Videogame producers, and Nintendo in particular, thrive on nostalgia. For example, virtually all GameCube-exclusive games of any merit are from licenses which entered the videogame world two decades ago.
Multimedia: Mario Vs. Donkey Kong
Platforms: they came up with an entirely new platform that's so good it feels like it must be old.
Number of players: 1
ESRB rating: Everyone
US release date: 2007-07
Quite simply put, Mario vs. Donkey Kong demonstrates, for me, everything that makes the Gameboy Advance (GBA) great. When I first played Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2, I was excited about the GBA. Here, I thought, was a chance for Nintendo to put out excellent platformers -- a genre which has all but disappeared in the face of the new generation of consoles. Unfortunately, that promise never really materialized, because while there were some great platformers for the GBA, they are almost entirely direct ports of NES or SNES games, and thus nothing new at all. Until Mario vs. Donkey Kong, that is.
Videogame producers, and Nintendo in particular, thrive on nostalgia. For example, virtually all GameCube-exclusive games of any merit (and thus the only real reasons to own a GameCube instead of a competing console) are from licenses which entered the videogame world two decades ago: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc. Now, as someone who proudly sports his Atari logo T-shirt, this isn't always bad news to me.
What is bad news is when a majority of the best content for a given system is recycled. Because while playing a game pulled directly from 1988 is definitely fun, it's usually only fun for a couple of hours. A new game, even (or especially) if it pulls on the nostalgia value of my favorite characters, can last much, much longer. And this is exactly what Mario vs. Donkey Kong does. While it is based on the 1994 version of Donkey Kong for the original Gameboy (a title which largely slipped under the radar), all of the levels, graphics, and puzzles are brand new. This game was developed from scratch.
The storyline, while bizarre and barely present, sets up the gameplay nicely. Mario has become so famous in the Mushroom Kingdom that he now has a toy factory making little robotic clones of himself. As the hottest item on the market, they are quickly sold out of stores, which leaves Donkey Kong jealous and empty handed when he tries to buy one. So, he goes straight to the source and robs Mario's toy factory. The game then follows Mario through six worlds as he chases down Donkey Kong and collects Mario toys from each one.
Each of the early levels breaks down into two parts -- bringing a key to a lock in the first part, and making your way to rescue a Mario toy in the second part. In addition to the normal two part levels, each world contains a boss fight with Donkey Kong himself and a more puzzle oriented level where Mario must lead all six toys from that world to safety inside a toy chest. Sadly, the difficulty doesn't really ramp up until about World 5, which means that there are really only two worlds where the puzzles require much thought.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong makes up for this, however, with the addition of "plus" levels. Although touted as little more than a harder difficulty setting, these are really 36 entirely new levels that take place in the same settings as the first 36 levels. I'm surprised Nintendo hasn't played this up more, as it essentially doubles the content of the game. The plus levels don't have the two part component, but they also bring an entirely new style of play to the game. And finally, for the truly dedicated, there are then a series of "expert" levels which you unlock by beating preset high scores throughout the main game. What all this really means is that instead of adding an Easter Egg as a pittance for those players who simply must find everything in the game, Nintendo has actually put in a great deal to reward spending time with the game.
Mario vs. Donkey Kong is not exactly revolutionary, and it probably won't end up in the videogame hall of fame. But it is an answer to my silent prayers (and loud complaints) for Nintendo to take the spirit of what made the SNES a great system and put it into the GBA, rather than just taking its content. I've been whining to everyone with ears that they could do so much better by just taking the engine from Super Mario World and dumping new levels into it. They've done me one better: they came up with an entirely new platform that's so good it feels like it must be old.