Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 05/24/04 | Genre: Platform
Although there have been many Donkey Kong games since his 1983 debut, many people have been asking if we will ever see Mario and Donkey Kong in a game that has the same type of gameplay as the original Donkey Kong. While Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3 may be considered sequels, they both had very different gameplay elements than Donkey Kong. Well, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is the sequel to the original that people have been hoping for. It is a true sequel to the original gameplay where Mario is the hero and Donkey Kong is the villain. Like the original Donkey Kong, each level is fairly small, and Mario's task is to get from start to finish, mostly all on one screen. What many people do not know is that there was a game also called Donkey Kong for the original Game Boy that was released in 1994. Donkey Kong '94 took the basic concept of the original Donkey Kong and expanded it with more elements in the gameplay. Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a sequel to this game.
The premise is simple. Mario must get from his starting point (usually near the bottom of the screen), to the finishing point (usually near the top of the screen). Each part of a level is usually not much bigger than one screen. If you have played the original Donkey Kong, then you have a good idea of what the basic gameplay is like. However, Mario vs. Donkey Kong throws many more elements into the mix and has many more levels.
As you might expect from a Mario game, the story is pretty weak, but it's fitting. You might be surprised to know that even though Mario's always busy saving Peach or playing tennis, he also runs a successful toy company. The hottest new toy is the Mini-Mario doll. When Donkey Kong sees a commercial for one, he just knows that he has to have one right away. When he finds out that the stores are all sold out, he decides that he can't wait for the next shipment, and he might as well save his money too. The only thing left for the giant ape to do is to go rip off Mario at the toy factory. So Donkey Kong breaks in, steals a bunch of Mini-Mario dolls and it's up to Mario to recover them and teach that flea bag a lesson.
The graphics are pretty detailed. The sprites look like they were made with 3D renders, like Donkey Kong Country. Each sprite has many colors to give it lots of detail and there is a good amount of frames of animation. This is one of the best looking 2D games on the GBA. The backgrounds are colorful and there is just a lot of artwork in the game. Things definitely don't look plain or repetitive. The sound is also nice. The music is good, but I didn't find it all that memorable. It's good music to play to though. I just don't find myself humming the tunes afterwards. Mario does have quite a bit of voice to go with him. However, he doesn't talk as much during gameplay as he does in the Mario Advance series. He really only talks when you die or when the level starts and ends. During gameplay, he only does his standard �Woohoo!� �Oof!� and the rest. Some people might find the voice work annoying, but honestly, I think it's strange if the character is silent. As I said, Mario's not chatty during actual gameplay.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong follows the concept of the original Donkey Kong more than it does other Mario platformers, but it does have elements from many other Mario and Donkey Kong games. One of the first things you'll notice is that Mario controls somewhat like he did in Super Mario 64. Of course he can run and jump, but he can do so much more. He can do back flips and double jumps as he did in Mario 64. These help Mario get more height than a normal jump and are crucial to earning a high score by completing levels faster. Mario can also do a handstand and walk on his hands. This way, his heavy-duty boots can protect him from falling objects. Mario can also climb ropes and chains in the same manner as Donkey Kong Jr. Mario can also lift objects and enemies like he does in Super Mario Bros. 2.
Initially, you have six worlds with eight levels each to complete. There are three types of levels in each world. I will call the first type of level �standard� levels. Standard levels make up the first six levels of each world. Each standard level is broken up into two parts. In the first part, you must reach a key, pick it up, and then take it to the door. It's not always as simple as that though. Mario cannot do his special jumps, climb ladders, or climb ropes while he is carrying the key. On top of that, if the key is dropped, it will disappear and return to its original place after 12 seconds. Once the key is brought back to the door, Mario moves on to the second part of the standard level. Now he must reach the Mini-Mario and simply pick it up and then that level is complete. There are many different elements that the levels are made up of, and most elements are introduced one-by-one in each level. The first few worlds can be fairly easy, but by the time you get to World 5, there will be many different types of obstacles for you to deal with, and it can get pretty challenging. The levels are filled with conveyer belts, switches, enemies, and other hazards and obstacles. One of the things I found interesting was that there can be up to three colored switches in each level. Pushing a switch will make platforms and blocks of the same color appear. The thing is, it will make all platforms and blocks of any other colors disappear. You can tell where blocks and platforms will appear by colored dotted-lines. You will have to examine the level and decide when you need to push each switch. This takes on special significance when you are trying to figure out how to get the key to the door. Remember, Mario isn't as versatile when he is holding the key, so how the blocks and platforms are arranged (via the switches) is important. Some enemies can also be used as tools. For instance, one enemy will run and ram you if he sees you. If he smushes you against a wall, you're dead. However, since Mario cannot crawl, this enemy can be used to push Mario through a small gap while he is crouching, and then Mario must get clear of the enemy before they hit a wall. So while you will need platforming skills to execute your plan, figuring out your course through the level is like solving a puzzle.
The second type of level is the Mini-Mario level. After you have completed the six standard levels, you will play a Mini-Mario level. The Mini-Marios are little wind up dolls. They will follow Mario, but obviously, since they're just dolls, they have limited abilities. For instance, they can't jump very far and they can't climb ladders. All they can really do is follow Mario, jump small gaps, climb stairs, and jump on springs. Mario must guide the Mini-Marios to a toy box to complete the level. Mario must guide them carefully, because they can be lost to certain hazards and enemies. These levels play kind of like Lemmings except that you still have to worry about Mario. The amount of Mini-Marios you successfully guide to the toy box will determine how many hits Mario can sustain in the third level type, the Donkey Kong level. In the Donkey Kong levels, Mario must fight Donkey Kong. This usually involves Mario finding something to pick up and throw at Donkey Kong while the ape is throwing things at Mario.
When you get part way into the game, it seems like it will be over pretty quickly. However, there's still more to the game. Once you complete the original six worlds, you will open up six more worlds. The levels in this world have a new twist. Now you collect the Mini-Mario with the key. These levels take a lot more skill and brains as you have to figure out not only how to get Mario to the to the door, but a Mini-Mario will be following you, so you have to keep him safe too. Still, after these six worlds are beat, there's more! Each of the previous levels has three presents scattered through it. Getting these presents takes extra skill and they are usually a little out of the way. Aside from giving you the chance to earn extra lives, you need to collect all three presents and get a high score in a level to get a star. Getting enough stars will open up even more levels, the expert stages. These stages are very challenging of course. Earning the stars to unlock the expert stages is a fun challenge in itself though. In order to get a high score, you will need to beat a level very fast. Generally, you must figure out how to use Mario's various acrobatic moves to move around the level faster than the obvious way. You must figure out the best order to push the switches, grab the presents, and the key in order to beat the level as fast as possible. Again, this is both fun and challenging because you need brains to form a plan and the skills to execute them. All in all, there are 90 levels and 14 boss fights. Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a good sized game.
You will spend a fair amount of time with Mario vs. Donkey Kong, especially if you want to unlock all of the stages. I really enjoyed the level of challenge the game presents. It's also fun to have a game with some old school style. The larger context of the game is silly. It's just about getting from point �A' to point �B' with a bunch of crazy obstacles and hazards to navigate in between. This is also the perfect game for those on the go because you can you don't need to play for a long amount of time to accomplish something or have fun. So, thumbs up to the awesome level design. It's addicting, challenging, and of course, fun.