Trudging down memory lane.
Simple platformers have not withstood the test of time in today’s rampant world of cinema crammed role-playing games, competitive shooters, and batty innovative puzzlers. Once in a while the need to revisit a past series and style of play is vital to set a sense of equilibrium and to not forget what came first. Series such as the classic Donkey Kong for example, and his long time but inconsistent rival, Mario. Based on a remake of the 1994 version of Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an attempt to recreate the traditional part platform, part puzzle classic, but fails doing just that. Adding too many new elements that have appeared in each icon’s own titles leave it a bit more unbalanced than it probably had originally planned. I guess you can have too much of a good thing.
Yet, I could not help but enjoy the quaint charm and memorable sounds that popped up now and then. Who doesn't love that crazy hammer music from the original? Even the bizarre storyline managed to make me laugh on some occasions.
Pity this isn't a comic flick.
Now picture if you will Donkey Kong sitting in his house minding his own business. Eating bananas and channel surfing like the couch potato that he is. When he manages to catch a gander on the Home Shopping Network about the new thing in town –- Mario dolls. When did Mario become such a publicist? Blotting out the fact that he and Mario are enemies, old Donkey Kong begins frenzying around his house in excitement over this new fad. He bursts out of the jungle and into the city where he steals every one of them from the factory. Mario finds out about this and is generally pissed because he knows this cannot be good for business. Thus commences your journey of cat and mouse through six worlds with eight stages in each one; overcoming traps, picking up items, and praying the stupid ape doesn’t break your damn toys.
The game-play is relatively simple to say the least. Make your way across traps and hazards while strutting those jumping skills to pick up items and solve puzzles along the way. The majority of which will have you flipping switches in the right order, picking up keys, and dodging the occasional enemy or threat. Rinse and repeat for the first six stages of each world and you will end up at stage seven, which involves leading the Mario dolls you secured into a box. This is where the game picks up a bit as the dolls break very easily, so multi-tasking staying alive, keeping each one safe, and solving every dubiety will become essential. Once you have that task quickly taken care of, Donkey Kong will come out of the shadows for a little revenge. Unfortunately the fights usually last no more than 5 minutes as it usually plays out like this: pick up item, throw item in his general direction, dodge his attacks, ad nauseam.
Props though for the notable implementation of a pseudo-3D graphical style and control setup -- because of this addition Mario has a lot of moves beyond the normal walk and jump from his early titles. Back-flips, multiple jump combos, tight rope walking, and handstands are all added to his arsenal and each technique serves a different purpose whether it be for offensive or defensive purposes. So, flip up to the peak of that high structure to flip the switch, then handstand to avoid the falling barrels threatening to bust your head open.
Though the capital reason Mario vs. Donkey Kong fails to rise above its genre counterparts lies within its execution. The innovative approach brought on to complicate for the better is overshadowed by the general premise. To put it bluntly, the game is over too fast and the difficulty does not pick up in time to save it. Though the first few worlds will fly by and feel fresh and unique, this all starts to tumble by around World 4. Attempting to mask the repetition is shifting background visuals and music from stage to stage, but it still cannot hide the fact it is merely recycling content. After a couple hours pulling on that twenty-fourth lever and swiping that thirty-second key will just become pointless. Despite the numerous shortcomings, the game will reward you on how well your collective efforts payed off, if you manage to sustain the interest.
Alongside the basic collection items mentioned so far is the oh so original addition of stars. Nintendo just cannot seem to put out a Mario game without these things can they? They are sort of like the holy grail in each stage as stuffing enough of them in your pocket will help you unlock an expert mode which adds a slightly noticeable difference in difficulty. However, the game is honestly not worth another run through after the first completion and even then everything rounds out at about 10 hours tops. If you are a score freak like I used to be back in the arcades then the addition of that system may keep you on your feet a bit longer. Though one has to wonder the reason to hold a record if no one is there to challenge you.
You never seem to realize how much you dislike a series till its best is thrown at you and still manages to disappoint. A plethora of ideas were all obviously strewn about, but the inability to realize the potential was the leading handicap going into this one. I personally never cared for the original Donkey Kong and twenty some odd years later it isn’t faring any better. Even the inclusion of Luigi and a co-operative feature might have given this mediocre title some life. Figures every time the green plumber is really needed he is nowhere to be found.
Conclusion? Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a short, flawed package with infrequent redeemable factors. Perhaps resurrected classics really have no place in the ever changing realm of gaming anymore.
Only time will tell.