Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a game for the Game Boy Advance. It was released in 2004, and is under the genre of platformer and puzzler. It brings back Mario and Donkey Kong's rivalry from the Mario franchise's first game, Donkey Kong. The game is more or less a spiritual successor to Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, as it features the return of many original elements such as the construction site setting, Mario's athleticism, and using the hammer, and borrows elements from Super Mario Bros. 2, especially with picking up enemies and items. Despite bringing elements from the previous platformers, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is more of a puzzle platformer; Mario must find the best route to complete the level by hitting switches and interacting with other objects, often in a specific order. This game spawned multiple sequels and became the first installment of the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series; this is the only game in the series, however, to feature Mario himself as a playable character since the later games have the player control Mini-Marios. Mario vs. Donkey Kong was re-released as a free downloadable title for the Nintendo 3DS on December 16, 2011, only available to those who have purchased a 3DS prior to the August 12, 2011 price drop, meaning that they had to be a part of the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador Program. Mario vs. Donkey Kong was re-released again on the Wii U's Virtual Console in Japan on July 23, 2014, in Europe on September 17, 2015, in Australia on September 18, 2015 and in the Americas on February 9, 2017.
Mario has become so famous and popular in the Mushroom Kingdom that he has decided to establish the Mario Toy Company, which has developed a new toy called the Mini-Mario. As Donkey Kong surfs through the channels of his television set, he sees a commercial for the Mini-Marios. Donkey Kong instantly adores the toys and heads to the Toy Store, but finds that they are sold out. Donkey Kong turns around and sees the Mario Toy Company, deciding to loot the store. The store is managed by Toads, but they do nothing to stop Donkey Kong from stealing the toys. Mario then notices Donkey Kong and starts chasing him.
After Mario chases Donkey Kong for a while, he eventually checks his bag, only to see all the Mini-Marios he stole have dropped, with Mario, the toys, and the three Toad employees laughing at him. Enraged, he grabs the three Toads, climbs the building, and Mario rescues the three Toads while fighting Donkey Kong. Upon his defeat, he falls off onto a truck full of Mini-Marios and steals thirty-six more, now with keys attached. Mario gives chase once again, until a similar cutscene occurs in which he checks the bag again. Only Mario laughs until six Mini-Marios come out. Donkey Kong then grabs the Minis with a giant robot, to which Mario promptly frees while fighting Donkey Kong, eventually wrecking the machine and electrocuting Donkey Kong in the process. After that, Mario is about to scold Donkey Kong for what he did, but finds that Donkey Kong is crying in pity and shame. Mario cheers him up by giving him a free Mini-Mario. Donkey Kong gets what he has wanted all along while Mario and the remaining Mini-Marios celebrate.
Each of the games six worlds is divided into eight levels. For the first six levels within each world, Mario must find a key and open up a door to the second half of the level, which is a checkpoint. There, Mario will find the toy that Donkey Kong dropped. If Mario is defeated in the second half of the level, his points reset back to the way it was in the first half of the level. At the beginning of each level, there is short sequence showing what Mario needs to do or what he may face before playing the level. This short sequence also explains what moves Mario needs to use to complete the level, showing some button combinations.
Unlike the other Mario games, when Mario takes a hit, he loses a life. He can also lose a life from getting squished and falling on from a great height and landing on his head. If the fall is not big enough, Mario may get stunned on his back instead. There is also a time limit, which is similar to the traditional Super Mario Bros. games; if the time limit is highlighted on 30 seconds, an alarm plays and Mario panics. If the time limit runs out, the screen will say "Time's Up!!" and Mario loses a life. The remaining time in the first area will be added to the time limit in the second area.
Unlike the other Mario games, Mario has more moves besides jumping, such as handstands and backflips. To defeat enemies, Mario must pick up objects and throw them at enemies, reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2. Throughout the level, there are some collectibles Mario can collect. Three are pivotal in earning a high score, which are different colored presents. Earning a high enough score, beating the default score, earns a star for that level. The Stars later are used to unlock Expert levels.
Once Mario completes a level and collects enough presents, he can play a short minigame to earn extra lives. One present may have a 1-Up, one may have a 3-Up or 5-Up, and one present may have a Donkey Kong head; this is shown at the beginning of the minigame. One minigame is stopping a scrolling arrow on top of the desired present while the other has Mario swapping presents so Donkey Kong's fist squashes an undesired present.
The seventh level in each world is a Mini-Mario level. Mario leads the six Mini-Mario toys he collected back to their toy box; however, he must make sure they avoid obstacles along the way. This leads into a battle with Donkey Kong, with each Mini-Mario saved becoming a "hit point". For example, if Mario saves all six of the Mini-Mario toys, he'll be able to be hit six times by Donkey Kong before losing a life. If Mario runs out of time or loses all of his hit points, the player will lose a life and will fail to defeat Donkey Kong. The player will need to retry the level in order to proceed. If the player doesn't do the Mini-Mario level, Mario will start the fight with four hit points. Also, if the player gets a Game Over, the player will need to replay the Mini-Mario level to determine the hit points for the Donkey Kong battle.
After Mario has beaten the six worlds and defeated Donkey Kong, six "Plus" Worlds are unlocked, numbered 1+, 2+, and so on. There are seven stages in each Plus Worlds, and there are no Mini-Mario levels. Mario must get to a Mini-Mario holding a key and lead it to the exit doorway. If Mini-Mario is defeated, the player will lose a life and restart the level. There is only one part per level in the Plus Worlds, and they are designed to be more difficult than the main worlds. There are still Donkey Kong boss levels in the Plus Worlds. In those levels, the player always starts with six hit points and has 120 seconds to defeat Donkey Kong except in Donkey Kong Plus, where they have 300 seconds.
For the "Expert" levels, a certain number of Stars collected by beating high scores are required to unlock levels. There are twelve Expert levels. Additionally, restarting or leaving the level in any mode before completing it the first time will result in the loss of a life. If the level is already complete, the player will not lose a life when choosing to exit the level. However, the player will still lose a life if they retry the level, even if it is completed.
The game was initially planned as Donkey Kong Plus, an updated version of the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong. The only known difference between the original and Plus, aside from the graphics, was the addition of a level designer to be used through the Nintendo GameCube for players to create their own levels with. However, the game vanished the following year, and was replaced by Mario vs. Donkey Kong, with the level editor gone and the graphics replaced with pre-rendered graphics. However, the game's sequel, Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis had this feature and took advantage of Wi-Fi Connection.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong is generally well-received by critics, aggregating an average of 81/100 on Metacritic and 79.07% on GameRankings. Craig Harris of IGN gave the game an 8.5/10, "Great".. Harris praised the game for having "faithfully retained the Donkey Kong arcade game's look and feel". His reaction is mild about the Donkey Kong boss levels, calling them "the ones with the least amount of creativity". He criticized the presentation, calling the sprites "awkward but admittedly well-animated 3D rendered" while the voice-overs from Mario and Donkey Kong are unnecessary, although not distracting. Despite these, he praises the game's faithfulness of the Game Boy Advance Donkey Kong games, with its fantastic level design and lasting appeal.
Marcel van Duyn of Nintendolife has echoed some of IGN's statements, deeming the game to be "a worthy successor", giving the game an 8/10. As in the IGN review, Duyn criticized the game's pre-rendered sprites, saying that it "although it actually looks pretty good, it's a bit strange to see this style in a Nintendo title again after all this time." Duyn is disappointed that "the series has only had Lemmings-esque installments since", believing "the original formula is perfectly worthy of another day in the limelight."
In a more critical review, Stephen Carvell of VideoGamer praises the game's visuals, but criticizes the game's level design, calling the reliance on the color-coded switches "tedious" and the later levels for using the same puzzles. He also criticized the Mini-Mario levels for having "appalling level design that smacks of a lack of ideas." He gave the game a 6/10.
- The game was originally going to have a level editor, but this feature was unfortunately scrapped during development. Some remnants of it can be seen through hacking or cheats, but it isn't fully finished.
- This game taken some inspiration from the Game Boy version of Donkey Kong, which had similar gameplay to this game but a plot that was more similar to the original arcade version.
- The Japanese version of the game has a number of additional levels, which were only accessible with the e-Reader. Because the cards weren't released in the U.S., the menu goes unused, but it is present and accessible with hacking.
- A small animation was added to the European and Japanese versions that was absent from the American version (which was built first). When Mario goes through the door, the Time Limit will be sucked in with him to make it more clear the remaining time will be added to the new Time Limit.
- While Donkey Kong's voice uses recycled clips of Grant Kirkhope's voice from Donkey Kong 64 in all the versions of the game, the Japanese commercial for the game features Donkey Kong being voiced by Donkey Kong's current voice actor Takashi Nagasako.