Hidden Gems: Vs Dong Dong
Published April 25, 2023
by Jacob Rubin
The game isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. On the way to completion, the player may find extras that wind up grabbing more of their attention than the designer might have expected, a little bonus that adds value and makes the experience more memorable. It’s never something you’d have on the box, but it’s something you’ll keep in your thoughts forever. This is a series about these extra modes, these secret treasures, these… HIDDEN GEMS.
Tucked away in the secret unlockable features of WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! for the Game Boy Advance is a little treasure for those who dare to seek it out. A minigame with a simple, tiny, masterful concept to challenge players of all ages and skill levels, perfectly incorporating intense multiplayer action while only utilizing a single handheld console. This is Vs Dong Dong. The name? Lowkey, a little dumb. But the game? Unmistakably genius.
The concept is simple. Each player takes one side of the screen: the player on the left is job-hopper and Vespa enthusiast Mona, and the player on the right is cab driver and talking anthropomorphic dog Dribble. In truth, though, you’re really just playing as a horizontal stick flying up and down the screen at speeds not controlled by you. When you push the one and only button you use to play (L or R), your stick moves inward toward a wall containing three movable yellow blocks. Your goal is simple: push the blocks. After you push a block three times from the center location, it falls and crushes your opponent, giving you one point. However, your enemy can push the block back in a defensive maneuver, turning the game into a strategic back and forth. Do you go aggressive, focusing on shoving a single block until it plummets? Or do you spread out, acting in a more defensive stance, moving each block slightly to increase your chances at a victory? And what do you do if the speed of the sticks suddenly increases or decreases, throwing off your timing? Play continues until a player has earned three points, with their prize being a little victory dance from Mona or Dribble. The gameplay is so simple it makes you think this must be a remake of a vintage arcade console, or a digitalization of some classic tabletop game, but it is an entirely original creation.
In a game that really didn’t need any more accolades (the first WarioWare entry on the GBA received universal acclaim upon release and has stood the test of time as a hallmark in the medium), Vs Dong Dong fills a specific niche in the gaming landscape: a game anyone can play with a friend at any time. If you have a buddy next to you, you have everything you need. Since you only use one button, gameplay takes seconds to explain (it might even be better to just start playing and let them figure it out) and rounds go quickly. The game will randomly speed up or slow down, incorporating enough chaos to keep one player from completely obliterating the other. You can cram in a single game between train stops, or a longer series in the back seat on a road trip.
WarioWare, Inc: Mega Microgame$! has three other single-button multiplayer games (Vs Chiritorie, Vs Chicken Race, and Vs Hurdle) that are fun enough once and can spice things up on occasion, but they lack the accessibility, replayability, and, frankly, comedy of Vs Dong Dong. (Seeing Mona or Dribble get pancaked by those falling blocks is funny, dammit!) Vs Dong Dong is an overlooked and uncomplicated masterwork with an entertainment value that far outweighs the time I’m sure it took to program it. (Can’t have been that long, right? I mean it’s two buttons. And they do basically the same thing.)