Mario vs. Donkey Kong review - can we skip to the good part?

It’s not really on like Donkey Kong

Mario and Donkey Kong seen in a cutscene in Mario vs. Donkey Kong on Nintendo Switch.
(Image: © Nintendo)

TechRadar Verdict

While the Mario vs. Donkey Kong remake expands upon the original’s content and adds replayability, its clunkiness leads to even the simpler puzzles feeling frustrating, especially with a slow start that drags on for longer than it should.


  • +

    Some very satisfying puzzles

  • +

    New cutscenes look gorgeous

  • +

    Expanded replayability


  • -

    Frustrating hitboxes and clunky movement

  • -

    Things take too long to get interesting

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Review info

Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Release date:
February 16, 2024

Mario vs. Donkey Kong is full of charm and head-scratching puzzles that are oh-so-satisfying to solve, but it struggles to cement itself as a must-play Nintendo Switch release. Nintendo’s latest puzzle-platformer is an expanded remake of the Game Boy Advance title which was released back in 2004, and, while it certainly looks much brighter for a fresh coat of paint (and significantly more pixels to play with), frustrations and clunkiness hold it back from reaching its full potential. 

The short-but-sweet puzzler has a simple premise. Donkey Kong becomes enamored with Mini Marios - cute, seemingly sentient wind-up toys based on everyone’s favorite red-hatted plumber - and, in a fit of desperation, ends up breaking into the toy production factory to take the lot for himself. Mario, set on getting his own in-universe merch back on the shelves, embarks on a chase to catch Donkey Kong and take the Mini Marios back from him. God forbid a gorilla have hobbies, I suppose. 

The opening cutscenes depicting all this look fantastic on the Nintendo Switch OLED model, with gorgeous colors and details (such as Donkey Kong’s soft fur texture) that make me genuinely want to see some kind of short animated series created in the same style. While not quite as spectacular, the in-game visuals are also delightful, and with smooth, reorchestrated music to seal the deal, the entire package looks and sounds significantly more polished than ever before.

Big brain moments

Mario vs. Donkey Kong jungle level.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

At the heart of Mario vs. Donkey Kong is its puzzle-platforming action, which consists of a series of bite-size levels to navigate Mario through, with the goal generally being to collect three presents (collectibles) and a Mini Mario from each. Players are introduced to a wide variety of different elements - from colored switches which activate certain platforms, to climbable ropes, throwable springs, and more - all of which you’ll have to master to ‘perfect’ each level.

Best bit

Mario leading a group of Mini Mario toys in a Mario vs. Donkey Kong level.

(Image credit: Nintendo / Future)

Levels where players lead a troop of Mini Marios into a toy box before taking on a boss fight were my personal favorite, largely because they add some variety to the puzzling action which can, at times, feel samey. The lil’ fellas also make really cute noises, which adds to their charm. 

The way these elements work in tandem is a joy - there’s little more rewarding than working out innovative ways to utilize all the different tools on offer to progress, especially when the solution is not immediately obvious. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like every puzzle has a set method that you have to follow to grab all the presents and get to the goal. Mario is equipped with some particularly nimble special moves, including a backflip, handstand, and handstand jump, which can be executed to launch him to taller platforms and collectibles. Bouncing around in this way feels brilliant, and just about offsets the fact that Mario’s regular jump is much less impressive than usual in this game. 

These regular puzzles are broken up into a handful of slightly different levels. You can expect to take on shorter challenges to chase down a key to unlock a chest full of 1-Ups, boss fights against Donkey Kong (which involve throwing objects at him repeatedly), and also stages in which you have to lead a line of Mini Marios safely into a toy box. These add some much-needed novelty to the overall experience, and I really wish that Mario vs. Donkey Kong leaned more into this variety.

Trials and tribulations 

A Fire Mountain level in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Unfortunately, despite the game’s relatively short runtime (I perfected every level in around 11 hours), things take far longer than you’d hope to become challenging enough to be interesting. Most of my first five hours with the game felt like a drag. Of course, some level of difficulty curve is to be expected, and I’m sure no one would expect the stages to be extremely challenging from the get-go. However, this was the case throughout the majority of the game’s initial worlds - I was only really hooked on it once I unlocked the extra ‘plus’ worlds, which are only available after a significant number of levels are completed.

Even though the early puzzles weren’t particularly mind-boggling, you can still expect to lose your fair share of lives on them just due to the general clunkiness of the game. Players are taught early on that they can pick up and throw enemies around to use as extra platforms and knock other foes off the screen entirely. To do this, you’ve first got to jump on top of their heads, which is very simple in theory, but, in practice, this isn’t always the case. 

A combination of Mario’s generally heavy feel in this game (his regular jump doesn’t go nearly as high as it does in the regular platforming games) and awkward enemy hitboxes mean that, at some point or another, you’re very likely going to end up taking damage from them when it appears you were perfectly lined up to land safely on their head. I noticed this was particularly prevalent with the explosive Bob-ombs. Perhaps it’s their rounded shape, but it seems far easier than it should be to catch your foot on the corner of them and, assuming that you’re playing on the ‘classic’ difficulty mode, be forced to restart the entire level as a result. 

Diamonds in the rough

A Merry Mini-Land level in Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

(Image credit: Nintendo / Future)

Levels typically aren’t long, so losing lives in this way will never set you back too far. However, the frustration comes from knowing exactly what you need to do to complete the level, yet still being made to redo it all because the controls and mechanics let you down. The game’s emphasis is placed on puzzles rather than platforming, meaning you’re never really meant to pull off any particularly difficult jumps. However, it feels that poor execution in this area bloats out the whole experience with annoyance. 

If you’re able to push through these grievances, however, there’s still plenty to enjoy. There are two new world themes to enjoy that weren’t included in the original GBA version - the amusement park-themed Merry Mini-Land, and the icy Slippery Summit. Both of these also have additional ‘plus’ versions, adding a generous handful of new levels that are totally fresh. 

Accessibility features

Other than the choice of two difficulty modes which can be switched between whenever you want, there are no dedicated accessibility features in Mario vs. Donkey Kong, nor are there any options to change the game’s controls from the default settings. 

The easier ‘casual’ difficulty setting allows you to take five extra hits from hazards like enemies or spikes before you lose a life, and utilize additional checkpoints in levels to respawn from when you do take damage. Casual mode also turns off the time limit for each level entirely.

As well as two-player local co-op, which changes levels up slightly and offers an alternative way to play, you’re able to unlock a Time Attack mode, which challenges you to beat everything as fast as you possibly can. Doing so will earn you a shiny medal on the level’s icon on the menu. It may be a relatively small incentive, but it certainly helps add a bit more replayability, since there’s otherwise little point in diving straight back in as you already know all the puzzle solutions. 

All in all, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a mixed bag. Once the extra ‘plus’ worlds were unlocked, I couldn’t put the game down, but the thanks to the boredom I’d faced up to that point as well; as the hitbox-related frustrations, perfecting every level didn’t come with the sense of fulfillment I’d hoped for. There’s plenty of fun to be had here, no doubt, but it’s perhaps best enjoyed in smaller chunks, and only for those who have the patience to retrace their steps even when they feel they shouldn’t need to.

Looking for more games to play? You can find some excellent recommendations on our list of the best Nintendo Switch games. You can also check out what’s releasing soon with our roundup of upcoming Switch games. 

Catherine Lewis
News Writer, TechRadar Gaming

Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.