Mario vs. Donkey Kong (Switch) Review


Out of all the games to remake, I never expected Nintendo to pluck this one out of the vault and give it another go, but I’m sure glad they did. The original Mario vs. Donkey Kong was the spiritual successor to the 1994 title Donkey Kong. When it was released twenty years ago, I was a massive fan of it, but I’ve not played it since until it came up for review here on the Switch. I wasn’t sure there was anything more to do with the game, but I’m happy to see that Nintendo’s added a lot more here to the Switch version, and it’ll make itself welcome to people again all these years later.

If you’ve played a Mario vs. Donkey Kong game since this one, you might be in for a little shock. While later games in the series moved the focus away from Mario and onto the Minis, this original game is all Mario – and frankly, better for it. The more the series moved away from its Donkey Kong 94 and this original game’s roots, the less fun it got.

So why are Mario and Donkey Kong fighting this time? This time, Donkey Kong is upset that he can’t go and buy a brand new Mini Mario toy, so instead, he takes it upon himself to liberate the entire stockpile from Mario’s Toy Factory (which I guess is just down the road from Mario’s Cement Factory). Mario catches him in the act, and off we go. The game’s cutscenes have been upgraded from a simple slideshow to beautiful, animated ones; there are not many of them, but they’re cute additions. It’s just the start of the upgrades this game has received.

Donkey Kong has been careless with his stolen Mini Marios and left them in one of eight worlds, two more than the original game. Each world has a number of standard levels that take place over two parts. The first part is to grab the key and unlock the door to the second part, where the Mini Mario awaits collection. To get a perfect rank, you have to collect all of the presents littered on the stage – when you do, you’ll get a star and need more stars to unlock more levels later on. In the original GBA game, you had to get a specific score, collect the presents and finish within a particular time – all of that has been removed.

Once you finish the first level in a new world, you can now select any of the first six stages; in the GBA original, you could unlock them sequentially. This minor quality-of-life update should mean people get less stuck working through the game and lets you try another level before returning to one that stumps you.

The game controls more like Super Mario Bros. 2. than a typical Mario game. Mario can jump and run, but bopping enemies on the head is out; instead, you can lift and toss them as well as items. Mario has a bunch of moves that help in puzzle-solving, including back flips and handstands. There are buttons on the levels to turn on and off coloured blocks and change the direction of the platforms. Each level has different tricks and traps, but most puzzles can be solved simply by trial and error.

Once you’ve gone through the first six stages of a world, you’ll hit a Mini Mario Stage. These are the more Lemming-type stages where you must guide your collected Mini Marios to a toy chest. They move on their own and can jump over gaps and up ledges. They are, however, fragile, so they’ll get taken out if you don’t look after them. The last stage in each world is a battle against Donkey Kong. These boss fights aren’t super challenging but are still quite fun.

So that’s Mario vs Donkey Kong. Oh wait, there’s a whole load of new stuff in the Switch version – that is why you’re here.


The two new worlds added to the game fit right in with the feeling of the game. You won’t have to wait until the end to play them, either, as they’re wedged into the middle of the game’s existing worlds. When I hit the game’s first new world, Merry Mini-Land, I didn’t realise it was the new one. It’s been twenty years; it’s hard to remember this stuff.

The original Game Boy Advance release wasn’t a hard game, but it was unforgiving. One hit on Mario, and boom, restart a level. The new Casual Mode lets the game be a little more forgiving and removes some time pressures. If you get hit now, you’ll go into a bubble and be sent back either to the start or to a checkpoint if you cross it. You can do this five times before you have to try the level over again. This casual mode also removes the timer from levels, so it hits in two ways to make things easier.

The two-player co-op mode is one of the rare instances where a bolted-on co-op mode hasn’t ended up with just the second player being along for the ride. Working through stages with someone else who can help you is fun. The levels not only add a second key to unlock the door to get to the second part of the stage but also change some stages slightly. I noticed changes to some stages when I returned to the original game; just platforms were added here and there – nothing major.

Along with the quality of life updates and modernisation of the game’s mechanics, we’ve also seen the graphics get a refresh. Gone is the Donkey Kong Country-like pre-rendered style, and replaced is the clear and straightforward Mario look. There’s no way in the world you can say this game seems bland or boring, but having just been spoiled with the visual feast that is Super Mario Bros. Wonder, it’s just a bit clinical. The game’s soundtrack, though, isn’t that at all, with the themes brought forward with a new composition and jazzy overtones added to it all. I am not sure what’s got into Nintendo in the past decade with the jazz influence, but I like it and hope it sticks. Mario’s in top form with his usual chatterbox self – but it is nice to hear Charles again.

People will pick this up expecting a Mario or a Donkey Kong game and be disappointed. I get it; it’s neither of them – but instead, it’s own little corner of Nintendo history. This Switch version has been brought into the modern era with enough quality-of-life adjustments to make new Mario vs. Donkey Kong fans – and not touch too much to upset the diehard fans.


On paper, it might not look like there’s a lot to this game, but with the addition of two new worlds, time attack, co-op play and the ability to scale the difficulty should you get stuck – there’s plenty on offer for everyone. Now, a new generation can experience Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Good

+ Two new worlds have some great original ideas
+ Time attack, local co-op and casual mode add more content to the package
+ Lots of smaller QoL updates mean the game is more accessible than ever
+ Jazzy soundtrack

The Bad

- Simplification of getting a perfect rank will be annoying for some
- After Wonder, it's hard to go back to vanilla Mario styles
- Where's the Mini Mario amiibo?

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Final Thoughts

On paper, it might not look like there's a lot to this game, but with the addition of two new worlds, time attack, co-op play and the ability to scale the difficulty should you get stuck - there's plenty on offer for everyone. Now, a new generation can experience Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

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About The Author
Daniel Vuckovic
The Owner and Creator of this fair website. I also do news, reviews, programming, art and social media here. It is named after me after all. Please understand.

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