Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review – Rival rematch

Reviewed February 15, 2024 on Nintendo Switch


Nintendo Switch


February 16, 2024




Nintendo Software Technology

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is not the Mario game that I would have chosen for a remake. The base game was good for a handheld title from the early 2000s, but it’s hard to deny that puzzle games — and Mario games to boot — have moved on. Still, there is a simplicity to Mario vs. Donkey Kong that makes switching it on to play a few levels in quiet moments a pretty good time. And now, with the added 2-Player mode, a friend can join the fun with you.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is one of those Mario in-between games that’s just for grins and giggles. It’s not breaking new ground, but it’s not designed to do that: it’s designed to let you chase your old rival Donkey Kong around because he stole some Mario toys called ‘mini-Marios’. Good enough for me!

Because it’s a remake, not a sequel, the puzzle stages are the same ones from the original game (though I suspect it’s been long enough since anyone played it that this won’t matter much!). However, 2 new worlds have been added called Slippery Summit and Merry Mini-Land, which means 16 brand new stages that bring new hazards and gimmicks into the mix.

Each of the total 8 worlds contains six puzzle stages where Mario has to navigate a series of platforms and ladders, to reach first a key to the door forward, then one of the kidnapped mini-Marios. After these six stages, you have a puzzle boss fight with DK himself before he races off to the next world. The layout of these stages is an obvious reference to the original Donkey Kong arcade machine, from its structures designed for vertical scaling to its sound effects that reference the arcade. Mario vs. Donkey Kong on Switch keeps all these charming references, but updates all graphics and sounds. It certainly looks nice, though it lacks any unique charismatic flair such as Mario Wonder displayed

The puzzles mechanics are easy to understand: hit colour-coded switches to activate the corresponding coloured platforms and ladders to find a path through to the goal. Slowly, the game introduces extra hazards such as different types of enemies, movable objects, and more to create increasingly complex puzzles.

Platforming is tight, which is no surprise. Mario can utilise multiple different jumps to navigate the stages, which feels as natural as we’ve come to expect from Mario titles. The platforming starts simple and fairly easy, but it gradually increases in difficulty until it begins to require quite precise movements. It’s never unfair, but it can be tough. Expert stages, which are unlocked one by one the more stages you clear perfectly, offer an even greater challenge. Although they use all the same elements and hazards, they are combined together in more complex ways to create brain-breaking stages that haven’t been able to clear all of.

As well-constructed as the puzzles are, my attention starts to lapse from the game before too long. I love puzzle games, but playing Mario vs. Donkey Kong in the modern day makes me realise just how far puzzle games have come in twenty years. There are some puzzle games I can bearly tear myself from; the Zero Escape series pairs locked-room puzzles with a thriller mystery narrative to keep players hooked, while Puyo Puyo Tetris combines two classic falling block games to create something truly addictive. Even Murder by Numbers, a Picross game disguised as Ace Attorney, kept me glued to the screen. While it’s always fun to jump around as Mario, when compared to its new contemporaries, it’s not doing anything as creative.

“Platforming is tight, which is no surprise.”

This remake offers players a choice in difficulty between classic mode or casual mode. Classic is the way to play for the original GBA experience, which means losing a life when you get hit and being sent back to the beginning of the stage. This isn’t much of a punishment, given that the stages are pretty bitesize anyway. Casual mode gives Mario 5 hits before losing a life.

The game insists on keeping a system of lives and 1-ups, seemingly out of obligation. Losing all your lives simply bumps you back to the main menu, which is only one button press away from the beginning of the stage anyway. So what’s the point? You’ll be dying a lot due to mistimed jumps, and being rudely booted out to the main menu after one death too many is just an annoyance that accomplishes nothing.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong on Switch allows a second player to control Toad in co-op. Doing so adds a second key that must be obtained to unlock the door, and only one key can be carried at once, so cooperation is required to clear the stage in time. It’s a no-brainer for a remake that otherwise doesn’t have much to improve on, though I suspect most will be picking up this title as a single-player game.

Playing in 2-Player makes the game a more casual experience, which is no bad thing. Getting hit, which would otherwise reset the stage, bubbles the player and brings them to the location of the surviving player, as well as decreasing their lives by 1. This way, lives become effectively like limited chances before you have to restart the level from the beginning.

Although enjoyable for what it is, it starts to drag over longer play sessions. All those lost lives start to add up, and frustration starts winning out — especially each time I get booted back to the main menu after losing my last life. I found I was only driven to play it in short bursts of about half an hour. My favourite way to play Mario vs. Donkey Kong is solo, one or two levels at a time, when the day is winding down. Take your time with it; we’ve got a long wait til the next mainline Mario game anyway, so what’s your rush?




  • Faithful remake of the original, packed with charm
  • Tight platforming that's tough but fair
  • Difficulty scaling feels natural throughout all 130 levels


  • Feels monotonous unless you play in short bursts
  • Limited lives are an obsolete annoyance

Mario vs. Donkey Kong has been remade nearly perfectly, and it’s certainly great for any forgotten title to get an update and a facelift. The platforming is still tight, but the simple truth is that puzzle games as a genre have moved on in the twenty years since the original. That means nothing about it really stands out, either as a puzzle game or a Mario game. Still, that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun with it as you wait for Nintendo’s next main-line Mario.