Mario vs. Donkey Kong Remake

March 12, 2024


  • Updated visuals
  • Great 2-player & difficulty additions
  • Fun level replayability
  • Great in short bursts


  • Can feel a little samey/repetitive after long play sessions
  • Occasional control issues



A fun, more-content-than-expected remake that shines in short bursts.

Because I was one of those kids who regrettably had to sell off whatever his current console was to afford a new one – it’s not super common for me to play a remake while I still have access to the original. However, thanks to my brother keeping his old beautiful red clamshell Gameboy Advance SP and gifting it to me a few years ago – the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong is actually one of the small rectangular cartridges that I still have. While I much prefer the regular platforming 2D and 3D Mario games, this puzzle version of Mario and DK’s adventures therefore still held a special place in my heart. When I heard a remake was on the way, I can’t say I was overly excited – however, after spending many, many hours with the Switch’s latest Mario title – I’m happy to report that thanks to a load of new content, updated visuals and some nice additions like a two-player mode and an easier difficulty option which made it a lot more accessible to my wife – I had a great time with Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

Modern Mini-Mario 

For those who are not really sure what to expect – Mario vs. Donkey King is a spinoff series that first appeared on the GameBoy Advance (with sequels on the DS, 3DS and Wii U). This is a remake of the original game and consists of bite-sized levels of simple puzzle platforming where Mario is tasked with first collecting a Key (and optional gift boxes) and then freeing a Mini-Mario in each two-parted level. Each world has six levels and once 6 Minis are freed Mario then is tasked with leading them (Lemmings-style) back into their toy box before taking on DK in a boss level (which feels very much like an old arcade game in that repeated a similar boss fight again and again). The levels are quite varied in tone and remind of the old Donkey Kong games by including little nods to the old games from hammers from the original Donkey Kong to the climbing vines from Donkey Kong Jnr. The mechanics are quite straightforward and while I never thought the visuals looked that bad when I played on the GameBoy – a fresh coat of paint and some newly animated cutscenes definitely make the game look a lot better than it used to – especially when I whipped out the old SP for comparison.

…a few additions and modifications that make the whole game a lot more accessible and fun!

The remake not only looks and sounds a lot better (ear-piercing DK screams before each level begins have thankfully been replaced by ape-like grumbles instead), but there have been a few additions and modifications that make the whole thing a lot more accessible and fun. First up, you can now select between classic difficulty that feels pretty identical to the gameplay in the original game, or a simpler Casual mode. This one will add a checkpoint flag halfway through the level, give you a few extra lives and ensure that you won’t die immediately the first time an enemy touches you. While the game wasn’t super difficult for experienced players – this easier difficulty setting does make it a lot easier for new players to get through the game without seeing that disheartening Game Over screen pop-up again and again. My wife was super excited about this setting and along with the new two-player mode which adds Toad and means you’ll have to get a second key before progressing along each level – and we had a ton of fun with some enjoyable if a little chaotic co-op shenanigans.

Mini Mario Mechanics

Next, up small changes to how the 1-Up system works (now a playable timed level rather than a slot machine mechanic) means it’s a lot tougher to run out of lives which I much preferred. Along with that, previously to get a perfect run you needed to collect the key, all three gift boxes and save all six Mini-Marios while also beating the best time. In the remake, that last requirement has been removed and Time Attack is an optional post-game extra mode that made the collector hoping to 100% in me a lot happier – as the stress of beating your best time each time was a little not something I ever enjoyed.

While the levels are generally quite short… figuring out each puzzle will determine how quickly you get through the game.

While the levels are generally quite short, as with all puzzle games – figuring out each puzzle will determine how quickly you get through the game. If you are going to collect each item before getting to the end – that likely means you will find some levels a little harder than others and the odd difficulty spike (when a puzzle’s solution doesn’t come to you as easily) can be a little frustrating. However, I generally found the pace of this game quite good. I found the as your progress through the worlds – later ones do get a little tougher each time and I that’s what I look for. That being said, within each world the levels are numbered 1 to 6 but that doesn’t usually indicate difficulty. In fact, once you save the first Mini in each world all six other levels are open to you to tackle in any order.

More Mini Mario

Despite the short levels, I was actually surprised at the amount of content in the game. Not only are there two new worlds (Merry Mini-Land and Slippery Summit) bringing the total number of levels to well over 120, but after you finish those – there are Plus versions of each level and even a few Expert levels to tackle too (not to mention that you get to go back and try to complete each level in the new Time Attack mode as well). Now, this is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, this gives you amazing replayability. While levels do have similar elements, each new world provides a few wonderful new gimmicks and mechanics from teleportation boxes, to robot monkeys and even Mario’s well-known slippery ice platforms – and in short bursts, I find myself continually going back whenever I have a few minutes to spare to work out a new level or two.  Of course, on the flipside that does mean that if you’re looking to kill a few hours – the similar structure of this game means it may get a little boring after a while when played for long stretches. However, as long as you do the former – I actually think this remake solves almost every issue I had with the original, it looks great and as a welcoming puzzle platformer there’s not much more I could ask for.

Each world provides a few wonderful new gimmicks and mechanics from teleportation boxes, to robot monkeys and even Mario’s well-known slippery ice platforms – and in short bursts, I found myself continually going back for more!

In fact, my only real gripe with the game was a few small but niggling issues around the controls. Now, Mario’s move set is actually quite good as long as you don’t come in expecting something like Wonder or Odyssey which may have spoilt us a little. Flips, jumps and general running around feel pretty smooth. However, enemy hitboxes (the areas where you actually take damage if you touch them) are quite unforgiving. Quite a few times, I wanted to pick up an enemy (one of the mechanics) and didn’t land on what felt like the exact right pixel on the enemy’s head – and bang I’d hear that dreaded ‘Mario is dead’ music. It got very frustrating. Similarly, grabbing vines and ropes or jumping onto ladders occasionally feels quite sloppy and inconsistent – and while this isn’t a deal breaker it is something that can occasionally be very frustrating especially if you’re taking on the Time Attack mode or one of the Expert levels where timing is key.

Marvelous Mini Mario

Overall, I enjoyed my time with the Mario vs. Donkey Kong Remake. As a puzzle platformer (especially one from the Game Boy era) it’s not quite something that will grab everyone’s attention. However, as a game that comes to the Switch near the end of its lifespan and provides updated visuals, some good Quality-of-Life updates and more content than I was expecting – I was really pleased. It truly shines in as a game you can pick up for a few minutes, take on a few levels and then put away – and seen in the light there’s very little I could fault it on (other than some occasional unforgiving movements) and therefore I would be happy to recommend.


For more Nintendo Reviews click here.

March 12, 2024

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