The rivalry between Mario and Donkey Kong is the oldest one in all of Nintendo's long history. But, in recent years the feud between the two seems to have calmed down a wee bit. So what would cause the two to re-ignite such a conflict after so long? Well, it would seem that Mario has become so popular in the Mushroom Kingdom that he has started his own line of "Mini Mario" toys to entertain the masses. These little guys become so popular that everyone has to have one, even Donkey Kong. As soon as he finds out about them, he rushes down to the store to buy one of his own. But once he gets there, he discovers that they're all sold out. So what does he do? Well, noticing that the very store that makes the toys is right across the street, he decides to raid the assembly line and make off with every last one of the toys. So, Mario has to give chase to him down and get them all back. Thus begins the game. Gameplay itself is almost exactly like "Donkey Kong" for the original Game Boy, which was released way back in 1994. Just like in that game, Mario's movements go beyond the normal run-jump-and-duck movement that he used in previous side-scrolling adventures. Now he can do back flips, handstands, and triple-jumps with ease, and all of them are necessary to get through the many areas of the game. Also, Mario has the ability to pick up objects and enemies in the same way as he could in Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES. This can come in handy, as Mario may need to carry items around to make new areas accessible or clear enemies out of the way. Passing through stages is done differently than it is in other Mario platformers. Instead of simply going from one side of a stage to another to reach a goal, Mario must instead find a key in each of the stages and carry it to a door. Once he does that, he'll immediately taken to another area where he has to find his way to a Mini-Mario that is trapped within a crystal ball. Once he manages to complete every stage in a world, Mario will have to lead all the Mini-Marios through an obstacle course and into a toy box. Then it's on to a fight with Donkey Kong to end the world. And that's how everything goes.... at least for the first six worlds. Then the gameplay changes a bit, but I won't give away any surprises about what happens then. Basically, the biggest problem that I had with this game was the uneven difficulty level. It just seems like sometimes a stage can be way too difficult, perhaps relying on some bizarre timing solution, and then the next one can be way too simple. All of this can be sort of frustrating, especially when it begins to magnify all the other little flaws with the game. Once you get stuck on one stage, all of the little minor imperfections with the game start to wear on you more and more, until it all becomes one big frustrating mess. This is really one of those problems that they could have fixed by either changing the order of the stages or simply redesigning some of them. It doesn't make the game unplayable or anything, but it really is a big problem sometimes, and it does hurt things a bit. Graphically, this game looks quite good for the GBA. Mario and all the characters have been pre-rendered, meaning that they all look sort of like the computer art that adorned the box covers and instruction manuals of games like Mario Golf and Mario Kart: Double Dash. One could also compare them to the likes of Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. All of this visual splendor animates quite nicely. In fact, it's really quite impressive how smoothly everything runs. The only problem with the graphics is that sometimes images like Mario himself can get a bit blurry during gameplay, which can be a bit annoying, but really isn't much of a problem. Sound is also very nice. All of the music sounds like it was played with actual instruments (even though it probably wasn't), and you will find a number of tunes that Nintendo fans will recognize from older games in both the Mario and Donkey Kong series. There are some new tunes as well, and they all sound pretty good, but most of them just can't compare to the good old Mario theme. Sound effects are also quite interesting. Besides the normal cartoonish sound effects that are in place in this game (surprisingly they didn't seem to bring in any of the sound effects from older games in the series, like they have done before when referencing previous games), there are quite a few voice samples in this game. Most of them come from Mario himself, although DK and the Mini-Marios get some lines of their own. Now, there's no real problem with any of this, but it just seems like Mario talks too much. Especially when the game's aforementioned problems spring up. Hearing Mario prattle on while you're trying to finally figure out a stage can be a pain. Besides that, the voice samples can be quite funny, like when Mario yells at DK during the cinemas that play between stages. Overall, sound is a great plus to this game, but there are times when other problems with it can drag it down with them. So, all in all this is a great game, despite some problems with the difficulty level between stages. Even though it can be uneven at times, this is still a great game, and one that you should definitely pick up. It's good to see some original Mario games finally coming out on the GBA, and this game is definitely worth remembering and coming back to for years to come, just like the rest of Mario's best adventures.
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