Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review for Game Boy Advance (GBA)
Posted on Saturday, July 10, 2004 @ 03:03:43 pm E.S.T
The early 1980’s: These were the glorious days where games like Galaxian and Pacman first started to bloom. Seeing how much the video game industry had taken off already, a trading card company named Nintendo decided to get in on the act. After months and months of preparation and programming, this small Japanese card company had a video game… named Radarscope. If you haven’t heard of Radarscope, the reason is because the game sucked something awful. Needless to say, Nintendo didn’t give up. The company hired a 24-year-old art school graduate named Shigeru Miyamoto, and told the young scholar to get to work. Finally, in 1981 his first, and rightfully most popular game was completed and ready to be tested on a massive audience; he just needed a name for it. Miyamoto’s game consisted of a giant ape kidnapping a girl, with a short little red guy trying to rescue her by climbing ladders and jumping over barrels. He decided his game resembled old King Kong movies, but that name was already taken. Since this game was going to an American audience, he needed a word that they would recognize as maniacal. I guess names like Tiger Kong or Bear Kong just didn’t have enough of a ring to them, and thus Donkey Kong was born.
More than 20 years later, our heroes (or villains, if you will) clash heads yet again in the Nintendo’s newest addition to the DK library, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and it's a joy to have them back. Not counting the official Donkey Kong sequels, this new title is the closest thing we have, as of the 21st century, to the original titles. Naturally, Donkey Kong is the villain in this piece, and Mario is the hero, though he’s not going after the princess. This new zany story unfolds while DK starts flipping through the channels on a sunny afternoon (like most of us Americans do) and spots a commercial for Mini Mario dolls. Yes, that’s right; tiny Mario replica toys. DK immediately falls in love with these little Mario gremlins and decides to go out and buy them, however, when he gets to the store… THEY’RE ALL GONE!!! (Man, Nintendo sure knows how to make one thriller of a game.) To make a long cutscene-story short, DK goes to the Mini Mario warehouse and kidnaps scores of these little guys. I guess the days where Mario gets to rescue the princess are over. (Great, so he went from being a pervert to being a pedophile…)
Mario vs. Donkey Kong may look like your average platformer at first glance, but beneath this arcade façade lies a demanding puzzler for almost all ages. Each level consists of two parts: The first part is finding a key to unlock a door to another room, and then the second part is, once you’re in that room, finding your little Mario toy and rescuing it. Most of the time, the areas are comprised of puzzle elements, such as jumping on a bumper to access new parts of the level. Usually timing is vital to the successful completion of these stages and frequently requires repetitive practice to be executed properly, which can get a little redundant. Luckily, there’s a how-to-do intro to each level, though sometimes they’re useless considering in previous levels it’s mandatory to figure out what the next intro will tell you for yourself. But, if you’re still stuck, there are nifty “help” boxes which conveniently tell you exactly what you need to do next.
After gathering all of the Mini Marios in a given world, it’s time for what I like to call, The Miniscule Mario Muster!™ This is a level solely dedicated to rounding up each Mario and guiding them through a puzzle-like maze to return them to their toy chest. And as an added bonus, each little Mario can think for itself, making your life a lot easier. If there’s an obstacle, these tiny Mario clones will try to find ways around it, which makes for a very interesting experience. It's because sometimes these little guys know exactly where to go, and do all the work for you; however, other times they’ll be like any curious six-year-old and wander around aimlessly, even risking their own demise. Though this can get annoying, it's Finally, once you’ve collected all of your Lemming-like Marios, it’s time for a boss battle against DK. These battles feel and remind you of the good ol’ original arcade Donkey Kong stages, so you're bound to have a good time. Usually they consist of chucking a random type of object at Donkey Kong, or something along that nature. The odd thing about it, though, is Donkey Kong has four lives, while Mario’s amount of lives is signified by the number of Mario dolls he collected previously. (It sure makes a lot of sense, huh?) After the battle, DK runs away like a little pansy, only to scatter more Mini-Marios throughout another world. Typical.
Many Super Mario Bros. 2 fans will be satisfied with this game, because handling Mario is carried out in the same fashion as the second NES addition. Players are able to pick up a plethora of objects and enemies and scatter them in a range of places throughout the level. And in later worlds of the game, elements of Donkey Kong Jr. can be spotted, like the classic rope climbing techniques. Since you are controlling Mario, you have most of his 2D abilities already, but there are a few added extra that we haven’t seen in other Mario platformers. For instance, Mario can now execute a bicycle jump, similar to the “run-stop-turn-around-jump” in Mario 64. And as if having a strange Game and Watch flashback, a few levels feature objects falling from the sky, which requires our pudgy hero do a handstand, enabling his feet to block the falling debris. I must admit, I spent at least 30 minutes just testing out everything that Mario could do, and I wasn't dissapointed. So basically, Mario jumps, climbs, and even does gymnastics. (What a versatile guy!) A couple aspects of the gameplay are still pretty iffy to me. Like the fact that Mario can fall three stories while holding a giant key and not die, but when if I accidentally bump into a little red guy wearing a mask, Mario gets killed. Also, the handling seems almost too smooth when jumping. To be honest, it felt a lot better when Mario only had three or four sprites.
All of the visuals in this game are nothing short of astonishing. Mario vs. Donkey Kong makes use of pre-rendered sprites, so all of the objects have a quasi-3D look to them, which works very well, in fact. I’m a huge fan of cel-shading and other assortments of cartoony effects, so the style in which the game’s images were executed didn’t bother me. However, I’m sure these types of graphics will turn many hardcore gamers off to this title. Some of this animation is so ridiculously cartoony, you’ll find yourself purposefully risking certain death (if not committing suicide) just to see one specific whacky way of Mario losing a life. Really, though, these visuals and stunning animation prove to us that the GBA can look extremely nice when sprites changes are executed correctly. Mario and DK, along with enemies and the surroundings have vibrant colors and seem full of life. It really makes me wonder why the hell they chose to put these graphics to work in a puzzle/adventure title rather than a game like, oh say, Super Smash Bros. Advance!
There’s not much to the audio here. It’s a puzzle game, so you won’t hear any big explosions or loud noises. Most everything that comes out of the speaker is comical with a cartoony accent. The music is boring, but suiting. Altough it sounds more like I’m in an elevator than playing a Mario game. (However, I guess it’s appropriate because Mario does ride a lot of vertical platforms in the game…) [Click for a sample of music from Mario vs. DK] There are a few throwbacks to the original game, such as the classic “Dun d-dun dun DUNNN!!!” jingle from the first Donkey Kong. (You know, right after you press start at the beginning of the game.) Surprisingly, this title probably has the most Mario dialog than in any other previous Mario game, with classic one-liners like “Come-a back here, you-a big monkey!” And if you’re using headphones when you play your game, you’ll take notice of all the nice stereo effects put in this game. Like the fact that when Mario’s on the left side of the screen, his sound effects come from the left speaker.
After you blow through the game (which consists of 48 levels) once, you’ll unlock a more challenging mode with all-new stages. If you’re even more persistent, after collecting every gift-wrapped present scattered in all of the worlds, an expert mode can be unlocked. This gameplay is simple and addictive, though not for long periods of time. It’s a great game to pick up, play through a few levels, and put down. (And even a rightfully better game to play while you’re on the john). With so many levels in the entire game, it’s a great purchase that will keep you busy anytime you need a good puzzle to solve. Unlike most games, this one’s a good one to own, rather than rent. Mario vs. Donkey Kong probably won’t be favorite GBA game, but it’s one that will keep you occupied.
Review By: Dacvak - 2810 Reads
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