Mario and Donkey Kong have been feuding for well over 20 years. It all began in 1981 when the giant gorilla became enamored with Mario’s then girlfriend, Pauline, and whisked her away to the top of a building. In 1994, the fight was brought to Game Boy in the form of an updated version of the classic, introducing new moves and puzzle elements. And now, a decade later, the bell has rung for round three, as two of Nintendo’s best-known characters continue their battle on the Game Boy Advance in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.
The latest chapter opens with Donkey Kong lounging around at home, channel surfing, when he comes across a commercial for wind-up mini-Mario toys. Smitten, Donkey Kong makes haste for the store only to find the dolls are sold out. Enraged, he heads to the source, Mario’s Toy Company, and steals the remaining dolls from Toad. Now it’s up to you, as Mario, to chase down the kleptomaniac Kong and recover the stolen goods.
The game is broken down into six worlds that will see Mario trail Donkey Kong through his toy factory, a jungle, an active volcano and a spooky mansion, among other locales. Each world contains eight levels. In the first six levels of each world, you have to find a key to unlock the door to a second stage, where you then have to find the mini-Mario. These side-scrolling affairs are essentially puzzles you have to solve by climbing, backflipping and wirespinning your way through each level while manipulating switches that trigger blocks to magically appear or disappear. You’ll also have to fend off enemies either by picking them up over your head, ala Super Mario Bros 2, or by wielding Mario’s trusty hammer, as he did in the original Donkey Kong. Last but not least, you’ll want to keep an eye out for presents which, when all three are collected per level, open up a mini-game where Mario can win extra lives.
Once you’ve rescued all six mini-Marios, you’ll have the guide the little fellas, in true Lemmings fashion, through a variety of obstacles and into a toy box. This comprises the seventh level of each world. Then, in the final level, you’ll go mano-a-mano with the big ape himself, Donkey Kong. There are 48 levels in total, all relatively short and many quite simple, but if you earn enough stars, accomplished by collecting all three presents and beating the high score on each level, you’ll gain access to a set of expert levels upon completion of the game, worlds that will test even the most savvy gamer.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a good-looking game. The worlds are creative and colorful, the enemies are pulled straight from the Nintendo archives, and both the main characters look great, if a little blocky. The music and sound effects are also classic fare, including the original theme that plays when Mario picks up a hammer. If you’re a retro gamer, you’ll have a blast picking out all the visual and audio cues from the past.
And so the feud continues, fuelled by new moves, new puzzle elements and old references from the days of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 64. The result is a portable platform puzzler that while simple in nature, is sure to please fans of both Nintendo characters.