While Mario is known for saving the Mushroom Kingdom and Donkey Kong is known for battling the Kremlings, the two got their start as rivals in the 1981 classic Donkey Kong. That arcade game featured jumping for the first time in a video game, giving Mario the initial name of “Jumpman.” Mario would later earn his true name in Donkey Kong Junior and Donkey Kong 3 would pit the ape against…Stanley the bugman…Uh…OK…The mustachioed plumber and lumbering ape would do battle once again in the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong. That game introduced a number of new mechanics such as finding keys, making backflips, catapulting on wires and throwing enemies a la Mario 2. Released in 2004, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would continue that legacy. But does it still hold up?
The game starts with Donkey Kong watching TV and learning that mini-Mario toys are now the new sensation! Falling instantly in love with the toys, Donkey Kong sets out to steal the toys for himself. He ends up at the factory that’s producing them and puts them all in his bag! Who should show up, it’s none other than the portly plumber himself, Mario! Donkey Kong absconds with the toys as Mario is in hot pursuit, eager to return them! And that is how our adventure begins.
Every level starts with an intro giving you tips how to do certain moves, what type of enemies you’ll encounter and what type of platforms are out there. The levels are split into two parts: in the first part you have to figure out a way to get the key over to a door. Once you’ve done that, you enter the next part of the level where you have to reach the mini Mario doll and retrieve it. There are switches, puzzles and enemies in your way and you have to get around them. Add to the fact that there are three presents scattered around. If you complete the level in a certain amount of time while recovering the three presents you get a gold star and a higher score.
There’s also one particular level in each zone where you have to guide the mini-Marios to their toy box. The rest of the game contains boss fights against Donkey Kong and minigames. Once you’ve beaten the game, you’re given the option to play a totally new version of the game’s six worlds, called “Plus Worlds.” In these levels you’re given the task of guiding the mini to the door so he can unlock it with his key. You have to do this without getting him hurt or else you start all over. I personally preferred the “Plus Worlds” over the regular worlds as the levels seemed much more focused, as opposed to splitting them into two parts. Once you’re done with that you can play the “Expert Mode.”
The controls are based on Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior and Super Mario Bros. 2 (American version). Like those games you climb ladders, look for keys, swing hammers and throw enemies. Unfortunately, Mario controls have come a long way since the first few Donkey Kongs and it really shows here. The controls are not nearly as tight as Mario’s main adventures and more often than not you’ll find yourself falling when you were trying to reach for another vine. When Mario does his backflips, he doesn’t even grab onto the rope right next to him. What’s up with that? The minis can be used as platforms themselves, but when they walk under a spring you can’t even bounce on it unless they move out of the way, causing you to curse their existence.
The graphics are a mixed bag. The character models are pre-rendered while the background art is mostly traditionally pixelated. It’s because of this weird design choice the characters don’t really mesh that well with their environments. Mario is so shiny that he looks like a toy himself, ironically enough; I also didn’t like the fact I couldn’t see his face unless he was close up. Some of the zones such as the Jungle Zone looked awfully abstract and resembled little of what you’d expect from a Mario game. The Donkey Kong Country series handled pre-rendered graphics much more gracefully and the game could have taken a few notes from it.
The audio ranges from OK to flat-out annoying. The game’s background music is, for the most part, unmemorable and the voice acting from the Toads and Toys are unbearable. The Toads should not ever have speaking voices. Period. As for the Toys it’s horribly annoying having to hear them holler “Mario! Mario!” every freakin’ time you lose them! Do they really need to chant that phrase every second I’m not with them? As for Mario he speaks with his stereotypical Italian accent, muttering silly phrases like, “Come back here, you big monkey!” Donkey Kong just mutters his usual grunts and groans. Oh, and there’s this obnoxious TV announcer in the first cutscene that talks a mile a minute. The only tune I really liked was the classic Mario remix, but the rest were mediocre.
Am I saying it’s a bad game? Not at all. The challenges are decent and some of the levels really stumped me for a while. The levels are well-thought out and plentiful, and the boss fights are pretty good. Plus, getting all those gold stars can be pretty tricky and that’s what I like in a puzzler.
In short, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is a decent platformer-puzzler. It’s not up there with the classics like Mario 3 or Super Mario World, but it’s perfect to play in short spurts and it has enough levels to last you a good while. Thumbs up.
Coming this Thursday (March 1, 2012) is my review for the cartoon series: The Legend of Zelda. Is it the legendary show you remember from your childhood or is it just A Stink to the Past? Find out in my review later this week!