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Mario vs. Donkey Kong Review: Dipping Back Into Nostalgia as Switch 2 Looms

One more ride on a great Game Boy Advance game, but it's a lot to pay for a throwback.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
Mario running around in a colorful block world under a door with a big keyhole

Mario vs Donkey Kong feels like a return to my Game Boy days, on a bigger screen.

Nintendo

After a challenging few weeks dipping into wild new virtual worlds in an expensive headset, coming back to a game like Mario vs. Donkey Kong feels as comforting as the blanket I have wrapped around me. Cute little Mario is jumping around as I try to help him solve puzzles and keep that naughty Donkey Kong from getting into trouble. I've been here before. Literally. Nintendo's newest Switch game is a remake of a Game Boy Advance game I played about two decades ago.

Nintendo plays the nostalgia card all the time and is extremely good at it. Mario vs. Donkey Kong is, like Super Mario RPG last fall, or Zelda: Link's Awakening before that, a way of digging up beloved classics and applying expert remastering touches. More than remastering: really, this is an entirely new game that is also the old game. Meaning, the graphics are completely new, and it all feels like it could have been something released now.

Except it isn't, and for $50, it's a lot to pay for what's otherwise an excellent puzzle platformer game. It's also a bit of a conundrum if you're a Nintendo Switch owner right now: where do you want to put your money with rumors of a Nintendo Switch 2 launching sometime this year? An announcement that could be coming as soon as next month.

The Switch 2 should be backward compatible with first-gen Switch games, but will likely offer entirely new and exciting enhanced games with better graphics. Why do I say this in the middle of a review of a Switch game? Because it's time to consider whether you wait to see what's coming if you're interested in upgrading.

Nintendo already unloaded a ton of great Switch games last year, from Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom to Super Mario Wonder. As a parent and someone who loves Switch games to death, I'm feeling more of the urge to go back and finish games or start those I haven't even started and appreciate those before the Switch 2 arrives to distract me.

Mario throwing a barrel at Donkey Kong as he jumps in a video game

Boss battles are fun, and there are plenty of puzzle stages to try. Still, you may have played this game before.

Nintendo

I got early access to Mario vs. Donkey Kong thanks to Nintendo, and I really am enjoying its short bursts of clever puzzle design. The game feels like classic arcade Donkey Kong in some ways, mixed with creative little challenges that the Game Boy game library used to excel in. In the Switch days, that type of puzzle-based bite-size gameplay has shifted to more immersive, longer-form experiences. I like that I can try to solve a level, put it down, make dinner, move on and unwind with it again the next day. Nintendo also added a collaborative two-player mode that's perfect for families.

But this seems like a B-side game I'd want to pay $30 for, not $50. If you have a Game Boy Advance (or an Analogue Pocket), you could pick up the original game used for around $20 if you're lucky.

The Switch version adds new bonus levels and looks far better, and it's made me realize how good the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong game really was. But I'd have appreciated one or two other games in the series (also made for the Nintendo DS and 3DS) thrown in. I know that's not Nintendo's style lately. But it means this is the type of game that's worth waiting for a sale to pick up.

The Nintendo Switch felt like it was hitting its swan song stage last year with Tears of the Kingdom and Mario Wonder. This year, it's a console that could be replaced by a Switch 2 by year's end. I'd rather wait to see what comes next than tell you to get this game right now. Nintendo does nostalgia better than anyone, but I'm also ready to see what Nintendo's future is. But by all means, download the free demo Nintendo has on the Switch eShop and try it out for yourself.