Mario vs. Donkey Kong (Nintendo Switch) – Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a pleasant brain-tickler with a neat balance of challenge.
mario vs donkey kong review

Modern video games can be overwhelming – particularly in their approach to puzzling. As games have grown bigger and grander, their mechanics have become far more complex, far more head-scratching, and far less fun. Mario vs. Donkey Kong, for all its nostalgic glee, is a wonderful salve in that regard.

The new version of the game for Nintendo Switch is essentially a remastered, overhauled game that adapts the original Game Boy Advance release, with the smallest of tweaks. There are improved graphics, additional puzzles, and some minor changes to puzzle format, but at its core, it’s still the same simple, light-hearted puzzle platformer that charmed players in 2004.

There’s an easy-breezy sense of fun in the game that’s difficult to replicate in modern games. It’s the sort of puzzler you’ll pop into for a few levels, enjoy considerably, and then immediately forget about – not in a bad way, at all. It’s simply a nice, precise puzzle platformer that’ll scratch your itch for a decent challenge, and then let you go about your day filled with fuzzy, positive vibes.

mario vs donkey kong gameplay
Screenshot: GamesHub

A good game doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It doesn’t have to break the mould, or change your life. Sometimes, a good game is a few hours of pleasant, brain-tickling adventures and a lovely few afternoons of joy. To that end – Mario vs. Donkey Kong certainly fulfils the brief.

Read: Super Mario RPG Review – Wish upon a classic star

In the game, you play as Mario cleaning up in the wake of a stealing rampage by Donkey Kong. See, the latest and hottest toy in the Mushroom Kingdom – the Mini Mario – has just released, and all Donkey Kong wants is every Mini Mario in stores.

With stock sold out, he ventures to the Mario Factory – stealing their entire stock and running away with his grab bag fully open, leaving Mini Marios scattered throughout jungles, haunted mansions, lava-filled mountains, factories and more.

mario vs donkey kong mini marios
Screenshot: GamesHub

Mario must retrieve these toys by jumping through a variety of two-part levels, each designed as tiny dioramas. Ladders and monkey tails must be climbed, coloured blocks must be activated (or deactivated), pits must be crossed, and keys must be found. In special stages, the Mini Marios must also be guided towards a special toy box, crossing great ravines and avoiding enemies to stay safe.

You can tackle challenges in two modes: an easier mode with multiple health points and zero timer, and a timed, frantic mode that requires intense precision. In either mode, the challenges feel fairly balanced, with only very rare stumping in later levels.

Each of the challenges hiding in these levels are frankly delightful – although, admittedly, rarely difficult. Once you understand the main mechanics of gameplay, which typically revolve around hitting switches, and jumping or climbing tiny obstacle courses, there’s not much more to success in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

Later stages – and particularly the new bonus stages included with this remaster – do test your mental muscles, forcing more quick-thinking than the main game’s courses, but they remain exceedingly pleasant, rather than difficult or frustrating. Personal preference will play a part in whether Mario vs. Donkey Kong feels rewarding in this design – but as someone who prefers lighter puzzling, it was a wonderful after-work treat.

mario vs donkey kong
Screenshot: GamesHub

With bite-sized levels and worlds, and the occasional boss fight and Mini Mario challenge to break up gameplay, it proved to be a lovely and very welcome little puzzler with all-round good design. Changing level structures and world themes ensure it never becomes repetitive, and even with a relatively short length, it makes the most of its time.

It’s not overtly ambitious and there are very safe choices in its approach, but Mario vs. Donkey Kong is still a lovely time – and provides relief in a storm of more complex and frustrating puzzlers. It’s certainly a product of its era, but it works wonderfully well as a callback to simpler times.

Three stars: ★★★

Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 16 February 2024

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong - Standard - Nintendo Switch [Digital Code]
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Mario vs. Donkey Kong for Nintendo Switch was provided for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale. 

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.