About ten years ago, Nintendo remade their classic 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong on the old black and white Gameboy (with extra Super Gameboy features). This game was basically an update from what made the original game so enjoyable. Today, Nintendo has revisited the classic Donkey Kong style game play on the GBA.
The story in Mario Vs Donkey Kong remains similar to games of the past. Instead of going after the damsel, DK now has his eye on the really cool Mario toys. Because DK is made of pure evil, he ransacks the Mario Toy company and steals all the mini Mario dolls for himself. Mario catches him in the act and it is up to him to retrieve all the stolen goods.
If you played the original Donkey Kong or Donkey Kong ’94 on the original GB, then players should know to expect something a tad unique. Mario’s first name in the original Donkey Kong was Jump Man. Even though it might be a little hard to figure out why he was given this name, Jump Man’s only action was to run across the screen and jump over obstacles. Unlike the Mario Bros. series, the Donkey Kong games blended a perfect balance of action and puzzle solving. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong retains this same type of game play while adding new graphics to suit this day and age.
The game design in Mario Vs Donkey Kong is simple, but addicting. To sum up, Mario must find and pick up a key that is somewhere on the stage and bring it to the keyhole to enter the next level. This may sound simple, but traps and enemies are blocking the way. If Mario were to drop the key while holding it, he will have about twelve seconds to pick it back up before it returns to its original spot. Each level will force Mario to jump, climb, swing, bounce, and fight his way through to the exit.
Each time you complete a Key to the Keyhole level, Mario will play a mini Mario level immediately after entering the locked door. In these mini Mario levels, Mario is not after a key, but a trapped mini Mario toy. One mini Mario will be trapped somewhere within these levels and Mario must find and rescue him. After six of these levels have been beaten, Mario will play through a special mini Mario level where he must guide all six little action figures back to their toy box similar to a Lemmings game. The eighth level in each world is a boss battle against DK himself and this is where this GBA game gets its name. Hurting DK isn’t a big secret as the designers made this part of the game obvious for a purpose, but they aren’t really challenging. Instead of trying to survive a deadly boss battle against a giant monkey, Mario Vs Donkey Kong’s boss battle are more about finishing off the bad guy quickly and unhurt as the game rewards points for speed and flawlessness.
To give the game more of a challenge, three gift boxes are spread throughout each single level. If you find them all, the player will be rewarded with a chance to win 1-Ups in a mini game. Plus, if you collect all of them, the game will reward the player at the end of the game.
If you played DK ’94, then you will know the moves Mario will have to complete each level. Because jumping is Mario’s forte, he can perform a number of different types of jumps with style and ease. Mario can double jump, back flip, and walk on his hands. Each type of jump is best used in a given situation. The double jump is used to reach higher ledges, while the back flip can be used to avoid incoming enemies. When Mario walks on his hands, he can block falling objects with his feet. Jumping isn’t the only thing Mario can do. He can pick up and chuck objects and enemies, swing like a gymnast, and climb from rope to rope just like he did back in the arcade game. Each move will be constantly used throughout the game, but I wish a “cling to the side of a ledge” feature was added. This would have been the one move that was not in any previous DK game before and it could have been used numerous times throughout the game.
To make this game more suitable for today’s audience, the developers decided to animate all the sprites on screen fluidly but with very awkward 3D models that do not truly fit in a Mario game. Each character model, including Mario himself, just do not look correct thanks to a strange rendering system. I like the fact that each onscreen sprite moves fluidly, but the overall appearance and presentation just do not fit in this type of gaming world.
For the first time, I am actually annoyed with Mario’s voice. Mario tends to talk a little too much in this game. The ” Letza’ Go” phrase, among others, are spoken way too often. The music however, is soft and pleasant which completely fits this type of game.
I am a little disappointed in the replay value of this game, as it does not support any type of multiplayer. The classic Mario Bros. Vs mode that was included in every other Mario game did not even make its way into this game. I would have liked to see a multiplayer link mode where one player controls DK while the other Mario(s) try and stop him. Sadly, the only replay value in this game is collecting all the present boxes that are spread throughout each level.
Despite the awkward graphical style and overused voice work, Mario Vs Donkey Kong is a great game to play even though it is a little short in the replay value department. The puzzle and level design in this game will gradually get harder as time passes as the player becomes more experienced. This balance in difficultly is another fantastic aspect of this GBA game. If you liked the original arcade DK or Donkey Kong ’94 for the first GB, then this game is right up your alley. The perfect blend of puzzle depth and action in this game is enough for anyone to play through to the end. Mario Vs Donkey Kong should be in everyone’s GBA at some point or another, but in my opinion, Donkey Kong ’94 was better.