FGC #130 Mario vs. Donkey Kong

Stop looking at meAs I write this, everyone is discussing the end of the WiiU. In this case, I’m not referring to some perceived failure of the hardware, I’m talking about all the franchises that didn’t make it to the WiiU. Metroid, F-Zero, and Punch-Out all seem to have taken a console off despite maintaining a presence through the likes of Smash Bros. and the Virtual Console. Star Fox seems to have snuck in at the last moment, but it missed the Wii. And we got a sequel to Wii Fit before seeing a proper console Animal Crossing experience.

Except… we did get an Animal Crossing game on the WiiU, it was just a silly board game. Does… does that count?

This is the “problem” with Nintendo franchises. As it currently stands, it looks like the WiiU’s “big damn Zelda game” will be primarily focused on the Next Gen version, which leaves a number of us crying about the lack of a Zelda game on the WiiU. Except… with two wonderful HD rereleases and a wealth of Virtual Console options, the WiiU is capable of playing nearly every Zelda game ever produced. And, oh yeah, we got an entirely new Zelda game that, even without the DLC, boasted more content than any person could conceivably beat in a year; but it wasn’t a real Zelda game, so it doesn’t count. In short, Nintendo has the first industry problem of having so many worthwhile brands, people feel ripped off if they don’t see exactly what they want from a certain franchise. Imagine someone claiming any given Marvel movie is terrible because it doesn’t feature Pepper Potts and you’ll have the gist of it.

Moving right alongThis is primarily on my mind because I was recently having a discussion with a friend who thought the WiiU was terrible because “it didn’t have a Mario game”. Okay, so let’s look at a list of WiiU games with Mario in the title: Mario Kart 8. Mario Party 10, Mario & Sonic Blame it on Rio, Paper Mario: Color Splash… oh, wait, you want real Mario games? Then we’ve got the 2-D New Super Mario Bros. U (right there at launch), 3-D Super Mario 3D World, and, just in case you were in the mood for infinite Mario levels, we’ve got Super Mario Maker. But no, as my friend elucidated, he wanted a new Super Mario Galaxy style experience, and, fair enough, that never materialized on the WiiU. Maybe we’ll see something like that on the next console generation, but for now, we have to console ourselves with these other eight or so “Mario games”.

Ya know, that’s a whole lot more games than we saw featuring Bomberman

But I get it. I totally get it, because there are games like Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Full confession? I do not care for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series.

For anyone that has missed out on this franchise, it’s sort of the evolutionary offshoot of Donkey Kong. No, it has nothing to do with Donkey Kong Country or any of its descendants; what we’re looking at is a game that is 100% based on the original Donkey Kong, when the big ape was kidnapping hapless damsels and not even thinking about bananas. This was well before Mario was established as the hero of the Mushroom Kingdom; hell, this was before Mario even had a name. “Jump Man” had a short hop that was barely capable of clearing barrels, and a chronic back condition that caused instant death should he fall any further than about three feet. Donkey Kong’s gameplay was a far MONKEYS AREN'T DONKEYS!cry from the acrobatic and seemingly invincible stars of Super Mario Bros, but it was a virgin effort, and Miyamoto and friends ironed out what was fun about Jump Man and used that to launch an entire genre.

Years later, Donkey Kong ’94 (technically titled Donkey Kong) came along for the Gameboy/Super Gameboy. It was a return to Donkey Kong’s original gameplay, and it wildly expanded Mario’s physical options. Mario now had the ability to perform a handstand, “bounding” jumps, and carry/throw items ala Super Mario Bros. 2. And Mario could now withstand a fall much greater than three feet! Like, maybe six! Wowee!

A number of people really enjoyed Donkey Kong ’94, and I can (technically) see the appeal. It’s “measured Mario”, rather than a hero that is expected to constantly barrel forward like a mushroom-fueled freight train, this Mario takes careful, deliberate steps around the world, and thoughtful play leads to a rewarding experience. Attempting to run around halfcocked will result in a very dead Mario, and, without a mushroom or starman to be seen, Mario is just as fragile as the old days. So take your time, and enjoy a Mario game that is more puzzle than platformer.

This applies equally to Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Pauline dropped out of the game to pursue her music career or something, so Donkey is stuck kidnapping an army of adorable Mario windup toys. Mario leaps to rescue his tiny homunculi sans any of his modern arsenal. With the exception of Come alongMini Lemmings stages (and their similar circumstances in the extra quest levels), this is that familiar DK ’94 gameplay all over again, with the very encouraging addition of all new traps and enemies that round out another hundred levels or so. Color/graphics upgrade aside, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is indisputably a more robust game than DK ’94, and it’s all a Donkey Kong fan could ever desire.

I… just kinda hate it.

I’ve played all the way through Donkey Kong ’94 and Mario vs. Donkey Kong, and… not for me. I like Super Mario Bros. I really enjoy holding down B and zipping through obstacle courses. I love searching gigantic castles for constellations. I adore flinging Mario from planet to planet, gravity and physics be damned. And the innovation of having a life meter/powerups? I’ll take that any day over one-hit kills (and, no, “I happen to be carrying something” in no way counts). I play the hardest Mario Maker creations for fun, because I enjoy experiencing that world that much.

I love Mario games.

This is no true Mario game.

It’s entirely subjective, and I know that. I can see exactly how this is a great game with the physics and rules involved… I just despise those rules. I don’t want to waste a hundred seconds trying to toss a barrel at a monkey, I want a turtle monster I can drop into the lava right the hell now. I’m just imposing my interpretation of a “Mario Game” on this “Mario Game” and demanding the experience conform to my expectations. It’s irrational, it’s possibly wrong, but it’s my opinion on the situation, and that’s not going away anytime soon.

So the next time someone says that the WiiU was a failure because the system didn’t have Random Game #2,521, try to be understanding. Our favorites are always going to be subjective, and no company, whether it be Nintendo, Sony, or Hudson Soft, is ever going to be able to satisfy everyone’s every desire. Sometimes even the best games won’t appeal to everyone, and part of living in this great big melting pot of a world is acknowledging that everyone has different tastes. We all want different things, and that’s what makes the world great.

I’ll just take a Mario with some ups.

FGC #130 Mario vs. Donkey Kong

  • System: Gameboy Advance, WiiU Virtual Console (in Japan/Europe, at least), and Nintendo 3DS if you’re a sucker (like me). Hey, 66% Ambassador Week here at the FGC.
  • Number of Players: Just one, but there was originally supposed to be a “build a course” feature included in the game… and it was cut and recycled into the sequel. That’s… kinda two players?
  • Misfit Toys: I feel like a number of random SMB2 characters wound up in this franchise. Shy Guys, Ninja, and Bob-ombs wander the stages. Granted, they’ve all appeared in other “real” Mario games, but these guys feel more at home when Mario is towing a key over his head.
  • Seems wrongActual Toys: Come to think of it, has Nintendo ever produced actual “Mini Mario” toys based on the designs of this franchise? I mean, I know there’s a mountain of Mario merchandise out there, but it seems like these lil cuties would be a slam dunk.
  • Favorite Boss Fight: The ultimate boss of the game, Donkey Kong in a giant mech, just seems so indulgent. Like, he was already a giant gorilla, did he need a giant(er) robot on top of that?
  • Did you know? There are additional stages that can be unlocked via e-reader, but the cards were released in very limited number exclusively in Japan. Also, there’s space in the game for twelve additional levels, but only six were ever released. To my knowledge, these extra levels are not part of the Virtual Console release… though maybe that’s why the North American version has been delayed? Maybe?
  • Would I play again: Since I have this game loaded onto my 3DS, I do occasionally fire it up for a round or two. I don’t like how this game eschews its “Marioness”, but it is fun for a level or two. I’m not made of stone.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Gunstar Heroes! Ah, a veritable treasure-trove of run ‘n gun action. Please look forward to it!

Seriously

One Response »

  1. As somebody who’s been hoping for a proper sandboxy “Yah Wah Hoo!” successor to Super Mario 64 for like two decades now, I completely understand being disappointed by not having a “Mario Game” when there’s lots of Mario games. Sunshine and the Galaxies are good in their own ways, but they don’t scratch that itch quite the same.

    Speaking of Mario vs. Donkey Kong, as someone who liked the original because he loves Donkey Kong 94 and wanted more Donkey Kong 94, one of the big disappointments for me was how every sequel to the game abandoned that in favor of being puzzle games where you guide things to the goal, ala Lemmings or Mario & Wario. I do enjoy that kinda gameplay too, but I’d still like more puzzle platforming, you know?

    Do wish they had gone with old timey 2D sprites in Mario v. DK instead of renders. Or at least gone the Mario & Luigi route and blurred the lines between colorful 2D and highly animated 3D.

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