i’ve been working my way through the GBA canon, and since i had played the donkey kong ’94 on game boy earlier this year i was ready to tackle its successor, mario vs. donkey kong for GBA. the game was apparently originally going to be called donkey kong plus, and it does feel extremely similar to the game boy version. the graphical updates, which include the addition of color and larger sprites, make the game more immediately engaging, but as i had noted from my previous taster, the game is almost as mindless as its predecessor. as with that game, although this one bills itself as a “puzzle platformer”, the puzzles are all the simplistic “hit the following three switches in a particular order” kind, and the platforming challenges are all fairly mild. this time i was struck by how the game draws from such a long history, picking and choosing among various gameplay elements, that no one element is really explored enough. for example, as with the previous game the vine-climbing of the original donkey kong jr. makes a welcome return, but it’s used so little that it really feels like a missed opportunity. similarly, the hammer from the original donkey kong makes its appearance, but again there seems very little point to it. the “pick-up-and-throw” mechanics of SMB2 are better integrated into the gameplay, but they too feel like they could have had more varied uses. this shallowness seems to be a persistent problem, one that i’ve noticed with many of the other first-party platforming titles of late, such as new super mario bros. wii, but it’s a trend that i don’t doubt will continue as the history of these series continue to grow and sequels continue to get churned out on a regular basis.
compounding this problem is the addition of occasional “mini mario” stages, in which you lead a group of mario toys to the exit in a very lemmings-like fashion. these stages are the most novel part about the game and do provide a feeling of variety, but they don’t receive much attention during the main part of the game. for better or worse it seems that the subsequent entries in the mario vs. donkey kong series completely discard the platforming mechanics and instead focus solely on the mini mario aspects of the game, a move that has succeeded in keeping me interested in the series, although from my early taster of the first DS entry i’m not sure how much it will keep me engaged. the main problem i see so far is that the first DS entry requires actually guiding the minis around the stage with your stylus, whereas the following entries are much more toki tori-esque where you position elements onto the stage and then let the minis loose. i really enjoyed toki tori, so although i may have to slog through mario vs. DK 2, something better may be just around the corner. we’ll see!