on the world you're in. You can explore a bit by holding the R button to see where the collectible presents are on a map, but otherwise what you get is pretty much sitting right in front of you.
The gameplay requires less precise jumping and running but more planning out of the player. There haven't been any real head-scratchers for me yet, but putting your strategy together and then executing it can take time, which is of the essence in Mario vs. Donkey Kong. So far, the timer hasn't been too pressuring, but there are plenty of ways to skirt around it if you need to spend more time on a level.
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Each time you succeed on a level, you get that little bit closer to tracking down Donkey Kong, who has stolen a bunch of Mario toys called Mini-Marios. This tale feels pretty apt even 20 years after the original game was first released, as in the age of Funko and Amiibo collectors, it's easy to imagine someone chasing an oversized ape down for a collection of plastic figurines. Also, I like to imagine Mario is going to make a fat chunk of change from this merchandising, so it gives him even more reason to chase down Donkey Kong. At the end of each world, you're given a chance to battle Donkey Kong after another puzzle where you guide your Mini-Marios to collect some letters. Usually, these battles against DK have you avoiding falling obstacles, barrels, and more until you can pick something back up and throw it back at him. Rinse and repeat until he moves onto the next world. It's simple, but it works, and the levels are quick enough that I haven't felt myself getting bored yet.
As well as just figuring out what to do in each puzzle level, you'll have to get used to a few simple mechanics in order to make everything work. Mario can pick up anything from rubbish cans to enemies (so long as he lands on their head first) in order to get ahead. Throwing stuff around is as fun as you'd expect, just being able to launch enemies off the map if you want. I'd recommend against that, actually, as enemies that disappear entirely will respawn on the same platform they started on, which has led to multiple embarrassing deaths.
Mario's handstand is probably my favourite thing in this game so far, if only for how impressive it is to see that plump little plumber walk on his hands and then transition to a double front-flip. His core strength must be insane. Mario's handstand can help you reach higher platforms, as you might guess, but it also makes you invulnerable to falling objects, even if they appear to hit you right on the head. These simple mechanics are neat in Mario vs. Donkey Kong, yet they don't really add a whole lot of depth to the gameplay.
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If you are looking for a proper puzzling challenge, Mario vs. Donkey Kong hasn't yet provided one to me. I'm still early on and am expecting the challenge to ramp up, but besides a few simple mistakes in a scrap with Donkey Kong, it's been pretty smooth-going. I'm pretty sure a serious challenge isn't the goal here, though, so I'm not going to be too harsh for that. The bright and lovely visuals alongside the solid level and enemy diversity paired with the adorable "yippee" sound each Mini-Mario makes once they've been saved have allowed me to spend a good chunk of time with Mario vs. Donkey Kong so far, and I'm looking forward to ploughing on with the rest of this latest example in Nintendo's commitment to the plumber.