Mario 's back. Again.
In 1981 Nintendo released Donkey Kong, and it was almost the first platform game ever made. Universal's 1980 release of Space Panic has that honour, and it clearly had the more significant historical impact, spawning a little game called Lode Runner. All Nintendo had to show for its Donkey Kong game was, besides the monkey, a little plumber named Mario, and who remembers him?

Thirteen years later Nintendo releases, to virtually no fanfare, a GameBoy game by the same name, (it is often called Donkey Kong 1994 to avoid confusion with the original). It's nothing like the four-level arcade game of 1981, it's a new hundred-level action puzzle game featuring the now familiar fat Italian. Mario could now do handsprings, backflips, pick up and carry objects and enemies, spin on horizontal bars and quite a few other fun things. This new Donkey Kong was a Super GameBoy game too, which meant it had more colours than a normal GameBoy game when played through the SNES. It was an excellent game, and in my opinion one of the best GameBoy games ever.

And now, ten years later, Nintendo's released a followup for the GameBoy Advance. Called Mario vs Donkey Kong, a name that finally won't be confused with the prequels (or, it seems, connected with them at all), it is fucking platforming brilliance. It's the best game I've played all year - and I don't really expect to be saying any differently at the end of the year. There hasn't been a platform game this good, this playable, this varied, since Jumpman. It's Mario at his best and Nintendo in their best form. If you like platforms, you'll like this.

It's hard to carry on, I've spent my wad. I've told you how good it is, in no uncertain terms, what else is there to do? I guess I could either resort to an InsertCredit style trip through IrrelevantLand and talk about the girls I've known or the places I've seen, or run with the usual boring review formula: new changes, levels, difficulty, graphics and sound...

The Formula Review
Let's start with Nintendo's callous decision to replace the beloved bonus items of yore (, , ) with generic ones (). They also changed DK 94's single lack-lustre end-of-round minigame with two new ones, both of which are pretty disgustingly awful.

There are six worlds with six two-part stages, a lemmings-style Mini Mario stage and a boss fight each, ranging from the Mario Toy Factory and Donkey Kong Jungle to Spooky House and Twilight City. The first world is mostly tutorial, but Nintendo never gives you the impression they think you're an intelligent player - every stage shows a move, often one you've seen before, just in case you can't figure it out. I'm not retarded, Nintendo, I know I should backflip off the parallel bars, handstand under the falling bricks or backflip off the blue ghost after I turn him into a platform with the blue switch. You don't need to show me every damned time.

The difficulty curve is perfect. You can tear through the whole game pretty quickly if you want, though the challenge is getting all three bonus presents as fast as you can. Unspent time is added to your score, and you'll often find yourself repeating a level again and again to get the last few points you need for a star. One of my big complaints with Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 was the length of the game. It seemed you'd just finished figuring out all the cool moves you could do and the game was over. Everything you learned was used once, there was no time to settle into the groove and just play - a tutorial to the end. Mario's not like that. Sure they're dishing out tutorials on every stage, but you'll finish learning moves early and from then on you'll be able to just use what you've learned.

The backgrounds are all hand-drawn and usually quite lovely. The sprites, however... This is one of my biggest complaints with the game - all the character and enemy sprites are pre-rendered, similar to the ones used in Donkey Kong Country. This makes it easier for the animators to create smoothly animated images, but results in ugly aliased fringing - where a character was rendered against a white background, cut out and put on a black one and has a resultant chunky white glow for example - and also it makes the still images very unattactive (See sidebar). Bad call Nintendo, you've got great animators - use 'em.

The sound is dreadful, but this is a common complaint I have with GBA softs. In typical GBA fashion there's a sickening overabundance of voice, seemingly added just to fill space in the enormous 16MByte (128Mbit!) rom. Every time Mario does something he makes a sound. "Here we go!" "Okie dokie!" "whoop!" "woohoo!" "yeehaw!" After the first five stages you just wish he'd shut his filthy gob so you can get your game on in peace. The music and sound effects are a mix of low-bitrate sampled sounds and chipsounds, sometimes it sounds great, sometimes it sounds like the old audio digitizer I had in 1982. Things like the 1-up 6-note tune sound clipped and harsh, and that's just poor form. Surprisingly I found I could ignore the stupid voices after a short time, but I wish there was an option to disable it.

Put simply, if you dig platform games you need this.