Arguably one of the biggest video game surprises ever isn't that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle exists but that it's one of the best games on Nintendo Switch. The strategy RPG crossover between the Mushroom Kingdom and Ubisoft’s Rabbids has now gotten a little bit bigger with an all-new DLC expansion, Donkey Kong Adventure.
Donkey Kong Adventure is more of the same for Mario + Rabbids. DK is in the starring role, not the plump plumber, but he doesn't bring with him a whole new game, just some new elements. Donkey Kong Adventure lacks the originality of the base game but offers a lengthy addition that’s well worth the investment.
Even though Donkey Kong Adventure is attached to Mario + Rabbids as DLC, it’s more accurate to think of it as a (shorter) sequel. The expansion is about a third of the original game, lasting around 10 hours and treated as its own experience. Donkey Kong Adventure can be played at any time. Furthermore, although the DLC brings over Rabbid Peach (the best Rabbid) from the main game, the leveling system starts over. Everyone, including Rabbid Peach, is at level one.
The difficultly curve is once again in effect too. Enemies start off kind of dumb but the challenge quickly ratchets up to the surprising toughness of the original game. The cartoony aesthetics shouldn’t fool anyone Donkey Kong Adventure is just as difficult as the main game. It's very easy to fail if your team of three combatants aren't positioned correctly.
The gameplay basics haven’t changed either. Donkey Kong Adventure is still a cover-based tactical strategy game that plays like X-Com with Mario characters and Rabbids. There are some new enemies and bosses in Donkey Kong Adventure but they’re all just variations of the Mario + Rabbids originals. For example, a new enemy, the speedy Collector can move after being attacked but that’s not too different from the main game's Smashers. Although mercifully, Collectors have much less health than Smashers.
The uniqueness of Donkey Kong Adventure enters with Donkey Kong himself and he isn’t the only new character. There’s Rabbid Cranky Kong along for the new adventure but mechanically he plays the same to any other Rabbid but comes with a crossbow. Donkey Kong, on the other hand, plays by his own rules and he's tremendously rewarding.
DK is a tank. He can soak up damage and that’s important because he's meant to be in the center of the action. Donkey Kong Adventure fully embraces the strength of the main Kong. Donkey Kong can pick up cover, hazard blocks, enemies and even allies during his turn and then chuck them for extra damage. It’s so weird but tremendously satisfying when DK takes a Rabbid and spikes them, like a volleyball, into another enemy.
DK’s “gun” is also different than anything else in the game. Donkey Kong has a banana that works like a boomerang and it can hit multiple enemies in a single throw. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong's secondary weapon is a set of bongos which can draw enemies in for a devastating ground pound. Neither isn’t quite as fun as hurling enemies and allies through the air, but they do add extra level of strategy that weren’t in the main game.
The abilities of Donkey Kong aren’t all that makes the DLC feel like its own beast. The visuals of the DLC are very much Donkey Kong Country inspired and so is the music. (Composer Grant Kirkhope who scored Mario + Rabbids and Donkey Kong 64 is back and his work is lovely as ever.) Maybe it’s just a personal preference to the world of Donkey Kong as opposed to Mario but there’s something about the DLC that’s more appealing, in a visual and auditory sense.
The layout of each level isn't radically changed. Donkey Kong does have special vines that he can swing on which offers some new movement opportunities. Everything else though is set up like Kingdom Battle. Yet the DK aesthetic matches up with the tactical gameplay better than Mario. The jungle world of Donkey Kong translates more naturally and beautifully to the strategy RPG mechanics than the wide and flat look of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Donkey Kong Adventure isn't going to sway anyone who didn't love Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Donkey Kong Adventure is a substantial standalone adventure but its aping (pun much intended) everything that which makes the main game great. The DLC, essentially, is extra chapter added onto Kingdom Battle but that's hardly a negative.
Donkey Kong is so fun to play, it is a bit disappointing that he's the only real original and Nintendo character for the DLC. Ultimately though Donkey Kong Adventure leaves you wanting more expansions with even more Nintendo characters in Mario + Rabbids and that's really the highest compliment that can be paid to be a DLC.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Donkey Kong Adventure is available now from the Nintendo Switch eShop for $14.99.