Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
It's an 800-pound ape versus the legendary Nintendo plumber in an all new Game Boy Advance adventure!
It's been many years since Donkey Kong has been at odds with Mario, and I have to say, it feels good to have the old rivalry back. The game takes a very lighthearted approach to the storyline, which made the title much more enjoyable for me. The best single word to describe it would have to be... charming. The game opens with DK desperately wanting to get his hands on the newest Mario doll, only to find out they're completely out of stock. Naturally, the big ape just decides to raid the factory and make off with the dolls himself, and the chase is on. It almost appears the rivalry between the two is friendly -- Mario shouts "Come-a back you silly monkey!" while pursuing DK through the worlds.
The game initially presents gamers with six worlds, each containing six normal stages, one 'mini-Mario' stage, and one boss stage. Each normal stage has two halves. The first half requires gamers to retrieve a key and return it to a locked door. For the second half of the level, gamers simply have to reach the Mario doll found at the end of the stage. This isn't as easy as it initially seems, however.
The key sections are generally more puzzle-heavy. Mario carries the key above his head, but let's say a gap is too small to fit both Mario and the key through. Therein lies the puzzle solving. Blue, Red, and Yellow switches, when activated, can make blocks of the corresponding color appear or disappear throughout the level. Conveyor belts and moving platforms can have their directions reversed, also through the activation of a switch. The puzzles in the first four worlds more or less solve themselves, but rest assured you will die many deaths before figuring out some of the later brain busters. It never gets impossibly hard though, as long as gamers stick with it. The 2nd half of each level puts more of a focus on platforming. Avoid the roaming baddies, spikes, and fireballs to jump your way to victory.
The 'mini-Mario' stages are one of the most unique (and difficult) aspects of the title. The 6 Mario dolls rescued in the previous 6 stages follow Mario around throughout the stage, forming a great trail. Not only do gamers have to keep the Marios out of harm's way on their way to the stage's end, but they also have to collect the letters T-O-Y along the way. These letters are often stuck in tight spots that only the mini-Marios can reach. These stages are among the trickiest to figure out, largely because the trailing mini-Marios aren't used elsewhere in the game (until later, but more on that in a bit). These levels help break up the gameplay, so it isn't just the same thing over and over.
Despite a rather startling difficulty increase in worlds 5 and 6, the initial six worlds can be cleared in just a few days of regular playing. Thankfully, the game isn't nearly as brief as it initially seems. Six entirely new worlds, with six new stages a piece, are unlocked after clearing the first set. These stages mix the 'mini-Mario' elements and the standard elements into one brain-busting package. Each stage has one mini Mario who must be reached, and then led safely through the level to the goal, through the use of brains, and skill.
Also included are a handful of Expert Stages which are more than worthy of that title. Unlocking them is hard enough, and clearing them is even harder. Most gamers probably won't see more than 2 or 3 of the expert stages, but for the hardcore, they're a wonderful extra.
Overall, there's very little negative to say about Mario vs. Donkey Kong. As soon as I got the game my GBA began staring at me, telling me to clear just one more level (or 10). The gameplay will be too puzzle-oriented for some, but gamers looking for a new quality GBA title could do a lot worse.
What's Hot: Tons of great puzzles to solve. Boss battles, too!
What's Not: Graphics are pixelated and about average.