Mario vs. Donkey Kong preview – A brain-tickling good time

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a pleasant puzzler with just the right amount of difficulty.
mario vs donkey kong preview

There was a time when the Mini-Marios ruled Nintendo. With their tiny clockwork parts, adorable little moustaches and high-pitched voices, they became pseudo-mascots of the Game Boy Advance era, leading the Mario vs. Donkey Kong franchise for over a decade and even earning it a range of spin-offs. In 2024, the Mini-Marios are back – and in the newly-remastered Mario vs. Donkey Kong, they’re just as delightful as ever.

This new version of Mario vs. Donkey Kong is essentially an updated and expanded remaster of the original game. It features the same puzzle-themed traversal gameplay, while also adding in a range of new and more complicated levels to stretch your mental matter.

In each two-part level of the game, you’re essentially tasked with grabbing a key and bringing it to a door, then collecting a Mini-Mario in a secondary stage, all while dealing with block switches, roaming enemies, and other obstacles.

For those familiar with the original game, there’s not a whole lot more to the package, but with colourfully remastered levels and a handful of new traversal challenges to work through, there’s plenty of reasons to visit or revisit this early 2000s gem.

Read: Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review – A Wonderful World

Across its four starting worlds – which comprise this early game preview – Mario vs. Donkey Kong proved its longevity, with its 2004-era puzzles maintaining a light, brain-tickling sense of charm. The game also manages a solid balance of difficulty, with two main options for gameplay: an easier non-timed mode with multiple lives, and the standard timed, single-hit mode.

mario vs donkey kong gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

In either mode, you’re presented with a fair amount of challenge – although tougher levels will likely test your resolve on the hard difficulty. What begins as a pleasant walk in the park, with Mario jumping and climbing through obstacles to reach the end gate or grab the Mini-Mario, quickly becomes a dangerous dance with death – as Piranha Plants wait with snapping teeth, and Shy Guys cause chaos in spike pits.

Thankfully, there’s no real detriment to picking the easier mode and taking your time to analyse your surroundings before you commit to your leaps and jumps. With infinite time to plan, Mario vs. Donkey Kong remains a rewarding challenge, as even with an extra five lives and the space to ruminate on failure, you’re still likely to get caught up in the complexities of its puzzles.

Any time a block switch is in place, for example, you’ll likely spend precious seconds analysing the consequences of pushing the red, blue, or yellow toggles to activate certain platforms. The red switch may unlock one particular pathway, but it may also prevent you from carrying the key – as once you have it, you can’t duck or fit through smaller spaces.

mario mountain fire
Screenshot: GamesHub

You’ll also need to work on your timing, as some puzzles require you to drop the key – which only stays in one place for 15 seconds – and then rush through a range of obstacles to meet it on the other side of conveyor belts or switched blocks.

Of course, certain levels also have themed rounds that add extra layers of panic: there’s a lava world where the lava flow advances upward on a timer, a jungle world dependent on the movement of monkeys, and other worlds determined by particular beats you must analyse and move through.

With a ramping difficulty that started to hit hard by the preview’s fourth world, it’s clear Mario vs. Donkey Kong has plenty of surprises in store – and that each will be harder to overcome than the last. But with each puzzle being bite-sized and snappy, they’re also very satisfying to complete, and never outstay their welcome.

Complete six levels in a particular world, and you’ll also be rewarded with a wonderful little puzzle stage where the Mini-Marios play a key role. These stages, also known as MM Levels, are incredibly neat. They require you to guide your rescued Mini-Marios across stages, collecting the letters T, O, Y to unlock a toy box to return the Mini-Marios to their homes.

mario vs donkey kong mini marios
Screenshot: GamesHub

While scarce, these levels are a real blast – and were perhaps my favourite part of playing through Mario vs. Donkey Kong. They require a bit more thinking than their platformer fellows, and that’s why they’re so fun. Rather than quick solves, the MM levels demand much more attention, as a wrong move can destroy some of the Mini-Marios, or render your quest futile. They encourage taking your time, understanding the risks of your environment, and eventually deploying a well-thought-out strategy.

As in past games, the Mini-Marios are still the real star of the show – but with its devotion to simple, snappy platforming puzzles and a vast array of challenges, Mario vs. Donkey Kong remains enjoyable even when they’re not on screen. While there’s still plenty of mountains left to climb in this game, its opening worlds have reintroduced a dynamic little platformer that certainly deserves a revisit in 2024.

We’ll have more on Mario vs. Donkey Kong closer to release date.

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong - Standard - Nintendo Switch [Digital Code]
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02/18/2024 09:31 pm GMT

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is set to launch for Nintendo Switch on 16 February 2024.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.