Mario vs. Donkey Kong (Switch) Review

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a return to form for the Mario franchise. Before he was known for 2D side-scrollers, sports, or kart races, Mario was the guy jumping over barrels and facing off with Donkey Kong.

Of course things are a little more complicated than the early 80s and Mario’s faceoff with his classic rival got an update with 1994’s Donkey Kong on the Game Boy. Most people don’t think of puzzles when they think of Mario, but they should.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms:  Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 16, 2024
Price: $49.99

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

In Mario vs. Donkey Kong, Mario takes on the responsibility of chasing down Donkey Kong after he ransacks the Mario Toy Factory. His goal is to get himself a cute little wind-up Mario toy but the stores are sold out so he helps himself to whatever he can find.

Stages come in 2 parts, the first part is finding a key and getting it back to a door, meanwhile the second part is to simply recover the Mario toy at the end of the stage. These may sound like minor details, but Nintendo’s able to play with different puzzle solving elements in each.

On the key portion of stages, getting the key is only half the stage and there’s unique mechanics to get it back to the door. The key can only be dropped for approximately 12 seconds before returning to its spot, and some stages require you to work fast using switches and conveyor belts.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

The toy portion of stages is allowed to be a little more difficult with its obstacles since you only need to reach the toy (no return trip to a door). Along the way you can collect three presents split between the two stages as a bonus, which reinforces one of my favorite things about Mario games of any sort: they’re easy to play but difficult to master.

Whether it’s the green stars in some recent 2D Mario games or getting 100% completion on Mario Kart, you can always have fun no matter how old you are; and older players can find a challenge in things like Extra Stages and Time Trials.

Speaking of extra content, there’s tons of it in this remaster. I’ve said it before, but the best remakes/remasters are ones that take the original game, recreate it with extra polish and graphics, and sometimes add a little bit more. The new Switch version of Mario vs. Donkey Kong has two new worlds baked into the main game, and with bonus worlds that adds up to a total of 130 stages (compared to the original’s 90).

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

All the graphics are updated too and the game has some of the most smoothly animated cutscenes I’ve seen on the Nintendo Switch. The better graphics also make it easier to see what Mario’s doing exactly, I remember in the original game I had a hard time identifying everything on screen with the tiny little Game Boy Advance I had at the time, or maybe that’s just me needing to “git gud”.

On the topic of smoother animations, Donkey Kong is given a bit more characterization from the original game. Sure he’s a rampaging lug of a character, but this remake allows him to be a little more tough and less pathetic. During boss fights he looks more resolved than mindlessly angry and rather than cry in defeat he’s more sullen and dignified. It’s a silly thing to care about but I enjoy the Mario franchise and I like to see the characters interact.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

If you’re a fan of puzzle games, earlier stages likely won’t pose any challenge, but it’s still satisfying to take Mario on this slower journey though colorful stages. Late stages are filled with “aha!” moments, even for me who’s played the original game.

The music sounds improved too and the jazzy and upbeat tunes remind me of Super Mario Odyssey.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Overall, Mario vs. Donkey Kong for the Nintendo Switch is a game I couldn’t put down. It’s a remaster of an iconic puzzle game that’s a direct upgrade and even adds features. There’s over a hundred stages, creative level design, expressive characters, and it’s just simple and clean fun.

If anyone from Nintendo is reading this, please do a remaster of the 1994 Donkey Kong next. The later games in the franchise change the gameplay too much.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.


The Verdict: 10

The Good

  • Creative puzzles and level design
  • A direct improvement from the original GBA title
  • Better graphics allow for more expressive characters
  • Easy to beat but difficult to 100% (all the best Mario games are like this)
  • Over 100 stages

The Bad

  • Younger players may find later levels too hard
  • Older players may find early levels too easy


A basement-dwelling ogre, Brandon's a fan of indie games and slice of life anime. Has too many games and not enough time.

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